Why I am a learning technologist

I sometimes wonder: am I seen as a geek, working as I do with technology? If so, it seems an odd thing for someone whose primary interest is in people, learning and words.  So how did I get into this learning technology thing?   When I was young I read a lot of science fiction.  At times it was all I read.  And I watched it on television whenever it appeared (which was rare in those days)

The visions of the future told by science fiction were so enticing and exciting. We were in the era of the space race and man had just landed on the moon. The sky was no limit, and we were buoyed on entrancing futuristic ideas. Exploring the far reaches of space was a big part of it, but one of the future’s most attractive features was the availability of information.  Everywhere there were information terminals, computers, information screens. Some were talking computers, mysterious but like an untrustworthy best friend: TIM in the Tomorrow People, Zen and ORAC in Blake’s 7, later Marvin the Paranoid Android on Radio 4’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which was itself about an information source…

OK, there were some dystopian visions, but they were outweighed by the shiny dreams of a glorious and unmistakably technological future.

meonearlycomputerI became an information scientist and bided my time preparing information for print, knowing that soon this wonderful free-for-everyone information source would become available.  In the 80s (that’s me on the right in 1986!)  it actually began to happen, we could connect our telephone handsets through an acoustic coupler and exchange green glowing strings of numbers which became real words, sentences, information… In the early 90s the internet arrived for me. It really was that source of all information that I’d dreamed about for so long.

And then I found out that the internet wasn’t just a passive tool for finding information, wonderful as that was – it was also a way for real people to communicate and to learn. It was a revelation. I was working freelance as an editor, and mailing lists like COPYEDIT-L and TECHWR-Lbrought my peers and colleagues to my desk at home. I didn’t have to leave my small children.

Soon I counted best friends on two different continents, and neither of them Europe. I had the opportunity to explore and experiment in an arts-funded University setting. We created a global network of like-minded people exploring what the internet could do creatively and in the service of learning. We had our first wedding of two community members who’d met online.  When I supported one of the first online courses and we found out – by accident – that one of the students was paralysed from the neck down yet had exactly the same opportunity to participate as the rest (we would never have known except that one of their assignments asked them to describe themselves), the potential of online learning and learning technologies in general began to sink in.

I still feel that incredible buzz as I talk to learners and teachers about interaction and the ways to meet learning outcomes with support by technology. Learning technology isn’t about forcing people to use VLEs or replacing the teacher with a computer. It’s about freeing every individual to learn and teach in the best possible way. The sky’s no limit…

Reposted from my other blog Learning Technology (University of Nottingham)