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The Rise of Learning Engineering

By Ellen Wagner, Jodi Lis / August 2018

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It has been 50 years since Nobel laureate Herb Simon, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and expert in artificial intelligence, called for a new field of technical competence in the learning domain that he called "learning engineering."

During the intervening 50 years, a number of professional disciplines and practices have recognized the opportunities and challenges that microprocessor-based technologies unleashed on their stakeholders, and began to address the evolving technological developments relevant to their disciplines in a variety of ways. In some cases, new disciplines emerged from these amalgamations, including educational technology, instructional design and development, and the associated disciplines of learning design and development with experience design and development following in its stead. Digital pedagogy and digital librarianship have led the way on envisioning and enabling new forms of learning engagement, while learning analytics—actively borrowing from social science research, data science, medicine, biology, and astronomy—continue to actively expand into machine learning, deep learning, and artificial intelligence.

Nevertheless, despite exponential growth in the development of learning technologies, there has been relatively little support specific to the professional development of the engineers who have been increasingly called upon to participate in designing, building, and deploying new learning technologies. These professionals require a unique skill set that merges engineering and systems thinking with learning science and theories of human development. Recognizing a need to support the development of learning engineering as a profession and an academic discipline, in December 2017 the Standards Association of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) approved the creation of a new program. The IEEE Industry Connections Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering (ICICLE) was formed to define and support this burgeoning field and to advocate for the development of both the professional and academic disciplines of learning engineering.

Developing the Profession of Learning Engineering

Planned as a two-year activity, ICICLE is an open forum and community-driven platform that currently comprises more than 50 organizations in industry, academia, and government with a common goal of supporting the development of learning engineering.

In addition to principles of engineering design and learning science, ICICLE proposes that that the learning engineer will need to understand:

  • Current and historical product trends and the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of learning technology implementations.
  • Data standards and regulations around learning data and privacy.
  • Best practices in technical project management and in the design of learning technologies and learning ecosystems.
  • The factors contributing to success and failure in the design, development, deployment, and outcomes of learning technologies.

The consortium currently supports nine special interest groups (SIGs) that are helping to define the parameters of this evolving field.

The SIGs include:

  • Artificial Intelligence and Adaptive Learning Technologies
  • xAPI and Learning Analytics
  • Competency Frameworks and Certification
  • Learning Technology Data Standards
  • Learning Engineering Among the Professions
  • An Academic Curriculum for Learning Engineering
  • Data Governance and Privacy in Learning Contexts
  • Learning Experience Design
  • Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Realities from the Learning Perspective

A Special Invitation for Educators to Engage with Learning Engineering Stakeholders

The SIG called Learning Engineering Among the Profession was established to encourage learning communities and other communities of practice committed to leveraging digital resources and fluencies as a component to be a part of ICICLE efforts to create frameworks for learning engineering competencies and related academic curricula.

While IEEE has an organizational mission to recruit practitioners to become learning engineers, there are many who may have significant interest in leveraging engineering skills in our professions and practices without necessarily seeing our professions turn into learning engineering. This SIG is a forum for sharing the progress professions—including librarianship, digital pedagogy, architecture, medicine, art and humanities and many others—have developed to integrate learning and technology in pursuit of excellence.

About the Authors

Ellen Wagner is an award-winning learning technology professional, who has worked as a tenured professor and academic affairs administrator, a senior executive in commercial software companies, as an entrepreneur, and as a consultant. She is a Board Member of eLearn Magazine. Wagner has more than 30 years of success in education, ed tech, software, public policy, higher education, and with nonprofit organizations. She currently consults with higher educational and corporate clients to make better strategic use of emerging technologies using data analytics. She supports the IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering, and is a member of the Affiliate Faculty, Learning Technology Division, George Mason University.

Jodi Lis is the Senior Technical Advisor, Health Information and Digital Health, at Jhpiego, an international non-profit health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. She has more than 20 years of experience advising and implementing digital learning and health interventions to enhance learning and performance in low-resource environments throughout Africa. She is the Outreach Communications Chair for IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering.

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