A term I’ve seen on the increase is that of “Learning Engineer”. Job descriptions using it seem to be pretty similar to a learning technologist, so maybe it’s just this year’s label. Saxberg asks “where are the learning engineers? The sad truth is, we don’t have an equivalent corps of professionals who are applying learning science at our colleges, schools, and other institutions of learning.” I get his point, what is the point of doing all this research into education if we just shrug our shoulders and go “it’s complicated.”
However, like others I have discomfort about the term. I was part of the ‘learning design’ field in the 00s, and I felt that ‘design’ captured some of the complexity around learning. Design is both a precise, technical approach but also a creative, artistic endeavour. This reflects the messiness of education, through which an educator is trying to devise an effective path for a learner.
Learning engineer has different connotations. It is in some respects an attractive term – who wouldn’t want to perfectly construct learning like a bridge from ignorance to knowledge as you reliably engineer a bridge across a river? This is not just about semantics however, but surfaces fundamental beliefs about education. For some it is a precise science, where education can be reliably and repeatedly constructed in the same manner for everyone. For others it is complex field where different approaches have desirable outcomes for some learners but not others and one that is continually negotiated. This dichotomy represents the manner in which education will be shaped in an AI/Data/Networked world. If the engineer perspective dominates (whether it is true or not is not that relevant, it’s whether the narrative becomes dominant), then education is something that can be reliably captured in algorithms. If the design perspective dominates then technology works in service to the human educator who seeks to adapt and modify educational experiences.
So, not to be overly dramatic (but yes, I am going to be overly dramatic), learning engineer vs learning designer represents the battleground for the soul of education. Choose wisely.