The first thing you soon discover is that there are many labels or slogans for learning technology; these include educational technology, academic technology and instructional technology to name but a few.
The field of educational technology has, in fact, a long history that can trace its modern-day origins back to the “visual education movement” in the US during the late 1920s and early 1930s and, as such, can be considered as an “essentially twentieth-century phenomenon” (Hlynka & Nelson, 1985). The field, which started out as audio-visual technology, such as slides, radio and motion pictures, had “piggy-backed” itself on to educational psychology, starting with behaviourism, then cognitivism, and finally constructivism.
It became quite clear to the many authors who undertook research into the role of the learning technologist that this “new professional” was made up of diverse and multiple roles. Beetham, Jones and Gornall (2001) had identified at least 11 roles that were associated with being a learning technologist. Indeed, if learning technologists were a mythical beast, they would be closely identified with the chimera. Another aspect of the learning technologist that was becoming clear was that they were often marginalised, in part due to the precarious nature of their tenure and in part they were often perceived by academics and professional services staff as some form of cosmological “other” (Gornall, 1999). The learning technologist often operated within a “no man’s land” or “liminal space” (Gornall, 1999) that Whitchurch (2008) describes as a “third space” that bridges the worlds of academic and professional staff. Here the learning technologist is a “threshold person” who falls on, between and around those traditional University boundaries (Gornall, 1999)
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:
the possible fragmentation of the learning technologist profession;
the possibility of a hierarchy developing within the profession, perhaps with the increased status of those undertaking research; and
the possibility of a lack of constructive dialogue between two, specialist groupings inside the profession.
It is this fluid, “disjointed” (Bruce & Levin, 1997), “divergent” (Becher & Trowler, 2001) and “amorphous” (de Vaney & Butler, 1996) nature of educational technology that places it at an epistemologically disadvantage compared to other disciplines and, perhaps, making learning technologists feel “ontologically insecure” (Unwin, 2007). Indeed, it has been compared to the same struggles in “defining itself and substantiating its foundations” that are located within the social sciences and the applied social sciences (Luppicini, 2005).
Denning (2001) identifies “four hallmarks” that constitutes a profession, these include:
A durable domain of human concerns.
A codified body of principles (conceptual knowledge).
A codified body of practices (embodied knowledge including competence).
Standards for competence, ethics, and practice.