The learning architect is a professional

The new learning architectThroughout 2011 we will be publishing extracts from The New Learning Architect. Here is the third part of chapter 1.

When you are a professional, others seek you out for your particular expertise in a field or discipline. They will expect you to behave in accordance with the ethics of your profession, with their interests as client to the foremost.

The learning architect will be familiar with the tools of their trade, in particular the methods and media that can be used to facilitate learning. Educational and training methods are relatively timeless, even though we sometimes update the labels (‘job aids’ become ‘performance support materials’), so Socrates would have had much the same choices available when designing his ‘interventions’ as we do now. However, we are constantly rethinking the methods we should use in particular situations, in the light of new thinking about the process of learning at work, continuing research into learning psychology and, more recently, huge advances in the field of neuroscience. An l&d specialist who was inducted into the profession thirty years ago would now be seriously out-of-step with current thinking if they had not engaged in continuing professional development (CPD). Keeping up-to-date is especially important when you consider that l&d has been saddled with more than its fair share of pop psychology, much of which has gone unchallenged for far too long.

Educational and training methods are important because they determine the effectiveness of an intervention. The learning architect has to understand which methods will work in which situations, or risk pouring yet more hard-earned corporate dollars down the drain. Each organisation is different and each functional area within each organisation is likely to be different too. The learning architect has to strike the right balance in each case between formal, non-formal, on-demand and experiential learning to meet the particular learning requirement for the particular target audience, and in consideration of the practical constraints and opportunities. They also have to make a judgement on how much of this design for learning needs to rely on top-down initiatives from management and how much can be managed effectively by employees themselves from the bottom-up.

The learning architect also has to be up-to-date with developments in learning media, the technologies through which learning strategies are realised. Our hypothetical l&d specialist of thirty years back would have been fully conversant with all the available media of the time, the flip charts and whiteboards, overhead projectors and video players. Unfortunately for the learning professional, learning media do not stand still like methods – we have seen an almost exponential growth in available media as computers and mobile devices interact over high-speed networks. Whichever method you intend to use in an intervention, you have many more choices when it comes to the means of delivery. Do you want to hold that discussion in a face-to-face workshop, in a live online session, through a teleconference or using a forum? If you want to share some content do you print out a booklet, stick it on a web page or record it as a podcast?

The learning architect does not have to be an expert in each new technology, just as an architect of buildings does not need to be a skilled carpenter or glazier. But they do need to know the essential characteristics and properties of each medium, the opportunities and limitations that these afford and the applications for which they are best suited. There can be no such thing as a technophobic learning architect, any more than there is an architect of buildings who hasn’t come to terms with the basics of plumbing and electrics.

Coming next: What it means to be a professional

See chapter 1, part 1: Architects for learning
See chapter 1, part 2: Learning occurs in many contexts

Obtain your copy of The New Learning Architect

About Clive Shepherd

Clive Shepherd has written 244 post in this blog.

Clive is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and business communications. He was previously Director of Training and Creative Services for a multinational corporation and co-founder of a major multimedia development company. For four years he was chair of the eLearning Network.

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