Keeping up with the changes in learning can be a full-time job. New digital skills are in demand, IDs are creating eLearning on new and emerging platforms, and tools proliferate at an impossible pace. Amid all of this flux, the new field of learning engineering seeks a niche.

Within L&D, practitioners are increasingly asked to perform technical duties, wrangle data, and even develop apps. Their solid foundation in learning science and pedagogy notwithstanding, many IDs are racing to master science- and technology-focused skills that some see as part of the learning engineer role.

Learning Engineering: A Primer by Ellen Wagner, a recent research report from The eLearning Guild, digs into the origins and goals of this evolving discipline. One area of focus is the intersection of instructional design and learning engineering—what each brings to the table, how the roles overlap, and how they complement one another.

As learning integrates more closely with technology platforms to deliver eLearning, Wagner positions learning engineering as “a strategy to help learning stakeholders of all kinds—students, workers, instructors, designers, managers—realize more benefits from these learning technology tools, platforms, and solutions.”

What’s the difference?

Writing for the website Inside Higher Ed, Mark Lieberman identifies three key differences that he envisions between the learning engineer role and the instructional designer or eLearning developer role:

  • Collaboration partners: The learning engineer works closely with administrators, while the ID collaborates with instructors.
  • Qualitative or quantitative: A learning engineer studies quantitative data to make decisions, whereas an ID focuses on individual needs to make qualitative judgments.
  • The forest or the trees: Learning engineers’ impact is more often at the program level, while the ID is focused on shaping individual courses.

Lieberman admits, though, that this is far from a clear-cut division of labor and cites examples of IDs doing all of the things he ascribes to learning engineers.

The ID role is evolving

Even those not on board with defining the learning engineering skill set as a new or emerging role are likely to acknowledge how the ID role is changing as the role of learning within organizations, and the approach to designing and presenting eLearning, have adjusted to the digital age.

Once focused on skills like “writing learning objectives” and “performing needs analysis,” job ads for IDs increasingly demand technical know-how in things like app design and expertise in social and collaboration tools.

Complementary skills; overlapping roles

Wagner wrote that learning engineering skills draw heavily on “data science, computer science, and the learning sciences, focusing on technical standards, technology-based tool and platform solutions, and instrumentation.” On the other hand, she wrote, ID is strong on cognition and communication skills.

Future opportunities lie in blending these competencies into an integrated whole. “This will connect scientific competencies with those demonstrating competencies coming from learning experience design, from instructional design and instructional systems design, and from educational psychology and cognition,” Wagner wrote.

This can be accomplished by identifying current core competencies of each—as well as identifying and filling any gaps; articulating skills that are becoming essential; and creating paths for professional development for eLearning designers and developers that embrace science and technology skills and disciplines.

Dig into learning engineering

Curious about how learning engineering is taking shape? Dig deeply into this evolving field with Learning Engineering: A Primer. It’s a free download for all eLearning Guild members.