Who are the Learning Technologists? (Part 4)

In part 1, I looked at the shifting definition of educational (or learning) technology; in the second part, I looked at a brief history of educational technology; part 3 explored the rise of the “new professional”. This is the fourth in a series of short posts concerning the field of educational (or learning) technology and the people who are practitioners and theoreticians within the field.

The Two Tribes of Learning Technology

In his report, Oliver (2002) had identified that learning technologists occupy a “hybrid” and “marginal” role but were also seen as being “central to institutional processes of change“. Issues surrounding credibility and legitimacy have been prevalent amongst learning technologists. Some of these issues are around having the “right credentials”, such as having a Masters or Doctorate degree, to garner acceptability within the wider academic community. Having credibility is of some import for learning technologist as they operate across a number of different “communities”, such as educational technology communities, academic communities, research communities and the wider institutional communities. They are expected to be able to “engage with and use research and theory in many different ways” (Armitage, Bryson, Creanor, Higgison, Jenkins, Ringan, Newland, Prescott & Yip, 2004). As Armitage et al. (2004) notes:

A particular challenge for learning technologists is managing the relationship between these different communities and the transference of information and knowledge. This represents the relationships between practice and the development of research and theory and the application of theory to practice.

Unsurprisingly, learning technologists have diversified into one of “two tribes”: those who have leanings towards the more practical and practitioner-focussed end of the continuum, and those who have leanings towards a more theoretical and research-focussed at the polar opposite end of the continuum (Conole, 2004; Jones, 2004). This according to Conole (2004) is a “sign of maturity” within the field of educational technology and the emergence of learning technologists as a professional body (Peacock, Robertson, Williams & Clausen, 2009). There are concerns, however, that the “two tribes” may not be aware, or be cognisant, of each other’s work (Conole, 2004; Jones, 2004) and have a preference towards networking with distinctly different communities rather than with each other (Peacock et al., 2009). Peacock et al. (2009:118) put forward a number of challenges faced by the “two tribes” of learning technologists if they continued along the path of “bipolarisation” unchecked and unacknowledged:

  1. the possible fragmentation of the learning technologist profession;
  2. the possibility of a hierarchy developing within the profession, perhaps with the increased status of those undertaking research; and
  3. the possibility of a lack of constructive dialogue between two, specialist groupings inside the profession.

Moreover, Armitage et al. (2004) proffers the following cautionary warning around the quality and validity of the knowledge being constructed by the learning technology community:

…dangers inherent in merely disseminating these artefacts without adequate reflection and constructive criticism. This is necessary not only to afford appropriate application to context, but also to enhance learning technologists status as knowledgeable and reflective practitioners and to ensure the reputation of learning technology as a discipline worthy of research status.

I will look at the shifting, contested foundations in which “new knowledge” about educational technology is being constructed in part 5 of my short series of posts.


Armitage, S., Bryson, M., Creanor, L., Higgison, C., Jenkins, M., Ringan, N., Newland, B., Prescott, D. & Yip, H. (2004). “Supporting Learning Technology: Relationships With
Research and Theory”. In: Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Networked Learning 2004. Lancaster University, England, UK, 5-7 April 2004. Available at: http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2004/proceedings/symposia/symposium1/armitage_et_al.htm [Accessed 23.11.2013].

Conole, G. (2004). “The Role Of Learning Technology Practitioners And Researchers In Understanding Networked Learning”. In: Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Networked Learning 2004. Lancaster University, England, UK, 5-7 April 2004. Available at: http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2004/proceedings/symposia/symposium1/conole.htm [Accessed 23.11.2013].

Jones, C. (2004). “Theory and the Practices of Learning Technology”. In: Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Networked Learning 2004. Lancaster University, England, UK, 5-7 April 2004. Available at: http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2004/proceedings/symposia/symposium1/jones.htm [Accessed 21.10.2013].

Oliver, M. (2002) “What do Learning Technologists do?”. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 39(4), pp. 245-252. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13558000210161089 [Accessed 21.10.2013].

Peacock, S., Robertson, A., Williams, S. & Clausen, M.G. (2009). “The role of learning technologists in supporting e-research”. Research in Learning Technology, 17(2), pp. 115–129. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09687760903033041 [Accessed 29.10.2013].