Should Instructional Designers Be Called ‘Learning Engineers’?

A recommendation from the MIT Online Education Report

April 3, 2016

How many of you spent some of your weekend, like me, reading the MIT report - Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reforms

It really doesn’t get more exciting for us online learning nerds.

This report, the final report of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Online Education Policy Initiative, has lots to say about the future of higher education.

The first thing that caught my eye is - Recommendation 3: Support the Expanding Profession of the Learning Engineer.

Have you ever heard the job title learning engineer? I haven’t.

At my school, these folks go by the title of instructional designer. At some places they are called learning designers.

According to the MIT report, a learning engineer:

"…. is a creative professional who helps build bridges between fields of education and develops additional infrastructure to help teachers teach and students learn".

“….must integrate their knowledge of a discipline with broad understanding of advanced principles from across the fields of education".

“...must be familiar with state-of-the-art educational technologies, from commercial software to open-source tools, and skilled in the effective use of new online tools."

“…must be able to work with educators, both to create new learning experiences from scratch and to integrate new technologies and approaches into existing experiences, whether online or in-person or both."

Add to that list knowledge of issues related to intellectual property rights and accessibility, high levels of emotional and social intelligence to collaborate with faculty and work directly with students, and fluency in assessment practices and design thinking.

Learning engineers, in the MIT model, are generalists in learning theory and technology competence - but also specialists in a given science or humanities discipline.

The MIT report name checks programs from the Harvard Graduate School (Technology, Innovation, and Education), the Stanford Graduate School of Education (Learning, Design and Technology), and Carnegie Mellon (Master’s in Educational Technology and Applied Learning Science).

What is perhaps different in how MIT looks at learning engineers from how we talk about instructional designers is scale.  MIT does not seem to be satisfied with a learning engineer collaborating with faculty to benefit the learners in a single course - or even a single institution.  A learning engineer -from the MIT perspective - also needs to know how to bring innovations in learning to internet scale.

Finally, the MIT report  recommends the development of a campus (and higher ed industry wide I think) cadre of learning engineers - as having a critical mass of these folks around is a "prerequisite to the wide introduction of the learning reforms."

What do you think?

Is a learning engineer something different from an instructional designer or a learning designer?

Is MIT on to something different, or are they discovering a professional role that has been been present on campuses that offer “traditional” online learning programs for over a decade?

Would you want learning engineer on your business card?

Are you a learning engineer?



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