Dr. Geri Gillespy has decades of experience as a teacher, coach, principal, and district-level leader developing systems for mastery learning, innovative instruction, digital transformation, and school improvement. She was a Sr. Industry Executive and Program Manager for Microsoft Education, as well as an adjunct professor on system leadership. She is currently a Headmaster of Schools and Co-founder and Chief Academic Officer of Guardrailz, an AI Education Platform. Dr. Gillespy was awarded the ISTE Make it Happen award for Leadership in Educational Technology and is recognized as an expert on transformational change in education by the American Educational Research Association.
Educators are often seen as the foundation of academic systems worldwide. They have the important task of not only sharing knowledge but also inspiring the futures of younger generations of industry leaders and entrepreneurs. However, there’s a growing concern that our current education system doesn’t adequately prepare students with the skills and knowledge they need to meet the demands of the future. Educators for the next generation of learners must be ready for the complex and ever-changing role they have in the classroom. To truly prepare students for future challenges, educators need to be trained as ‘learning engineers’, professionals who design educational experiences that are as rigorous and precise, while moving from traditional methods to a more creative, problem-solving approach, much like engineering. Engineering isn’t just about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math); it is also about problem-solving, critical thinking, resiliency, and adaptability.
Throughout history, education has evolved based on the influences and needs of society and industry. The skills and knowledge developed as part of the curriculum were based on the aspirations and challenges of being a global citizen and productive member of the economy. With the rapid advances in technology, transformations in communication, and transition to more remote working situations, we are in another period of an industrial revolution that is affecting all aspects of the economy and society, including the entire education systems from preschool to higher education institutions. Educators at all levels hold the key to preparing future generations to tackle new realities and unknown challenges. To fulfill this responsibility, they must be empowered by a system that prepares them not just as conveyors of knowledge, but as learning engineers—designing, building, and refining educational experiences that ignite curiosity, elevate thinking, and prepare students for a world that is constantly changing.
The term ‘learning engineers’ suggests a shift from traditional teaching methods to a systematic approach that involves the careful design of the learning environment and experiences to maximize student learning, critical thinking skills, and adaptability. This involves a comprehensive understanding of instructional methods, learning sciences, curriculum design, and technology integration. Unfortunately, many educators are still primarily focused on content knowledge and learning theories without enough real-world, hands-on application experience or technology training. This misalignment can lead learners and educators to feel overwhelmed and unprepared for the demands of the current world in and out of the classroom. However, by incorporating a mix of pedagogical knowledge, practical skills, flexibility, and design thinking in education to be intentional, inclusive, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and impactful we can transform the culture and learning environment to develop producers of information instead of just consumers.
Be intentional; there must be an intentional shift and purpose to how, what, why, and when content, skills, and knowledge are being taught in any educational program. The culture and environment of the classroom are key when it comes to student learning and engagement strategies. However, developing a culture that supports the skills and knowledge needed for the next generation of students isn’t intuitive; it requires a set of skills that must be learned and practiced in application. Instruction should be deliberate and purposeful, with clear goals that align with learners’ needs and specific outcomes. Teaching strategies, tools, and content should all align to help achieve the intended learning goals of the course, program, or institution. Students are choosing more technical learning programs and educational institutions where the intentions and outcomes are clear, concise, and meaningful for achieving the overall goal or purpose of learning. Educators as learning engineers are intentional about planning and designing learning programs using both theory and hands-on practice to focus on the process of learning and to solve problems.
Inclusivity in education means creating a learning environment where all students, regardless of their backgrounds, abilities, or identities, feel valued and have equal opportunities to succeed. Diversity and equity are critical components in creating an inclusive and welcoming environment in any organization or community. Feeling accepted, valued, and recognized as part of the community is a basic need for all humans. This requires tailored instruction to meet the needs of students with varying abilities, backgrounds, and learning styles. Relying too heavily on one-size-fits-all approaches may leave some students behind. As learning engineers, educators would be equipped with the knowledge and skills to analyze learner needs and engineer educational pathways that are accessible and effective for all.
Personalized learning is a change in self based on developing new skills and knowledge and understanding of information. Intrapersonal, within the self, skills refer to the ability to recognize, understand, manage, and effectively take on challenges and understand the process of learning. It involves a set of skills that enable individuals to navigate social situations, build strong relationships, and make more informed and empathetic decisions. Understanding cognitive development, the role of emotions in learning, and how to foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills are all integral to intrapersonal learning experiences. Educators as learning engineers must be fluent in these concepts to tailor their instruction to align with how learning happens and to foster an atmosphere that supports a growth mindset and self-reflection with strategies for goal setting, planning, and self-assessment.
Developing self-awareness and intrapersonal skills is the first step to strengthening interpersonal skills. The ability to interact effectively with other people and to manage conflicts is essential for success in the future, particularly as industries and technologies continue to evolve. Clear and effective communication, both written and verbal, remains a fundamental skill in any context. These skills are often seen as critical for navigating a rapidly changing job market and addressing emerging challenges. Instruction should encourage positive interactions among learners and between learners and educators. Building a community within the learning environment is key to promoting cooperation, communication, and empathy. There is first a change in self and then a change in others. Interpersonal skills enable learners to communicate and transfer knowledge and information demonstrating mastery of skills and impactful learning.
Impactful instruction should lead to significant, observable, and lasting changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors. Instructional activities should be relevant to the real world and encourage students to apply their learning in meaningful ways. Like engineers, educators need to understand how to gather and use data to inform their instruction and measure the effectiveness of their strategies. Reimagining how educators see themselves as “learning engineers” with this vision in mind is not only an investment in our teachers but in the future of education itself. Engineers apply scientific principles to solve practical problems related to physical designs and constructions, whereas educators apply principles of learning and communication to foster knowledge, critical thinking, and personal development in individuals. The tools we use in education have changed, access to information has changed, and our learning communities have transformed, however, the way we plan, and design education remains mostly the same. It is time to look at how we are engaging learners and empowering them to take ownership of their learning across all levels of education.