Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Taxonomy of an eLearning Professional

I was thinking about what an ideal eLearning professional would be to plan out my own professional development. What are the skills, knowledge, and attitudes such a professional would possess? As I worked on the various levels, I realized that there is a convergence of an “ideal educational technologist” and an “ideal eLearning teacher” at the highest end of both professions. Because of that convergence, I stopped focussing on the educational technologist side (more my interest) and focussed instead on the eLearning teacher side. Both professions, I think, are captured in the catch-all term “eLearning Professional.”

Since eLearning is still so relatively new (a point that is still easily overlooked)—such that, we don’t know what we don’t know—I thought it was important to put together a taxonomy of the different levels that an eLearning teacher could have. This taxonomy would allow me to compare myself to what the ideal talents of such a person could be, so I could plan for my own professional development. Perhaps, for that reason, you may also find it useful. In addition to advanced levels, I also worked back down the levels to those just beginning in eLearning, as I did as online college teacher in the late 1990s, where, admittedly, I was at the lowest level. Since I was doing this reflection for my own professional development, I created this based on my own reflections and experiences. So I have completed little research into existing resources.

I also noted two things. The first thing is that the different levels allow not just for increasing quality of eLearning but also increasing control either through the creation of new content or the ability to manipulate existing resources. Thus, for instance, copyright infringement becomes a diminishing concern as eLearning teachers can more and more easily generate original content for themselves. As well, existing resources can be more easily edited and customized to meet an eLearning teacher’s specific need; one does not have to rely solely on a specific image, resource, or activity already existing somewhere. The second thing to be noted is that the knowledge and skills listed do not have to reside in a single individual. It is conceivable, if not more likely, that the talents listed will be spread over an eLearning team. In fact, a large team of individuals with only one talent could equal one “ideal” eLearning teacher. However, back to the issue of control, the more skills and knowledge one possesses, the more control one has. So, for instance, if you moved from a school that had a full-blown eLearning development team to a school that had none, there would be less of an effect on that eLearning teacher’s abilities to produce high-quality eLearning.

Finally, the levels are not absolute. One could easily be between the levels in various ways. And, for the purposes of professional-development planning, you could select just one aspect from a higher level to improve on, perhaps one that complements your school’s existing resources. And, of course, due to the dynamic nature of the industry, the skills and knowledge listed will likely change significantly over the course of a decade. In this first draft of the taxonomy, I will focus primarily on some skills but more on describing the levels. It is fairly high-level at this point. I will add more knowledge and attitudes in upcoming versions, as well as go into more detail about specific skills that can be added for each level. Really, this is the skeletal structure to which I will add the “meat” in the future. This taxonomy is also, I think, primarily focused on the post-secondary environment.

eLearning Student

At the level of eLearning Student, you may already be a teacher, but to become an online teacher, some talents will have to be developed before you can be successful; thus, you are still a “student.” The talents listed here represent the minimum abilities you need to begin working towards becoming an eLearning teacher. This level also assumes that you have some pre-existing subject-matter expertise.

Knowledge and Skills

Basic ability to communicate effectively particularly in written form/Basic word processing/Basic presentation software/Email/Basic file management/Ability to save and print documents/Ability to navigate the Web using a browser.

eLearning Teacher

At the level of eLearning Teacher, you have the ability to facilitate an online course. It is unlikely that you could progress to the next levels until teaching at least one online class.

Knowledge and Skills

Can create online discussions/can upload and download files to an LMS/can grade online activities/can make announcements/can manage an online classroom

eLearning Mentor

At the level of eLearning Mentor, you have the ability to facilitate well online and can begin mentoring colleagues about online teaching. At this level, your courses are likely highly effective learning experiences for students. It is possible for your courses to win awards.

Knowledge and Skills

Experienced online instructor/knowledge of a wide variety of LMS tools and some functionality/comfortable teaching online/ employs some instructional design methodologies/ knowledge of some online assessment and evaluation strategies/can create basic content using LMS tools and can incorporate images.

eLearning Champion

At the level of eLearning Champion, you have the ability to lead your colleagues. Your online classes are guaranteed to be quality learning experiences, and it is likely that your courses can win awards. You have some control over the content.

Knowledge and Skills

Knowledge of all LMS tools and most functions/ confident teaching online/ can employ a wide variety of assessment and evaluation strategies/ can generate content using rapid eLearning software, screen capture technology/ employs a variety of instructional design methodologies/ can supplement LMS tools with some external tools/ has a basic knowledge of relevant industry standards

eLearning Hero

At the level of eLearning Hero, you have the ability to lead the industry. Like a hero, this level is almost mythical to be able to achieve. Just achieving three-quarters of these talents would be a significant accomplishment. At this level, your online courses routinely win awards and may represent some of the best in the industry. You have the ability to create and control all of your content.

Knowledge and Skills

Exemplary teaching/Can generate content using a wide variety of software (not at an expert level, but at applied level)/create content and images/expert in latest online pedagogical theory and research/can discern between a wide variety of tools inside and outside the LMS and select the best tool/current, advanced knowledge of all relevant industry standards

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