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Learning Engineering and Reese’s Cups

Reposting this message I sent to the Learning Analytics mailing list earlier this morning.

When I hear people say “learning engineering” I hear them talking about Reese’s cups.

I hear them talking about delicious chocolate (instructional design, or applied learning science or whatever you like to call it) and yummy peanut butter (learning analytics, or educational data mining, or whatever you like to call it). Chocolate and peanut butter are two things that, individually, taste great. And they taste even better together. In fact, they taste so much better together that people gave the combination its own name! They didn’t give this heaven-sent sweetie its own name in order to exercise dominance over either the chocolate or peanut butter industries. It was just really convenient to have a specific name to talk about this utterly fantastic combination of things. “I want a Reese’s cup!”

As I understand it, learning engineering is nothing more or less than a specific way of combining ID/ALS and LA/EDM techniques in order to engage in the iterative, data-driven continuous improvement of products designed to support learning:

  • You design something intended to support student learning (could be content, software, courseware, whatever).
  • You put it in the field and get students using it.
  • You measure its success at supporting student learning using a variety of analysis techniques.
  • You zero in on the parts that aren’t supporting student learning as successfully as you had hoped they would.
  • You re-design them.
  • You re-deploy them.
  • You re-analyze the degree to which they successfully support student learning.
  • You rinse and repeat.

That’s how I understand “learning engineering.” I could just as easily say, “the combination of specific instructional design and learning analytics techniques in support of iterative, data-driven continuous improvement.” Well, actually, no I couldn’t say that just as easily. 🙂