Amplify Blog

Insights and ideas directly from New Profit

July 31, 2017

The following guest post was written by Jon Madian, a member of the Reimagine Learning network.

Computer science is the spine that has created continually improving R&D and distribution systems in nearly every major endeavor: e.g. science, engineering, social science, medicine, retail, aviation, and entertainment. It has given us systems, tools, and techniques to enable us to design, organize, adapt, and share knowledge and techniques. That said, the most important enterprise for the quality of people's lives and our future - education - is not supported by a systematic, scientific R&D agenda.

To successfully reimagine learning, we need to optimize computer science to re-engineer and deepen our thinking about human nature, learning, design, and social interactions. By applying best practices from STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics), we can evolve toward personalizing learning for all students by designing robust and engaging curriculum that aligns with the stages, diversities, and idiosyncrasies of human development.

These efforts will immerse students in a STEAM culture where they co-design their own learning experiences - giving students a practical initiation into our 21st century knowledge economy.

Let's consider the realms of computer science and engineering that will play foundational roles for building fully reimagined learning processes. These include R&D in social interactions, research into dimensions of diversity among students and teachers, knowledge engineering, and new design paradigms.


  1. Social Engineering helps us to use technology wedded to our social, cultural, psychological, and community-organizing sciences to create smart, compatible learning groups. These groups allow the intelligent connection of students and teachers with the appropriate peers, tutors, cross-age role models, and mentors.

    As we move toward personalized learning, we are challenged to learn about the unique dimensions of each person in our community. We should ask: how can we use computer science to learn about the range and depth of sensory, social, emotional, intuitive, and cognitive traits that will enable us to support and enrich the lives of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and others?

    Think of the possibilities if we were to adapt and extend some of the computer science used by online matchmaking services. Our social networks for student support would go far beyond dating and volunteer matching services - we would explore personality traits, goals, interests, cultural considerations, learning and communication styles, and other dimensions we've yet to consider. Such social networks would be dynamic and self-refining, as they would continually gain machine and human intelligence through use, users, and changing purposes.

    We can profoundly improve learning if we put the entire local, face-to-face, and virtual community at our students' and teachers' fingertips. This means that every student, whether their passion is rocks or rockets, music or mountaineering, math or mashed potatoes, can find congenial peers and experts, friends, collaborators, facilitators and a supportive audience to support their interests.

    Given our deep drives to work and learn together to solve authentic personal, social, cultural, and environmental problems, having access to focused social networks can propel learning into the realms of service which will help establish purpose, identity, and compassion.

    The implications of building and improving social networks for students, teachers, administrators, and curriculum designers can't be overestimated.

  2. Research Engineering will help communities to better understand and respond to the diversity among students, teachers, and parents. This research will build from a rich variety of non-invasive measures correlated with observations and reflections. The science of building systems to improve the validity and inclusiveness of data will help us design and align personalized learning experiences.

    Some essential factors to understanding the wide range of variables that influence each student's learning include sensory capacities, concentration, working memory, motivations, background knowledge, and interests.

    Recognizing that a learner's sense of purpose affects cognition and imagination and is built on a social-emotional footing means we need to focus research on identifying the social-emotional experiences that build a solid foundation within each student and teacher.

    One under explored area is a smart learner portfolio that will also include social networking and feedback features. Simply having information a about learner's writing in terms of the richness of vocabulary, syntax, and other machine measurable variables will indicate a great deal about student engagement and cognitive development.

    The implications of students, teachers, mentors and curriculum designers understanding key dimensions of diversity are profound beyond our current imagining.

  3. Knowledge Engineering grows directly from Research Engineering, and extends into the design, organization, and sharing of learning experiences.

    There are many ways to apply technology to support the design, organization and continuous improvement of learning experiences. The content of a learning experience, whether based on a video, field trip, poem, story, simulation, or service project can and should have many designs that will improve access across different ranges of ability and talent. For example, the same story can be written at multiple reading levels and in many languages. This represents an important step toward Universal Design for Learning, a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for everyone based on insights into diversity.

    We should note that not all curriculum created by technology supported design should be online–far from it! Small group discussions, texts, board games, simulations, worksheets, community service and environmental projects might all be designed and supported by technology, yet many of the activities should be done away from the computer screen, and many will involve using mobile devices in the field.

    Knowledge Engineering provides a framework for refining and applying our understanding of the scope and sequence and scaffolds to optimize learning experiences. It helps manage curriculum integration, customization, version control, and dissemination. It also uses the data about the student like reading level, interests, and favorite friends to provide students with a good set of customized choices about what, how, when, where, and with whom he or she would like to learn.

  4. Design Engineering is a subset of Knowledge Engineering. It provides educator-designers a unique set of design, presentation, interaction, assessment, and feedback tools to help design teams shape their designs to fit the wide-ranging sensory, affective, cognitive, imaginative, and aesthetic needs of students, teachers and communities.

    The first principles of design are: 1) design with the people and community you serve; and 2) create something your clients' love.

    To achieve this, it's essential that teachers and students be co-designers. Designers need to watch and listen. They need to ask for help and feedback. Great design is inspired by love for the users and love for the subject or skill to be mastered. This attitude is fundamental to achieve designs that maximize value.

    When we connect social and knowledge engineering to research and design, we can make our classrooms into smart design studios in which in-residence, cross-discipline teams participate and become co-creators with students and teachers. A digital latticework that is created and maintained by in-residence computer scientists and engineers who continually evolve the system to serve the user community's needs is fundamental to support this design work.


This STEAM approach enables local educators and community members to apply intentional design within their school so it is localized and continually improves based on knowledge about learner diversity. In this way we can create an ever more engaging curriculum that is adaptable to individual students and teachers, local conditions, needs, and talents.

This approach promises to deepen each community’s insight, talent and care for the wonderful sensitivity and needs of the next generation. In this way we can discover and optimize a common 21st century spirit devoted to enlarging and serving our humanity. As we grow into our role as knowledge workers, we will become lifelong learners and creators. Education will become the work of creating an educational culture that aligns with serving human development within nurturing, smart, and inspired communities.


About the author:

A psychologist, curriculum designer, and artist, Jon has contributed to the fields of personalized learning, technology for instructional design, and arts-in-education. He founded the Artist-in-Residence Reading Project (1976-79), Humanities Software (sold to Renaissance Learning in 1999), and Visions for Learning (a nonprofit). Jon has used computers to design curriculum since 1970. He can be reached at


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