The Learning Engineering as an

Iterative Process

What is Learning Engineering?

I have been in the field of education for over ten years; when I told my friends and family about moving to Boston to study for a Master's in Learning Engineering, there were always comments and questions such as "so you are an engineer now? Are you shifting careers? Others (engineers) have asked me, "What does it have to do with engineering? Of course, you are not an engineer!". And I know, it is a bit confusing to mix the Learning Sciences and education with the discipline of Engineering.

Sincerely, I never thought I would call myself an Engineer when I entered the field, but now I am a Learning Engineer! So I would like to start to conceptualize what I have learned: Learning Engineering, what it's meant by engineering, and ground some general principles that can help distinguish this particular field of education. Based on the lectures, papers, other resources, and the design projects I have been working on, I build the following definition as an overarching framework that I aim to have with me in future projects and endeavors:

"Learning Engineering is based on an engineering approach to designing learning experiences, resources, products, programs, technologies, and environments that are engaging, inclusive, accessible, and supportive to a variation of learners to achieve learning outcomes effectively—bringing research and big ideas about learning into practice in an informed, systematic process."

And...what exactly is an engineering approach ?

Across the different projects and experiences in the program, I have identified some key aspects of what it means to take an engineering approach to the practice of designing learning experiences.

Click on the boxes below to learn more about each key aspects

A systematic and iterative process

Learning engineers follow a particular process. Moreover, keeping track of the process by documenting every change and decision based on data is fundamental for making informed choices. The learning design goes through iterative cycles/loops of prototyping, testing, refinement, and improvement based on critique, observations and feedback. Through this process ideas are refined and developed to achieve goals more efficiently and coherently. Each stage of the design process can have particular mini cycles of iteration embedded in the overall design process, always keeping the learning objectives in mind!

This iterative process is based on design cycles and principles of human-centered design (learner-center design in this case!) I have used tools such as design journals, logic models, theories of change, and conjecture mapping (Sandoval, 2013) help to keep track of that process and, the latter in particular, understand the relationships between learning theories, each designed component and the learning outcome in my design studio projects.

In each project presented in the Projects section you can see how I implemented the design process and how the idea growth and changed by every iteration and prototype testing.

Based on real needs

Through the development of authentic learner's personas and use cases based on a systematic needs analysis in different design stages.

Across the various projects, I have learned that the best user cases, design scenarios and learner personas, the most useful for developing ideas and understanding the real need, are created through interaction with natural potential learners and stakeholders. I have conducted interviews and observations in different stages of the design process that have helped me refine the design for better alignment with learning objectives and the needs of the learners. Moreover, this process also helps identify, prove or change assumptions about how learning would happen and why based on the revised literature. For example, in the "Curiously" design, some parents I interviewed gave me great ideas of use cases for the app-based in their context.

Recognizes affordances and constraints

Learning Engineers recognize constraints and affordances for designing learning experiences to work with. I have learned that whereas the word "constraints" sometimes seems to the scope of the project or the scalability, it can also bring up many opportunities for a more feasible project/learning experience to implement. Often, designers set constraints so that the learning objective can be achieved or tackle variation among learners.

On the other hand, by recognizing the affordances of the context, a particular technology, venue, etc... provide so that the design enhances the opportunities it offers to help achieve the learning goals.

For example, in the Curiously project, nature provides lots of affordances that parents and children can learn from; the technology I choose (multidevice app) also affords to have books, maps, and scaffolding pieces for parents embedded in the app. It also reflects on the experience by revisiting data gathered (having access to pictures) and sharing and creating together with significant family members afar.

Collaborative, definitely a TEAM WORK

Learning design is never a "solo" work; feedback and critique is a fundamental components of design. We require multiple perspectives and expertise from subject matter experts, teammates, and the learner population to generate ideas, inform decisions, design prototypes, and test and refine ideas and processes.

I appreciated having teamwork on some projects and a larger "team," the cohort members in the Design Studio course. It was crucial because we could come up with more decadent ideas, keep track of design decisions, reminding to keep the learning goals in mind throughout the process (always someone points out, "let's revisit our goals and see if this decision matches") and engaging in critique and feedback based on mental model building, scaffolding, social justice, variation among learners, use of learning technologies, design process, addressing learning goals, etc...

Acknowledges the role multiple stakeholders

By acknowledging the role of multiple stakeholders through processes such as interviews (structured, semistructured, or informal), focus groups, participatory design or co-design methods, and Cognitive task analysis, we can have a more comprehensive and deep understanding of the real needs of the learners and, inform our decisions and create more feasible designs. It might take extra time to make this processes happen, but it is worth it.

In different stages of the Curiously app's design process, I consulted people from a variety of backgrounds to give me feedback, ideas, revise some components, or just general advice. For example; to gain insights on how to make it playful, I interviewed a program specialist in LEGO education, I involved an Edtech practitioner in giving me feedback on the mockup design, a preschool teacher to revise some of the activities, and of course, parents and children that tested the prototypes of my design and gave me feedback and ideas for use cases. I realized this process is imperative in any learning design project, and it is something I would continue doing in my career pathway.

Situated in a particular context of interacting systems

A learning engineer thinks systemically. I have learned that it is essential to recognize and acknowledge the context in which the learning experience would take place and with which other contexts the design is interacting as part of the design process.

Creating a theory of change is one tool that I have found very useful for determining the level of scope and recognizing how it impacts other areas or groups. This tool helps determine how your particular intervention, project, or design affects different, more significant expected outcomes or vice versa.

For example, when we created the theory of change for the COAF NGO in Armenia, we recognized how the NGO's educational programs were affecting the goals of the health programs positively and also how the infrastructure initiatives or budget initiatives were benefiting the academic programs.