learning as disservice

It is time to revive an insightful comment by a friend and inspiration, David Jonassen — as his Wikipedia entry says, Dave wrote about “learning with media, not from it”.

“Every amateur epistemologist knows that knowledge cannot be managed. Education has always assumed that knowledge can be transferred and that we can carefully control the process through education. That is a grand illusion.” —David Jonassen

Knowledge is personal. Knowledge is human. Knowledge cannot be managed.

This is where much of the hype around artificial intelligence, especially in relation to human learning, is wrong. It is wrong in its understanding of how people learn and it is wrong in how society should support learning. Learning is not the same as watching movies, booking a ride, or buying software. This type of learning as a service is not learning.

“For example, Netflix uses machine learning algorithms in its recommendations system to offer personalized recommendations for streaming content; Uber matches providers of ride-sharing services with riders in an open marketplace; Adobe sells software as a subscription service, and startups such as Accredible use blockchain technology to create and manage digital certificates for training programs.” —Forbes

Learning is not a service. Humans are not in the service of algorithms, no matter who has designed them. Machines, and algorithms, need to be in the service of people, not vice versa. People have to understand the algorithms they put into service, but too often these are not transparent. So let’s stop lauding the merits of black-box algorithms that eliminate human involvement and control. All of these machines are merely control mechanisms of the people who design them. Educators especially need to call out our algorithmic overlords. We don’t need ‘learning as a service’, we need machines in service to our learning.


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