Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The end of the career path?

The highway bridge to nowhere, Cape Town by jbdodane, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by jbdodane

I have been working in the field of educational technology, distance learning, e-learning and so on for 11 years now. It has been a fascinating journey from my almost total ignorance at the start to a more qualified understanding today. By discovering openness and social media I was able to develop a rich global professional network and by sharing my thoughts and reflections I got invited to all sorts of interesting projects, conferences and networks. It has been indeed a life-changing experience even if I sometimes feel we keep discussing the same things and sometimes get frustrated by the painfully slow progress in the field. The field is still characterised by projects, pioneers and enthusiasts and there is still a strong common feeling of fighting the establishment that binds us all together. We all meet regularly in different constellations at conferences and in projects as we try to help our colleagues and institutions understand the potential of using today's digital media as tools for learning.

But what happens when we succeed in our mission, when all teachers use digital media and tools as a natural part of their teaching and when our authorities, schools and universities have digital strategies? A new post by Tony Bates raises this issue, Is there a future in online learning?, by stating that There is no (long-term) future in being an online learning specialist. Basically don't plan your career around this field. This seems rather surprising given the growth of educational technology but he too sees a future when educational technology becomes fully embedded into teaching and the role of the educational technologist becomes largely superfluous.

For the next five to ten years, there should be plenty of jobs for highly skilled instructional designers, but sooner rather than later institutions will be forced to ensure that their instructors are trained and qualified to teach effectively with technology. It will be a core part of their work, and as a result the demand for specialist learning technology support will decrease. The main role then will be providing some of the initial training for post-secondary instructors. 

There will always be a role for specialists but it would be unwise to plan for the log-term since there is little room for advancement in the academic world unless you can combine it with other academic pursuits. At the same time I think we will see the redefinition of many aspects of education and learning in the coming decade. The roles of universities, schools, teachers and students as well as the value of traditional credentials and educational structures are likely to be redefined. Stephen Downes comments on his blog OLDaily that there may not really be a future in teaching since the traditional teacher's role is rapidly fragmenting into different specialisations.

Maybe the notion of a traditional career path is what's really under threat and that we all need to be equipped to deal with changing roles and adapting to  new circumstances. Like many people I have changed path several times in my life and have had to learn new skills and subject areas when a previous avenue was closed. There is maybe no long-term future in being anything in particular. The idea of following a particular career path may soon be obsolete as life becomes more like a pinball machine than a straight and steady ladder. I'm sure that most of today's e-learning professionals will be doing something different in 5-10 years. What you need is the ability to learn, relearn and adapt. 

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