Technology AND People is GREATER THAN Technology MINUS People


You hear alot that people want to use technology in learning to reduce costs of face-to-face learning.  It is true.  We do have to decrease them for a range of reasons: costs too much to bring the people together, takes away from their work, people can’t remember everything that they learned when it is all taught at the same time, etc.

The thought usually is, like most edtech companies have, that the technology product will replace or simplify or make more efficient or get good data in regards to learning.  Technology Minus People.

Why can’t we think about what the technology can do AND  the people who technology is “replacing?”  Why is it always about the technology can do WITHOUT the people? In several posts I read, they asked a similar question especially as technology scales.

So what about technology plus/minus people?

In The Primary Problem with Educational Technology David Wiley recently asked “Why must we replace opportunities to interact with teachers and tutors with artificial intelligence and adaptive systems?  Why are we so excited by the prospect of care, encouragement, and support giving way to a “Next” button that algorithmically chooses what a student should see next?”

George Siemens is saying good-bye to edtech: Adios Ed Tech. Hola something else. He wrote about how “Both Udacity and Knewton require the human, the learner, to become a technology, to become a component within their well-architected software system. Sit and click. Sit and click…Automation treats the person as an object to which things are done. There is no reason to think, no reason to go through the valuable confusion process of learning, no need to be a human. Simply consume. Simply consume. Click and be knowledgeable.”

Yes, computers are replacing humans in many instances and the trend, of course, will continue.  David Brooks in  The New Romantics in the Computer Age notes, “As Geoff Colvin points out in his book “Humans Are Underrated,”computers will soon be able to do many of the cognitive tasks taught in places like law schools and finance departments…Computers can already go through millions of legal documents and sort them for relevance to an individual case, someday allowing one lawyer to do the work of 500. Computers may soon be able to cruise through troves of data and offer superior financial advice. Computers are not only getting smarter at systems analysis, they are improving at rates no human can match.”

Click next. Automation.  Not having to think.  The focus is on what the technology do and how it replaces tasks that humans do and make faster and better. Few bring people back into the equation.

Can’t we ask what is possible with technology AND people instead of what is currently being done when people are taken out the equation? Is it possible? What needs to shift? Why isn’t that happening more?

Well, Brian Sletten says, Caring Doesn’t Scale. (The title of post that says alot in and of itself.)  He makes the analogy of network of people we know and systems.  “The sad reality is, we cannot care equally deeply about everyone…The same is true in distributed systems. Our software can establish highly intimate, shared relationships with other schemas, services and software. It takes time to establish close relationships whether it is between friends or distributed sources of information. Anything that makes us care prevents us from scaling in terms of diversity of participants. We have to decide what systems are worth the coupling. What information is worth the cost of integration.”

He summarizes about connecting systems: “The languages and technologies you use to implement these systems are independent choices based upon your needs, client requirements, staff, legacies, and projected future.”

The people have to make decisions about the systems.  No matter what there is people in the equation.  Maybe it is not with or without but HOW?

Instead of asking what jobs computers can do, David Brooks writes “… You should instead ask, What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans?”

And he says that “Those tasks are mostly relational. Being in a position of authority or accountability. Being a caregiver.  Being part of a team. Transactional jobs are declining but relational jobs are expanding…Empathy becomes a more important workplace skill, the ability to sense what another human being is feeling or thinking”

Caring.  Empathy.  Relationships.  In my post about empathy in the world, I quoted an article in which a business leader says the most important skill a person can have is empathy.

As Eric Westendorf writes in Teacher and the Machine,”Machines will not replace the intuition, the creativity, the role-modeling, the sparkle-in-the-eye, or the look that communicates, “I believe in you,” that only humans can bring.”   .

So what about technology AND people?

Westendorf continues, “We ought to harness the power of machines to improve our schools and classrooms. But instead of thinking of machines replacing humans, we should think about machines supercharging humans. How can machines supercharge teachers to more effectively connect, understand, diagnose, and support?”

When David Reilly applied Caring Doesn’t Scale to edtech, he believes that: “Digital, networked technologies can also be leveraged to design tools and pedagogies that augment, extend, and improve a teacher or faculty’s capacity to care. That is, educational technology can help us be more generous with our care, encouragement, passion, and support. Educational technology can help us come to know, care about, and genuinely support a much larger number of “identified students” than we ever could without its help. But precious little of the activity in the edtech market is focused on achieving this goal.”

In an article about “Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 Edtech Mistakes,” by Yong Zhao, Gaoming Zhang, Jing Lei and Wei Qiu, their conclusion is reinstated: “The transformation is not about technology, but about more meaningful education for all children.”  Technology doesn’t make it meaningful.  People do.  Connections do.

Technology + (plus) People is > (greater than) Technology – (minus) People.

The question is not only about making technology replace or achieve something  but but what it can do to “supercharge humans” and be leveraged for a “teacher or facility’s capacity to care” and transform into a “more meaningful education.”


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