If you are doing instructional design (ID) you may also be doing learning engineering according to the definition from the designers, engineers, researchers, and practitioners involved in the IEEE ICICLE industry consortium on learning engineering. They defined learning engineering as follows:

Learning engineering is a process and practice that:

  • applies the learning sciences
  • uses human-centered engineering design methodologies, and
  • applies data-informed decision-making

to support learners and their development.

If ID is a "systematic process that is employed to develop education and training programs in a consistent and reliable fashion" as defined by Gustafson & Branch (Reiser & Dempsey, 2007), then it is broader than the ICICLE definition of learning engineering. So one could say that learning engineering falls within the broader category of instructional design.

Is your current ID project also a learning engineering project? It may depend on the project or product requirements. You certainly could develop education and training programs in a consistent and reliable fashion without employing data analytics, for example. It is possible that some instructional design projects require (or allow for) more or less data informed decisions-making.

Some definitions of instructional design struggle with the problem of describing what instructional designers do for a living. Similarly, the learning engineering definition from ICICLE centers on a process of creating learning experiences and conditions for great learning.

Learning engineering is more of a verb than a noun. It is not pure learning sciences research but the application of the learning sciences. It is both engineering and design methodologies that incorporate data-informed decision-making.

The learning engineering definition and the people who made the definition recognize that design is part of learning engineering. However, learning engineering is about solving problems that may sometimes fall outside the context of learning experience design or instructional design. Part of the learning engineering process is discovering the root cause of problems that impact learners and their development. Sometimes those root causes are about things other than the learning experience. Problems to be solved with learning engineering may have to do with the conditions outside of the designed learning experience such as a learner’s basic needs or mindsets. Learning engineering projects may be related to the virtual or physical environment in which learning takes place or the social context that impacts learning. So in this way instructional design falls within learning engineering.

You may notice that the word technology isn’t in this definition of learning engineering. That was intentional. The people that developed this definition included experts in software development, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, intelligent tutoring systems, and data science. So you’d think that their focus would be on the technology, but it wasn’t. They know that to be done efficiently and optimally learning engineering will leverage technology, but these technologies don’t define the process any more than a slide rule, calculator, or computer defines mechanical engineering.

Technology does, however, present new opportunities to advance the effectiveness of learning experiences. And whether you think of your yourself as a technologist or not, whether you think of yourself as an engineer or a designer or both, we can all recognize that with new technology drives the need for ongoing learning as professionals. The emerging field of learning engineering is influenced by the established field of instructional design and, based on the definition, may be viewed as a practice within the practice. There are other aspects of learning engineering that are influenced by other fields. The bottom line, no matter what we call what we do, is that we can learn from new ideas both within our own professional community and from other professional communities. The problems to be solved now and in the future to support learners and their development go beyond what we know today about how people learn and how to optimize education and training programs. We all have to be learners as well as educators/trainers.

Is your current instructional design project a learning engineering project? Based on the ICICLE definition you could say it is if it:

  • applies the learning sciences,
  • uses human-centered engineering design methodologies, and
  • uses data-informed decision-making


Reiser, R.A., Dempsey, J.V. (2007). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.