Engineering Learning

In the era of the information age, technology, brain research, and the ubiquitous access to information have shifted the way people learn and our thinking about teaching. A core goal at Mines is to build on the rich faculty-student interactions and hands-on nature of learning at Mines in order to create the distinct and unique student experience that our students deserve, and that is needed to develop creative and pioneering professionals. To accomplish this goal, we are enhancing our learning experiences and courses by Engineering Learning.

Mines has a strong tradition of quality education. We do not take on these advances to fix a problem; we take these on to significantly innovate Mines’ educational experiences to become the leading institution for STEM education.

Engineering Learning is an intentional design process that positions students to cognitively engage with content and data using professional tools, while interacting and collaborating with peers to develop their content expertise, skills, and professional practices. The end goal is to create the richest opportunities for students to become innovative STEM leaders.

What is Engineered Learning?

The Trefny Innovative Instruction Center at the Colorado School of Mines promotes a model of course design and implementation that we refer to as Engineering Learning. We engineer learning to ensure the richest possible learning opportunities for Mines students.  Learning that is engineered is designed through an intentional and iterative process that is based on decades of education and cognitive research.

Engineering Learning begins by first clearly defining and articulating what are the intended learning outcomes.  Once learning outcomes are defined, then you design the most relevant ​way to assess student achievement of those learning outcomes.

As you continue to refine the learning outcomes and assessments, you step back to consider the learners, their anticipated prior experiences and understandings, common misconceptions, and the context/sequencing of the course. Then you design or select tasks to provide rich learning opportunities for students to be exposed to the content, struggle with the concepts, and work to apply the ideas and skills to master the learning outcomes.

This is a dramatically different approach than most instructors utilize in higher education.

Engineered Learning is not defined by textbook topics or sequence. Rather Engineered Learning focuses on designing experiences for the learner to cognitively wrestle with the concepts, develop professional practices, interact with peers, maximize the interactions between students and the instructor, and supports students as they tackle mastering the learning outcomes.

As the instructor, you are the designer of the tasks and the guide on the side, walking around the meeting space, naming what students are doing well, and asking clarifying and probing questions, or making suggestions to nudge them further down the road toward mastery of the learning outcomes.

You want to maximize the impact of the time students are in the classroom with you – so you are there to support them as they tackle the complex problems, as they struggle to begin a project, as they encounter anticipated snags or barriers to their learning, or when they need you to model an expert’s way of thinking about a problem or concept.

In essence, class time should be where students are challenged and guided. Out-of-class-time should be where students receive, gather and organize information. Most of your work is done outside of the classroom, selecting or crafting the tasks and organizing the resources.  Students carry the cognitive load during the class meetings.


Here are some resources to help you think about designing or redesigning a course of study.

General Readings

Backwards Design
The process of designing learning by thinking of your learning outcomes and assessments first, and then designing the opportunities for learning including projects, tasks, lectures, and assignments is called Backwards Design.

Learning Outcomes
We’ve developed the following online learning module to help you think about how best to create the learning outcomes for your course of study.  It is designed to take about an hour of your time, and will guide you in revising or creating new learning outcomes.

Here is a quicker tool to help you think about writing learning outcomes –
A Primer on Writing Effective Learning-Centered Course Goals

Once you’ve designed your learning outcomes, it is time to determine how you will measure the attainment of these outcomes.  There are multiple ways to assess whether or not students have learned what you intended for them to learn.  The most important thing to keep in mind about assessment, however, is that its purpose is to help students learn.

Here is a good article about how to design assessment that supports worthwhile learning: “Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Students’ Learning”

Summative Assessment is what we call the end-of-the-unit test, mid-term, or final exam.  However, summative assessments don’t always have to be tests.  In fact, when is the last time anyone produced answers to a test as part of their job? Meanwhile, at work people have to produce all sorts of things, which we can ask students to do in their course work to better prepare them for life after college.

Formative Assessment describes the type of less-formal assessments instructors should give all throughout

the semester to gauge whether or not students are learning the intended material, and make adjustments to future instruction based on the results of each formative assessment. Our favorite book for guiding formative assessment is Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Angelo and Cross.


We’ve built an online learning module for faculty, to help them learn eight Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) that are applicable to all Mines classrooms.  If you don’t have the book, this is a great place to start.

​​Additional information about Formative Assessment and Classroom Assessment Techniques are available here.

Quizzes can be used both summative and formative assessments.  Here is an article that we like with suggestions for five quiz types.

The syllabus is the place where you document and communicate your Learning Outcomes, Assessments, educational philosophy, and expectations for learners.  We use The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach by Grunert O’Brien, Millis and Cohen.  Using this book, we’ve built an online learning module for faculty, to help you make your syllabus the most impactful for student learning:

The Syllabus – Indicator of Instructional Intentions


There is a great deal of evidence that lecturing students doesn’t help them learn well.  Check out the following articles for more information:


Think about designing tasks for learners, and providing them with resources that they need to access (articles, videos, books, websites, people, etc.) in order to complete the tasks.

Michelene Chi[i] developed a framework to help us better understand what we mean by active learning, and also conducted research that demonstrated that we can think about active learning on a continuum, in which interactive learning activities produce better results than do constructive learning activities, which produce better results than active learning activities, which produce better results than passive activities.  She calls this the ICAP Hypothesis: Interactive is better than Constructive, which is better than Active, which is better than Passive activities.  You can see a visual representation of this here, and work to develop more of the interactive and constructive learning activities into your course of study.  You can read more of her research here.



Still not convinced that Active Learning is the way to go?  Here’s what the research says:


Critical to student success at Mines is the tenet that aptitude is malleable, not fixed.  Dr. Carol Dweck has proven that profound learning is possible when people believe that they can grow their intelligence through a desire to learn, and the fundamental belief that intelligence can be developed through the embracing of challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, learning from criticism, and finding lessons and inspiration from the success of others.

Read more here:


The best instruction utilizes technology as tools to assist with learning, but is not the object of learning itself.  Because new technological tools are created every day, we offer the Mines Software Review to share the new products you’re trying in your classes with other faculty.

Flipped Course

Hybrid Course

Online Assessment of Face-to-Face Learning


If your computer is running OS X Yosemite or later, you can record the screen of any iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) with a Lightning port and iOS 8 or later.

  1. Open Quicktime player on your computer.
  2. Choose File > New Movie Recording.
  3. Click the arrow next to the Record button. Then choose your iOS device in the dropdown menu and the Microphone you would like to use.
  4. To monitor audio while it’s being recorded, use the volume slider.
  5. Click the Record button to start recording. Click it again to stop recording.