Interactive, smart, and portable consumer digital technologies, from computers to wearable devices, have had dramatic impacts upon our daily lives. The effects of these technologies on learning, whether in formal education, workplace training, or life experience, continue to appear as eLearning practitioners put them to work in instruction and performance support. This domain, a new interdisciplinary field, has the name “learning engineering.”
As learning and performance support technology become more sophisticated, eLearning professionals are realizing their need for new skill sets. Among these are data visualization, programming and coding, and techniques from learning science and data analytics. At the same time, instructional designers will find it necessary to collaborate with development and engineering partners who can support our efforts to innovate and implement interactive, interconnected digital teaching and learning systems.
The Learning Engineering Summit: An important opportunity for you
The growing interest in the field of learning engineering is fueled by this recognition. The Learning Engineering Summit, hosted on October 23, 2018 at The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn Conference & Expo, is an opportunity to be among the first in your professional learning network to learn about this new discipline. The summit offers a first look at the past year’s efforts of the ICICLE Special Interest Groups, as the ICICLE communities have undertaken this historic first dive into understanding the kinds of knowledge, skills, and competencies needed for producing market-leading learning technology platforms and tools.
The IEEE and its practitioner advocates are working together under the banner of ICICLE. They envision learning engineering as an emerging profession that integrates engineering sensibilities and systems thinking with learning science and instructional design. Its purpose is to support optimizing digital technologies for use in the learning setting: artificial intelligence, augmented reality, mixed realities, virtual realities, and data analytics, to name some examples. There is a shared belief that technologies optimized for learning through scientific methods will be more likely to systemically and reliably improve learning outcomes.
Learning engineering and the future of instructional design
In this context, learning engineering may even be asked to draw on engineering techniques to expand our body of evidence about how to scale the adoption of technology in arenas affecting human development. With more consistent development processes and more reliable methods for assessing the impact of those systems, the hope is that learning and performance improvement practices will be more effective, replicable, and sustainable.
Along with understanding the technological competencies required for responsive platform development, there is another essential element to consider. The discipline of instructional design must make design thinking more than simply imagining what a great learning experience might be. To engage as a full partner with learning engineers in the future, instructional designers will need to revisit their analytical expectations. What is needed to conduct true learner and learning assessments? What does it take to conduct valid and reliable measurements of learning? What is measurement in the context of learning? Is there a full, operational appreciation for formative and summative evaluation?
How is learning engineering evolving?
According to research currently underway by EDUCAUSE and Steven Pelletier (see Resources at the end of this article), new manifestations of learning engineering continue to evolve. Definitions of what this field is and does are currently somewhat amorphous and fluid. More clarity is needed, even down to the level of job titles and job descriptions for learning engineers. Because much of this field is charting new territory, integrating it into university program development and the education technology industry may initially create disruption and confusion. Digital learning practitioners and researchers alike will have to be educated as to the value that learning engineers can add. Practitioners and researchers will have to learn how to best work with such professionals. It may take considerable effort to fully recognize the value of learning engineering, bring it into practice, scale it, and integrate it to the extent that it can realize its full potential in terms of adding value for eLearning.
Given the newness of this discipline, being a part of these early days of learning engineering development provides practitioners and strategic thinkers alike with myriad opportunities for contributing to the birth of a new profession. With this expansion will likely come deeper research into the meaning, definitions, and practice of learning engineering, and more studies yielding evidence about how it works and works best. As the field expands, it will develop more robust policies, regulations, and standards for the practice of learning engineering. Professionals in the field will define effective practice for learning engineers, perhaps in tandem with the development of professional societies and opportunities for professional development. There is literally no better time to get involved in an evolving new profession than in its earliest days if one is interested in making a meaningful contribution to the evolution of a new field.
What are the implications of learning engineering for eLearning?
Civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering have led to better practices across society. In the same way, learning engineering hopes to bring the power and discipline of engineering to bear in the development of better tools for learning and for learners. In contrast to current practice, where development of learning technology is often ad hoc, learning engineering has the potential to help enterprises, agencies, and institutions take more direct control of the development and deployment of instructional technology.
We expect that, in the future, learning engineers will provide architectures and techniques to help develop new and better tools to apply what research is finding out about learning, cognition, and human development. In essence, this will advance progress in applied learning sciences in new and potentially transformative ways. Instructional designers, working with learning engineers, may provide contextualized solutions. These will be personalized, adapted, and normed for specific groups of learners with specific problems to be solved and specific circumstances addressed. In this way, human system requirements will be treated with the same attention to optimization as requirements in scientific systems.
Learning engineers, working together with IDs, have an opportunity to bring new holistic perspective to learning technology utilization by leveraging both human and technological systems to achieve repeatable, reliable success.
To learn more about this new evolution of skills and opportunities, please join us for the Learning Engineering Summit at DevLearn 2018 on October 23 to learn how learning engineering is going to rock the world of eLearning and how you can be ahead of this exciting evolutionary curve in our ever-evolving profession.