In this work, a novel design optimization technique based on active learning, which involves dynamic exploration and exploitation of the design space of interest using an ensemble of machine learning algorithms, is presented. In this approach, a hybrid methodology incorporating an explorative weak learner (regularized basis function model) which fits high-level information about the response surface, and an exploitative strong learner (based on committee machine) that fits finer details around promising regions identified by the weak learner, is employed. For each design iteration, an aristocratic approach is used to select a set of nominees, where points that meet a threshold merit value as predicted by the weak learner are selected to be evaluated using expensive function evaluation. In addition to these points, the global optimum as predicted by the strong learner is also evaluated to enable rapid convergence to the actual global optimum once the most promising region has been identified by the optimizer. This methodology is first tested by applying it to the optimization of a two-dimensional multi-modal surface. The performance of the new active learning approach is compared with traditional global optimization methods, namely micro-genetic algorithm (μGA) and particle swarm optimization (PSO). It is demonstrated that the new optimizer is able to reach the global optimum much faster, with a significantly fewer number of function evaluations. Subsequently, the new optimizer is also applied to a complex internal combustion (IC) engine combustion optimization case with nine control parameters related to fuel injection, initial thermodynamic conditions, and in-cylinder flow. It is again found that the new approach significantly lowers the number of function evaluations that are needed to reach the optimum design configuration (by up to 80%) when compared to particle swarm and genetic algorithm-based optimization techniques.