The Emergence of Learning Engineering

Student sitting at a computer in a all white room with white furniture.

Learning Engineering is an emerging field that applies science, technology, and pedagogy to produce the most effective learning experience. It is an approach to teaching and learning that focuses on engineering or designing an environment to encourage, motivate, and enhance learning. Learning Engineering is student-centric and focuses on the tools, processes, and situations that a student needs to master content rather than what the institution needs to measure its progress.

Several years ago, IEEE started a Special Interest Group called ICICLE dedicated to developing Learning Engineering as a profession and as an academic discipline. ICICLE stands for IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering, where IC refers to the Industry Connections program at IEEE. ICICLE defines Learning Engineering as a discipline that supports learners by applying the learning sciences, human-centered design, and data analytics.

The origins of Learning Engineering can be traced back to the 1940s with Claude Shannon’s Information Theory. Subsequently, the 1950s had Dr. B. F. Skinner, the father of behavioral psychology, describe how to influence people through reinforcement. In his fictional book Walden Two, he depicts a utopian society engineered to reinforce good behavior. His theories have been instrumental in behavioral therapy, education, as well as in gaming. Other researchers, such as Piaget, investigated the value of exploration and play in learning. Dr. Gordon Pask, a cybernetician, focused on the characteristics of conversations between entities, including human and robotic conversation. Dr. Herb Simon concentrated on AI assistants and knowledge representation. At the same time, Dr. Papert looked at the value in constructing projects as part of the learning process. These are just some of the influences on a Learning Engineering discipline.

Learning Engineering draws from the fields of Psychology, Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Philosophy, Engineering, Anthropology, Education, Writing, Art, and others. It is the blend of all the fields that contribute knowledge towards building a better learning experience.

A Learning Engineering approach is antithetical to the trends in Learning Management Systems (LMS). The last several decades in eLearning has moved to build LMS. LMS supports the delivery of content and evaluation of students, emphasizing reporting to the educational institution. All LMS support mixed media, but how the content is structured depends on the instructor. Herein lies a significant fault.

Being a subject-matter expert does not make one a good instructor. Furthermore, good instructors are not necessarily subject-matter experts. Moreover, the skills of instructional designers to produce good instruction varies tremendously. The reason for that is that while colleges teach the general principles of good instruction, they do not teach how to implement good instruction. It is like teaching someone what a chair looks like but not teaching them how to make the joints to hold the legs together. It is like understanding the theory behind aerodynamics but not learning how to build a wing. It is the difference between stringing words together in a story that is accurate but not very compelling, versus constructing a plot that builds tension and a satisfying resolution. The difference between theory and engineering is that engineering provides the intellectual tools to build a product that succeeds, whether to seat a human being in a chair, fly, or intrigue a reader.

Learning Engineering is a team effort. Forty years of computer-based learning has highlighted the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to educational content development. Developing an excellent learning experience is not unlike developing a great movie. It requires specialists such as photographers, artists, animators, subject-matter experts, and sound engineers. Unfortunately, few educational projects have a budget to support such a team. An industry has emerged around instructional designers’ tools to develop animations and videos with branching and testing capabilities. These tools make it easier for instructional designers who are generally not programmers, animators, or film directors. Thus a single instructional designer can focus on working with subject-matter experts. However, this approach is flawed because it does not allow teams to grow as resources become available. It does not enforce any discipline on the instructional designer to design superior courses. They can do anything they want with these tools, like an artisan working with a saw and a hammer without blueprints. The result is whatever the instructional designer has concocted. Each course is an artisanal experiment.

A Learning Engineering approach solves this by imposing standards, the blueprints of effective teaching. These systems can evolve with growing evidence and as eLearning evolves. New tools, including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality, are options that did not exist just a year or two ago. 

Other than the technology surrounding eLearning, more profound issues to consider are what science tells us of the teaching and learning process? How does the relationship between students and their mentors affect learning: How do students stay motivated? What is the effect of timing, imagery, colors, and sound? What kinds of interactions do students prefer from their teach-bots?

To further develop the field and train a new generation of advanced learning experience engineers, we have formed The Learning Engineering Academy.

The Learning Engineering Academy is a branch of Knowledge Avatars, Incorporated. Knowledge Avatars addresses the many challenges in our education system by utilizing technology, science, and the best pedagogy to create educational services. Our SaaS (Software as a Service) platform allows anyone to create and publish an advanced learning experience.  These learning experiences include teach-bots, rich-media, and virtual reality to impact education effectively.

The Learning Engineering Academy operates in a completely virtual environment with synchronous seminars in VR spaces and asynchronous resources using Knowledge Avatar teach-bots and rich-media. The courses are in a seminar-style with open discussions and projects. Students will use provided tools to develop their own learning experience that can be implemented in an organization or published for the general public. These learning experiences can be in languages other than English. Students will receive royalties for these learning experiences that could, conceivably, cover, or exceed their tuition fees. Graduates receive a certificate leading to more advanced degrees in the program.

For more information on the Learning Engineering Academy, please visit Knowledge Avatars. The semester starts on October 13th, so do not hesitate to inquire now. Some seats are available.

About the author: Emiliano De Laurentiis
I make learning easier with ed-tech tools that I create.

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