The Lynch School of Education will begin offering a new master’s program in learning engineering—the first of its kind—this fall. The master of arts will be a 12-month, full-time, on-campus program with a 30-credit interdisciplinary curriculum. It will prepare its students to design learning experiences that are engaging and effective, informed by the learning sciences, and incorporate cutting-edge technologies, according to the Boston College website details on the intricacies of the program.
Learning engineering is a new field that involves “the systematic application of principles and methods from the learning sciences to support and better understand learners and learning,” the website reads. Those working in the discipline help develop and improve design solutions—often using technology—that address specific learning needs and opportunities.
“It’s an engineering discipline in that learning engineers are using the science of how people learn, and the science of how to engage people, and the science of how to help people develop identity in order to design learning experiences … that will engage learners and result in them learning the things that you want them to learn,” said Janet Kolodner, visiting professor and special projects faculty member in Lynch.
Kolodner said that learning engineering usually deals with helping people learn the kinds of things that are difficult to learn or require a lot of nuance and flexibility to carry out.
“We’re not talking about helping people memorize things,” she said. “We’re talking about really understanding gravity. We’re talking about really understanding evolutionary processes, really understanding and … becoming able to write the history of something based on based on whatever resources are available.”
Kolodner said that the program has similar emphases to the learning design and technology master’s program that has been running at Stanford for around 20 years, but that BC’s learning engineering program will focus more on putting the “doing” of design projects at the center.
The program is designed for people with various educational backgrounds who are interested in a career in “designing for learners,” according to an email sent to undergraduate students. This might include people with degrees in education, computer science, human-computer interaction, instructional design, or information science who want to design learning technologies or new ways to use them. It also may include others with degrees in a wide variety of other disciplines—such as STEM, the humanities, social sciences, or helping professions who are interested in helping people learn but do not want to be teachers.
“There’s all these people out there, including on this campus, who want to be a learning engineer, but don’t know it, because it hasn’t occurred to them as a field,” said Nathaniel Brown, an associate research professor in Lynch and the director of the learning engineering program. “They might be sitting in a history department or a chemistry department, and they really are interested in how you learn that discipline—they don’t want to be a teacher, but they want people to understand what they love and are interested in.”
Students who complete the program may find employment in careers related to designing educational technology; constructing technology-enhanced teaching methods; creating employee training and consumer education programs; developing online, hybrid, makerspace, and active-learning environments; and building after-school and community programs, according to the BC website.
“They’re not going to be real technical as engineers, but they’re going to be really good designers and really systematic designers and imaginative designers, and … designers who talk learning language, who keep always keep in the fore what they know about how people learn, what they know about how to engage people so they’ll stay long enough to really learn the stuff that they need to learn,” Kolodner said.
Throughout the program, students will complete design challenges, shadow working professionals, intern with local organizations, and take field trips to technology incubators and collaboratories.
“You’ll graduate with a dynamic portfolio that showcases the depth and breadth of your design work and demonstrates your capabilities in learner-centered design, leadership, and forward-thinking imagination,” BC’s website reads.
The program features a three-credit Introduction to Learning Engineering course, followed by one or two-credit modules in various subjects, such as Principles of Fostering Learning and Motivation in Educational Contexts. Students will also take an elective in one of Lynch’s courses offered on the psychology, development, or sociocultural context of some population of learners, and choose from various options in order to fulfill a three-credit elective requirement.
Each semester, students will also take Design Studio, where they will apply their coursework to designing learning experiences, and partake in a reflective seminar.
Kolodner emphasized that the program is designed to be very personalized—students will work on design projects related to things they are actually interested in—and that the program will have a social justice undercurrent running through it.
“They’re going to graduate from this program understanding a lot about how people learn, having a lot of imagination about how you help people learn things that are challenging to learn, how you help them deepen their understanding, how you help them gain masterful complex skills, and how you help them learn to be the people they could be,” Kolodner said.
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