6–10 January 2020
Hyatt Regency Orlando,
Orlando, Florida

Customized Learning Leaving Classrooms


Moderator Frank Morring Jr., retired space senior editor, Aviation Week & Space Technology; Ariane Cornell, head of astronaut strategy and sales, Blue Origin; Dan Dumbacher, AIAA executive director; Lon Levin, president and CEO, GEOshare; John Tylko, chief innovation officer, Aurora Flight Sciences

by Michele McDonald, AIAA Communications Manager

Representatives of academia, industry and government discussed the difference between learning and training during the “Customized Learning, When and Where You Need It” session.

The panelists agreed there is a balance between making sure students have much-needed skills for today and ensuring they have the fundamentals and capability to address future and unforeseen challenges.

While there are advantages to technology-enabled delivery methods, universities can offer a deeper education to help students realize their full potential, said Eric Paterson, head of the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering and Rolls-Royce commonwealth professor of marine propulsion at Virginia Tech. “High-touch” learning, he said, includes capstone projects and working with professors and research groups to learn the fundamentals.

“I think it’s really difficult to offer a high-touch education through some types of e-learning,” Paterson said, adding that distance learning helps balance career development with family life.

The U.S. Navy is revamping its approach to education and training, said John Tangney, director of the Human and Bioengineered Systems Division at the Office of Naval Research. Jobs skills and tasks are defined for sailors and Marines. Still, the Navy has had difficulty determining how well they learned those and then used that knowledge to perform their duties, he said.


Participants in the panel discussion "Customized Learning, When and Where You Need It,” Jan. 11 at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (AIAA SciTech 2019) in San Diego.

That’s changing with a new program focused on “ready, relevant learning,” Tangney said. By using technology, the Navy can train sailors and Marines wherever they are so they can adapt to changing circumstances. A tablet-based Personal Assistant for Life-Long Learning, or PAL-3, is used to track how well a sailor learns a task and can provide added coursework or tutoring, among other uses. It can also be used to brush up on past training because people forget skills if they’re not being used, he said.

Scalability is essential to Boeing, said Michael Richey, the company’s chief learning scientist. The traditional education approach of 25 students and one professor simply can’t scale to address filling the hiring need for critical mass areas such as cybersecurity and data, he said.

Boeing has partnered with NASA and MIT for an Edx program, which shares some similarities with the Navy program. Edx uses data to provide deep dives into how well each student learns the curriculum.

While distance learning started in the 1850s with correspondence courses, acquiring knowledge for some benefit, including landing a job or career advancement, is at the core.

“No one’s going to [get an] education, if at the end of the day, there’s no reward,” Paterson said.

Watch the full video for more details.

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