What features, capabilities, or nuances of technology can be leveraged and applied in a way that helps a person interact with others and experience the world around her in a richer, deeper, more meaningful, and lasting way?
Answering this question has been the touchstone of my work, initially in the field of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology, and then in the broader landscape of educational technology. The technology question in the context of education, nay learning, brings with it a recognition that there are principles and processes that can impact the dynamic among person and technology and subject matter, such that the acquisition — and teaching — of knowledge and skills can be improved. Add to this thesis, if you will, the notion that changes in knowledge state and how those changes come about most effectively can be measured and analyzed, and that, I believe, is at the crux of learning engineering. That is why the pioneering methodologies developed and applied at the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) stimulated the discussion of learning engineering and its role in the implementation of adaptive learning online courseware for higher education.
With my degrees in psychology and electrical engineering, this moniker of “learning engineer” feels pretty comfortable and even familiar. As a learning engineer, one embraces the basic concept of engineering: the creative application of scientific principles in order to design practical and effective systems. For us learning engineers, those systems are technology-based learning environments, particularly those delivered online, that are capable of providing meaningful data for iterative analyses (more on this in a bit).
The Art and the Science
Notice in my description of engineering the use of the word “creative.” It’s important because it’s that spark of creativity that, for me, makes engineering an exciting process. It allows me to pose those “what if” questions and to answer them by bringing to bear all of the resources currently available and to envision how new answers may emerge.
Let me be clear. Those resources to which I refer are not just technological and are not just those that I may possess. They include the expertise of subject matter experts, human computer interaction specialists, software engineers, artists, and others who contribute to defining these engaging, interactive learning environments. It’s an energizing experience to be a part of such a collaborative development process!
Learning From Experience … and Data
I noted earlier we’d return to this notion of “meaningful” data that can be analyzed to inform us about the effectiveness of the courseware or learning environments we produce.
“All of our work should be focused on improving learning outcomes (measurably!) and that all else will derive from that effort.” He further noted that learning analytics based on semantic data offers opportunities to inform us about what’s working and what’s not. Being able to reflect on data that provides representations of context and relationships provides us with the kind of information that can be acted upon — in truly meaningful ways — through changes to instructional content, enhancements to existing platform features, and development of new capabilities. This is an aspect of learning engineering of which we are just scratching the surface and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited about digging deeper!