Great article reporting on George Siemens’s and Rory McGreal’s (both Athabasca University profs) take on the promise and threats of adaptive technologies, learning analytics, data-driven approaches to education, and personalization. George and Rory have quite different perspectives on these issues but both are absolutely right. George emphasizes that this is about human beings working together to learn, and that our institutional systems are often quite antagonistic to that, imposing counter-productive power relationships and focusing on task completion rather than learning. As he puts it,
“If we do things right, we could fix many of the things that are really very wrong with the university system, in that it treats people like objects, not human beings. It pushes us through like an assembly-line model rather than encouraging us to be self-motivated, self-regulated, self-monitoring human beings.”
Absolutely. This is a battle we should have won many years ago, but still it persists.
Rory emphasizes that we have to take a whole-system view of this, rather than attempt to personalize things for the learner. As he puts it,
“This focus on the learner is a big mistake. We should look at the whole learning system and how it works—the learner, teacher, technologist, administration, community.”
I totally agree, albeit that the word ‘this’ matters here: there are many ways to focus on the learner that are an extremely good idea, though personalization is not one of them. Personal, not personalized, as Alfie Kohn puts it. I’m not certain Rory would entirely agree with that – focusing on personal needs can be expensive, and Rory normally argues that it is better to teach a lot of people sub-optimally than to help a few to learn optimally. It’s hard to disagree, but it’s a wicked and situated problem, and it depends a great deal on the kind of learning involved and the kinds of people doing it. We should at least be aiming for both: personal, and cost-effective.