From mentoring to community: reflections on CMP 2022  

Keith Heggart – University of Technology, Sydney

In many sectors of Australian industry, learning designers and similar roles are increasingly in demand. In higher education, there is an increasing focus on accountability, and the student experience is a key part of that – meaning emphasis being placed upon high quality learning experiences. This has led to a profusion of courses that focus on learning design.

However, it can still be challenging for those new to the industry to find their professional communities. This is especially the case in higher education, where there are often significant differences in the roles of learning designers. Being a learning designer can sometimes be a lonely experience! Fortunately, there are professional associations, such as ASCILITE, but their remit is far broader than simply that of learning designers, and the voices of learning designers can often be lost in discussions of research, academia, and other considerations.

So how might learning designers find ways to build their own professional community? And what might such a community look like, considering the diverse nature of roles undertaken by learning designers? These were all questions that were raised as part of my experience with ASCILITE’s Community Mentoring Program in 2022.

This was my first experience as a community mentor. I wanted to give back to ASCILITE, so I thought working as a mentor would be a good way of doing that. I was assigned to a group mentoring team with three mentors and two mentees. What was curious – and later, I came to see this as an important aspect of the whole process – was that we were spread across different roles, too. While I had previously been a learning designer, I was now an academic. Others were engaged in professional roles. We were geographically diverse, across Australia and New Zealand, and some members of the group were very experienced, while others were less so. Over the course of 2022, we met via Zoom, shared reflections via Slack, and presented together at the conference in Sydney.

The purpose of this blog post is to share some of my thoughts about the value of the CMP process. Specifically, I want to focus on the group mentoring aspect of it, because I think it relates to the role of learning designers.

Sharing of common experiences

Despite the diversity of our group, from the first conversation it was clear that we had a shared commonality of experiences. Often, these were related to the frustrations of our roles: lack of time, working with subject-matter experts, the lack of knowledge of what learning designers actually do. This shared experience meant that a rapport was quickly established.

Diversity of experience and ideas

Even with shared experiences, there were also differences in roles and work histories. These differences were valuable because they allowed us to ask questions about why things were different between universities – and perhaps how our work frustrations might be alleviated.

Exploration and discussion of different roles

The range of different duties undertaken by learning designers was something that the group kept returning to. Even when people were nominally titled the same way, often the work that they undertook differed. In some cases, this was different within universities, too, and not just between universities. This discussion laid the groundwork for a formulation of a professional identity for learning designers.

In conclusion, the CMP was a valuable exercise because it provided all of us with the chance to share ideas and discuss our different roles. But more importantly than that, it helped to provide a ready-made community of fellow learning designers. This was an advantage of the group mentoring approach specifically; the number of participants meant a greater reach – and that will be of great benefit for future discussions about the professional identity of learning designers.

Keith would like to thank his fellow CMP members: Clare McNally, Oriel Kelly, Puva P Arumugam and Fiona Murray