#Octel – Learning Machines

In having to look at how a particular person would react to the concept of Learning Machines I decided to look at Illich http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Illich with his ideas for Deschooling Society and replacing it with learning webs based on 4 learning networks.

One of those learning networks was a Reference Service to Educational Objects, so could a teaching machine be considered an type of educational object? yes I think it could and if they were simply limited to that role then I think Illich would approve.

Here is a video of the “teaching machines” in action

For a modern version of the teaching machine try this https://www.oppia.org/explore/2  I think you will find that its a good example of using a “teaching machine” to teach you a concept.  It is likely that access to this kind of object as well as books, articles and videos would be considered a good collection of Educational Objects.

The points where I think Illich would disapprove are firstly everyone sitting in school in rows working away at their own machine (their only autonomy the speed at which they progress through the defined curriculum), he would have wanted them selecting their own machine diets at a time and place of their own choosing.  The second main point is that (I get the strong impression that) Skinner in the video appears to advocate that the machine learning will be all that a student needs to learn successfully rather than just one component (Illich has 4 learning networks in comparison!)

When the King of Macedonia wanted his son (Alexander the Great) educated he simply hired the cleverest man in the world.  Sadly not only does this solution not scale very well it is considerably more expensive than most of us can afford (for a more in depth look at this idea see “What Would Socrates Think About MOOCs?”).

Machines on their own will not be sufficient.  However as a tool used by competent teachers then learning machines can improve the ability to teach much in the same way that computers and humans are much better at chess than either humans or computers on their own (as detailed in this book).

For a more in depth look at the idea of teachers selecting particular tools to meet particular needs you might want to look at this blog post  http://intelligentideation.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/1-3-teaching-machines-octel/ worth reading for the Gringotts philosophy.

In summary I think that Illich would approve of teaching machines as part of the solution but that a real education would be more complicated than that.  This is a point I often come across, humans tend to like a simple answer or a silver bullet to solve their problem which leads to over hype (ie MOOCs will solve all the problems of education) but for complex systems there is almost never a simple answer and education is one of the most complex systems that exists.  In education, its always more complicated than that.

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