Michael Feinstein:  Compares Adaptive Learning to Driverless Cars!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael Feinstein, of MindWires Consulting, had an op-ed piece in yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education, cautioning against the hype that some adaptive learning companies are generating regarding their products.  He compares adaptive learning to driverless cars.  He feels both have been over-hyped by their proponents. He specifically calls out the adaptive learning supplier Knewton:

“Knewton, has been endlessly mocked by many involved with educational for making exaggerated claims about the power of his products.

Among its choice pronouncements:

  • “We think of [our product] like a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, down to the percentile.”
  • “We can take the combined data power of millions of students — all the people who are just like you — [who] had to learn a particular concept before, that you have to learn today — to find the best pieces of content, proven most effective for people just like you, and give that to you every single time.”

Feinstein advises:

“The truth is that Knewton’s mixed messages are different from those of many other adaptive-learning vendors in degree rather than kind. They will all tell you that they respect teachers and are not trying to replace them. Many will then quickly move on to tout the ability of their products to fill vital teaching functions without explaining the relationship between those two claims.

The very best adaptive learning products on the market are closely analogous to Level 2 autonomous cars. They combine several types of assistive technology that can be very useful in certain circumstances but are not anywhere close to being full human replacements. When it comes to teaching with these technologies, professors still need to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

The over-the-top marketing by some vendors encourages irresponsible behavior that can lead to students getting hurt.”

Feinstein’s advice should be well taken.  Digital technology in all areas of endeavor [not just education] has frequently been over-hyped.  In the 1980s, we used the term vaporware to characterize technology that “vaporizes” when trying to live up to its advertising.  Educators would indeed be wise to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.


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