The inspiration (and source) for this post is the article by Dr Tony Bates entitled Is there a future in online learning? published on his blog on 7 September 2015. It was this article that was the focus of our first doctoral research group round table for the year.
In his article, Dr Bates questions the (long term) future of elearning specialists. There are two main reasons why elearning specialists may not have long term futures:
- eLearning is becoming mainstream: elearning skills are increasingly being seen as an integral part of teaching and learning. In the future, it may not be seen as a separate activity, but simply one component of teaching and learning for all academic staff.
- Staff skillsets are changing: less budget available for faculty and instructors, more staff hired as contract or adjunct faculty and more budget spent on administration.
However, the demand for elearning skills will not vanish completely. There will still be a (smaller) demand for specialists doing research and development on new technologies. There will still be some demand for supporting academic staff, but continuous pressure to keep support costs low. And of course there will still be a need to develop skills in new faculty. Another issue in terms of career longevity is the lack of career paths with elearning specialists seen as support staff and not academic staff, meaning that it is difficult to reach management positions.
However the key issue is that all academic staff will need to teach effectively with technology and incorporating technologies will be a core part of their workload. They will need to be experts in subject areas, pedagogy and learning technologies. So how do elearning specialists overcome these challenges? One way is to strengthen subject matter expertise to move into a more academic (teaching) position. Another option may be to consider moving into corporate training. However a key skill will be to remain flexible and continue to learn.
After some discussion of the issues contained in the article, consensus seemed to be that it would be unrealistic for educational staff to keep up to date with changes in their subject areas and pedagogical changes as well as technological changes. Lecturers will still need help to adapt to new approaches in learning and technology, and need guidance in these areas. Thus it may be that there will still be a role for elearning specialists in the future. It is difficult to predict what will happen in the future, but the context of higher education is changing and the skills required will adapt in some way. For example, informal learning is becoming a greater focus, increasing volumes of learning content are accessible online, and increasingly further learning is seen as lifelong and not something that happens only between school and starting to work. At the end, the more teachers who are interested in using technology to help improve the learning experiences of their students, the better 🙂