What is an eLearning professional?
Originally posted October 30, 2006 during H808
eLearning is sometimes used synonymously with distance learning, online learning and
web-based training. However the latter three terms all highlight the technologies and delivery mechanisms involved, whereas eLearning focusses on the enhanced learning quality that these technologies can achieve.
The European Institute for ELearning (EIfEL) highlights this distinction when it describes the distinguishing features of eLearning thus:
eLearning is more than mere technology enhanced (or supported) learning, as it is
essentially an organic transformation process, supported by technologies, and affecting learning individuals, learning communities, and learning organisations, cities and regions.
The EIfEL definition – which I like a lot – goes on to say that eLearning exploits the potential of Knowledge, Information and Learning Technologies (KILT) for meeting the learning needs of a knowledge society; that it is open and flexible; and that it can be face2face or at a distance, individual, collaborative or social, formal or non-formal.
So what about the ‘professional’ bit?
There are 3 parallel strands of meaning associated with the term ‘professional’, usefully summarised by Becky Warrior in Reflections of an Education Professional (Warrior, 2002).
1) The idea of being paid (often very well) to do something which others do purely for enjoyment – the antonym of ‘amateur’. Virtually any human activity can be done for either pleasure or for pay, so this strand of meaning does not have any special applicability in the eLearning context.
2) A bundle of meanings to do with carrying out a highly valued public service, which requires a high level of knowledge and skill, and therefore a high level of education and/or training. It also involves the exercise of personal judgement, and achieves quality assurance via both CPD and some kind of external monitoring.
3) A related but distinct bundle of meanings which include (2) but which also foregrounds the mastery of a fixed body of theoretical knowledge, and the upkeep of ‘professional standards’ by maintaining an exclusive association of practitioners – often self-regulating and self-certificating.
While the second bundle of meanings has a good fit with the practice of eLearning, the third does not. Most people working in eLearning would be happy to think of themselves as educated and skilled public servants who exercise personal judgement and practice CPD, but few if any would see their profession as an exclusive, self-regulating association – and the idea of a fixed body of knowledge is inappropriate to a field in which technologies and behaviours are changing so fast.
Because it is impossible to use the word ‘professional’ without in some sense evoking these inappropriate associations, I prefer instead the term ‘eLearning practitioner’ – meaning by that simply
someone who works in the field of eLearning, sees it as a public service demanding
high levels of technical and pedagogical skill requiring ongoing development, and who
embraces the idea of eLearning as a flexible, transformational process designed to
enhance the quality of people’s learning.
Warrior, B, 2002, Reflections of an Education Professional, JoHLSTE Online vol 1
number 2 [online] Available from http://www.hlst.heacademy.ac.uk/johlste/vol1no2/
practice/0030.html (accessed 24/10/06)
European Institute for ELearning [online] Available from http://www.eife-l.org/publications/misc/glossary/?searchterm=definition%20of%20eLearning (accessed 24/10/06)