typo text as imageBy Dr. Gil Dekel.

Since joining the University of Southampton Library in January 2016, colleagues have been asking me: ‘what does a learning technologist do?’… Well, a learning technologist will design resources and interactive online tutorials and courses.

Learning technologists use graphic design tools (eg. words, images, colours); and film-making practices (eg. moving images, sounds, and the development of scenes over time). The resources that we create are sometimes referred to as ‘e-learning’, ‘learning resources’ or ‘learning objects’. These objects take various forms: websites, videos, PDFs, animations or sophisticated interactive presentations.

[Related: increasing web traffic by 55% : one exmaple of my work]

The form of the learning resource should always be determined by the aim of the course, and not the other way around. It is what the learner needs to learn that informs the design, layout and format used.


the colour wheel

Figure 1: The colour wheel, one graphic tool used by learning technologists. (Image used with permission ‎from ‘ClkerFreeVectorImages’/pixabay.com)‎

You will be familiar with the term ‘blended learning’ where lecturers use a range of methods: face-to-face classes combined with online and mobile teaching. Learning technologists develop content into online/mobile courses, enabling the ‘blended’ element of the teaching.

In addition to online resources, learning technologists may be asked to produce printed material, or printed versions of existing online materials. This is why learning technologists have to be very organised – managing various versions of the same resource, overseeing copyrights, images and sounds, as well keeping up-to-date with current technologies, and delivering results on time…


blended learning

Figure 2: Pencils, books, screens – learning technologists contribute to the online element of blended ‎learning. (Image used with permission from Aleks Dorohovich/unsplash.com)‎


The starting point of developing a learning resource is to listen to the lecturers and ask: ‘What is the aim of the resource? Who will use it? How much interaction is required from the learner? Why do they need the information?’

Once these questions are answered, learning technologists would draft a story-board with scenes, choose suitable graphic style, composition, layout, the balance of words/images/sounds, and the level of interactivity in each scene.

Learning technologists would also consider timing (how much content appear in each second/minute), how people interact with moving images, and how the resource’s effectiveness will be measured and improved.

It is also possible to use specific graphics to record users’ aptitudes and preferences that will provide data about learners’ behaviours. There is a whole field for gaining market intelligence by defining the correct questions and developing specific design elements – but this is beyond the scope of this short article.


Design example

Figure 3: Screenshot of a PowToon animation, exemplifying clean and concise design. (Image copyrights: ‎University of Southampton Library).‎ Watch here: https://youtu.be/DhQ2_1GGc8M

The initial decisions-making stage takes a large part of the production process. In this stage, the content and aims of the resources are defined clearly and agreed – and only then the design begins. This process reminds me of the route a PhD research student would follow. First, they will formulate research questions (determine a gap or a goal), then they will collect data (literature review and field study). Only then would the researcher start to write their thesis.

My role as learning technologist requires a combination of two skills: one is artistic and the other is academic… In terms of being artistic, I need to be able to visualise concepts and translate them into engaging images. Then I also need to think academically, presenting wordy content in a concise way. This concise content needs to deliver messages that are easy for students to grasp. The design process requires being both creative and an effective communicator.

The role also calls for envisioning messages as images, sounds and movement. For example, the letters and words that are included in the resources should work well as text, as images in themselves, and alongside other graphics. Learning technologists, like graphic designers, need to ‘see’ text as an object that has a shape. The shape of text (words) is taken into account when put next to other graphics or images.


typo text as image

Figure 4: Letters and words are ‘visualised’ as objects that have shapes and colours. (Image used with ‎permission from taner ardalı/unsplash.com)‎


My background is in graphic design and photography as well as marketing & promotions of businesses. My other interests are Reiki Healing and meditations. I have completed PhD in Art, Design & Media from the University of Portsmouth, and am part-time associate lecturer for the Open University.

I have always wanted to combine the skill of a graphic designer with the passion of a lecturer… My goal was to encompass both domains – the artistic and the academic – and a learning technologist’s role seems to fit that bill well!…

16 May 2016. Update April 2017.

First published on 14 March 2016, on The University of Southampton Library Blog.

This article is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).