A new pathway into digital education careers

If you want to become a learning technologist in higher or further education, there's now an apprenticeship at level 5 that can get you there. ALT's Maren Deepwell, Helen O'Sullivan, and Billy Smith tell us more

Maren Deepwell is the former Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT)

Helen O’Sullivan is Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of Chester. 

Billy Smith was the Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT)

This week sees the launch of the Digital Learning Design Apprenticeship, the first apprenticeship standard endorsed by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT).

The standard, which was formally approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) only in late May is the result of the joint efforts of a trailblazer group bringing together employers, providers and professionals over a period of over two years, starting during the pandemic.

The new Level 5 apprenticeship in Digital Learning Design is designed to equip learners with the skills and knowledge needed to start a career in a rapidly evolving field of Learning Technology, with new trends and technologies emerging.

The apprenticeship will cover many of these key topics, such as personalised learning, gamification, virtual and augmented reality and microlearning.

Raising the profile of our profession

One of the key questions the trailblazer group explored in its work is around raising the profile of professionals in digital education roles, including Learning Technologists and Learning Designers. Since 2020 the demand for skills and expertise for online, hybrid and blended learning, teaching and assessment has soared not just in Higher Education but all sectors and we are seeing a steady demand for professionals who bring the necessary expertise into an organisation.

Digital education has become a strategic as well as an operational imperative, requiring close collaboration between senior leaders, managers, academic and technical staff and the new apprenticeship reflects this from the outset, describing the role as working ‘closely with colleagues to deliver high-quality learning activities’. However, there is also a sense that digital should be embedded, that the technology should work so well in fact that terms like digital, online or blended learning become superfluous because it is simply implied that all learning and teaching has a digital component.

What this doesn’t take into account is that the skills and expertise required to make digital transformation happen at scale are specialist, not general. We can’t expect all teachers or researchers to have an in-depth understanding of VLE design or AI ethics. ALT was established in 1993, marking three decades since we began to champion professionals in digital education as a distinct profession, with its own expansive field of research, practice and policy.

As a result of the close and careful partnership working as part of the Trailblazer Group, we have now been able to endorse this first apprenticeship standard for our industry. Across the sector, universities and colleges have recognised the importance of employing and developing highly skilled learning technologists, especially since the lockdowns associated with the pandemic. Those skills and talents are in demand, so it is imperative that we increase the number of qualified technologists. This apprenticeship standard will enable more people to take those steps into becoming a qualified and ALT accredited learning technologist, giving them a professional development framework and helping organisations to achieve their strategic objectives in digital education.

Alignment with the CMALT professional framework

In the development of the apprenticeship, a key role for ALT and other professional bodies such as AdvanceHE was to ensure that the new standard is aligned with existing professional frameworks. The CMALT (Certified Membership of ALT) Accreditation Framework provides pathways to peer-assessed accreditation for Learning Technology professionals in the UK and internationally and is widely recognised by employers and professionals alike. From the outset, we worked to ensure that not only the core learning outcomes but also the end point assessment (EPA), which includes a professional discussion underpinned by a portfolio of evidence, is informed by the baseline of practice ALT has established via its accreditation process for the past ten years.

As a result, the apprenticeship aligns directly with Associate CMALT status, offering apprentices who successfully complete the EPA a new pathway for further professional recognition on the basis of the portfolio of evidence. This new pathway to Associate CMALT enhances the career development of apprentices by connecting them to a wide professional network of 3,500 members from across education and training.

For many organisations facing increasing demands on digital skills this new apprenticeship standard bridges the gap between education and practice, offering a transformative journey for emerging learning technologists. The standard will equip individuals with the skills and knowledge to reshape the learning experience and contribute to the evolution of digital education. ALT remains dedicated to empowering professionals and transforming education, and this apprenticeship is a testament to our leading commitment to professional learning and development.

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