October 22nd, 2011

Learners not Knowers

I’m not saying that my kids don’t need teachers. But I am saying my kids don’t (won’t) need teachers any more to get them to pass the test.

Knewton’s software analyzes students’ performance on practice questions and recommends tutorials based on the student’s answers. Knewton optimizes learning by focusing only on the areas that students need to improve. The software determines subject areas at a granular level. it doesn’t just know whether you need improvement in algebra. It knows specifically whether you’re having trouble with, for example, quadratic equations.

According to COO David Liu, an afternoon of studying can give Knewton 100,000 - 150,000 data points about the student - such as how long it takes them to answer questions or what time of day they learn best.

And it’s not just math, by the way. If nothing else, the new iPhone’s integration of Siri is a clear indicator of how far technology has come in terms of understanding semantic cues and interactions. No tested subject area is “safe.” 

In case it’s not obvious, this is the real danger to public education right now should we choose to continue down the path we’re currently on. If it’s all about test scores and “student acheivement” measured by test scores, immersing kids into Knewton-type environments is by far the easiest, cheapest, path of least resistance for the system’s current definition of “learning.” And it’s not just Knewton; there is big business in creating and providing these types of “learning” experiences to kids. Many others are salivating at the prospect, and education policy, just like all others, is driven by those with the deepest pockets. 

This is why we should all be feeling an acute urgency right now to take back the definition of what “learning” really is in a world filled with content and teachers and personalization. It’s not an easy task, especially when test scores and grades take such precedence in the conversation. Don’t get me wrong; there is some opportunity in the use of technology to prepare kids at a content level for the bigger learning conversations to come, the conversations that we need real teachers for, the ones which develop the dispositions of learning that are uniquely human.

Can Knewton prepare our kids to work with others around the world to solve problems? Can it show our kids how to create and share works of meaning and beauty that can change the world? Can it help them think critically about developing issues and events that impact their lives? Can it teach them to care deeply and act in ways that benefit the species?

Knewton doesn’t develop learners. It develops knowers. We’re in serious trouble if that’s all we value.

(Thanks to George Siemens’ riff on Knewton for getting me thinking…)

(Source: readwriteweb.com)

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Welcome! I'm Will Richardson, parent, educator, speaker, author, 12-year blogger at Weblogg-ed and now here. I'm trying to answer the question "What happens to schools and classrooms and learning in a 2.0 world?" Best selling new book: Why School?s...order now!!


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