Candace Thille (Stanford Graduate School of Education), discusses online education. Personalized and adaptive educational technologies have great potential for good, but there is also potential for harm if careful, rigorous thought is not devoted to understanding the learning process, specifying the outcomes of interest, designing how and from whom the data are collected, and choosing how data are modeled and represented. A new academic role, the learning engineer, is needed to bridge the chasm between learning research and teaching practice in higher education. Learning engineers, in collaboration with researchers and practitioners, will design learning environments and data systems that provide student and instructor feedback, support continuous improvement learning design and facilitate rapid progress in the science of human learning. In all sectors, advances in machine learning, data science, crowd-sourcing and computation are enabling a much larger part of human processes and decision-making to be done by machines, which are rapidly becoming a core part of the teaching process in higher education.
Prof. Thille argues that information technology is a disruptive force that will make education more efficient by forcing the “un-bundling” of the multiple complex services of the university—including separating the teaching and research missions. The same technology, with the support of the learning engineer, can instead be used to leverage the strengths of higher education’s dual mission. The future is clear: technology will be a core part of the teaching, learning and research processes of higher education. Yet a basic tenet of any successful business strategy is that one does not outsource its core business process. If research and teaching institutions continue to outsource educational technology design, data collection and data modeling, they not only run the risk of violating that basic tenet, but also jeopardize the opportunity to transform higher education to support all students.