End Week Summary 9 – Who’s algorithm is it anyway?

While my algorithm play started to show results  as the Netflix algorithm, started to advertise pieces of its audio- visual fundus I have never seen before, while hiding others from my view, the question of the role of algorithm based AI in education (now and in the future) and the play started to connect.

Today digital learning is strongly linked with the idea of increased learning effectivity and efficiency. Automated algorithms are hereby considered as helpful tools, which collect huge quantities of data of the learners behaviour in order to focus educational content on these weaknesses. The center of an algorithm based education is the learner and its weaknesses to cope with a given curriculum. But is this all education and teaching is about?  The idea of the independent learner,  knowing exactly what she or he wants and needs to learn is a myth. Knox, WIlliamson and Bayne (2020) provide a consistent assessment on this neoliberal revisioning of the education sector by refering to Biestas identification  of “learnification” and is implications on the digital education future.

“Not only is the figure of the learner placed
at the centre of the educational arrangement, but the individual becomes the site of learning.”


“Learnification is portrayed as blind to broader questions about the role and purpose
of education in wider society,(…)”

I see comparision of this to the algorithms in the digital world. Netflix algorithms using my online behaviour only to shape my profile to be more effective (make me wach more movies?!?). There is no other interest beyond that.

So will the algorithm based AI embedded in digital education systems, apps or programs replace the teacher in future? No, the teacher – learner relationship is more then just effectiveness. It is about supporting, guiding, leading, allowing errors, building personality, shaping personality, etc and or as well as of course the success or achievement of learning targets.

The algorithm in many applications is in most cases focussing only on the achievement of the highest gains but the question who’s gains remains.

“Neoliberal business philosophies and practices promoted by corporations and their partner foundations, supported by international organizations, financiers, and bankers, and welcomed, or at least tolerated by compliant governments, are trying to transform education from a government responsibility and social right into investment opportunities.”(Huff Post (2017)



Jeremy Knox, Ben Williamson & Sian Bayne (2020) Machine behaviourism:
future visions of ‘learnification’ and ‘datafication’ across humans and digital technologies, Learning,
Media and Technology, 45:1, 31-45, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2019.1623251