Thursday, May 3, 2018

Another Bad Personalized Pitch

I am running out of clever titles for this sort of piece, but the sheer number of investor pitches for personalized [sic] education require me to stretch. While these may seem a bit redundant, I think it's important that we see just how many versions of this same bad pitch are out there. This is why bad policy persists-- because a whole bunch of people have convinced themselves the bad policy will make them rich.

Say hello to EVC Ventures, a $50 million Chicago-based Venture Capital fund focused globally on early-stage startups. Or, as their website listing puts it, "where start-ups become unicorns." One of their portfolios is Ed Tech, which explains why managing partner Anjil Jain is in Entrepreneur today, pitching Personalized [sic] Learning as the next bit of awesomeness. She graduated from the Horace Mann school and has a BA in Anthropology from Columbia University. She's an investment person, not an educator.

The headline is "Are You Integrating Personalized Learning Into Your Curriculum?" which seems to assume that school superintendents and curriculum planners are big readers of Entrepreneur India. But the subheading makes big, important promises-- "Personalized learning with the help of Artificial Intelligence will change the Education System." It's possible that we're trying to sell education to companies' in house training programs.

Here's the very first paragraph:

Well, a school is a place we all hold as a dear memory; however, there were also days when school seemed redundant with the same old classroom instructions, lectures, books, and other such activities. With each new day, education is taking an extra step to kill that redundancy and promote a more personalized experience for their students.

Ah, yes. Books and other such activities. And redundancy. And one more critique of public school classrooms as they were in 1962. Do we want to kill redundancy? Because repetition is a really useful learning tool. But let's not tarry too long at this first graph, because Jain is just getting warmed up.

As the old school routine became more superfluous, education needed a change for accessibility through transformative technology and personalized learning secures a good place for the same.

It is, as one colleague, observed, as if Betsy DeVos was being translated by an AI.

What else can be more fitting than the ideal blend of technological betterments and the need for educational advancements? Where traditional tactics take a step back in the progressive world, advancements like AI and data analytics take the lead and stay up front to show the demanded growth.

What is the ideal blend? That's one of the many specific areas that Anjl is not going to approach at all. She will, however,  quote "a report" that 16% of jobs will be lost to AI and tech over the next decade (she appears to be quoting a market research report from Forrester). AI and data analyrtics "are all set to show miracles to the world" and "prove their mettle in the education industry." And the hits just keep on coming:

Helping students at their own pace is one of the prerequisites an educational institution must focus on. Notwithstanding, the very task is not as simple as it sounds. Howbeit, AI comes to the rescue in this scenario by personalizing the learning experience for every student. This all is possible with the combined help of data analytics and AI. Where data analytics helps in gathering and presenting the behavioral as well as learning curves of the students, AI helps the students by putting emphasis on the topics they need help with. Teachers can work as a helping hand to guide the students whenever they feel the need of the additional support.

Slog through the tortured prose (yes, "howbeit" is a word, albeit an archaic one) and you see the usual promises. Students learn at their own pace. Data is collected for both academic and behavioral analysis. Teachers are sidelined. How does any of this work? Well, you know-- AI and data and magical fairy dust.

But there's good news for teachers as well.

Grading every individual is not a sweat task for the teachers anymore.

Well, thank goodness, because I have all the sweat tasks I can handle. But AI and data analytics will grade the tests. In fact, they will even generate "performance-based tests" (check one more item off the buzzword list).

The world is changing and I believe, no student is ready for an average learning experience. Every business, be it the one leading in the industry or the one, which just started talking business, is trying to lure the students around the world with their provision of enhanced learning experiences.

Want some explanation of how this could actually work? Too bad-- the end of the article is almost here, and we still have some buzzwords to work in:

Students of today won't be satisfied if you provide them with the traditional learning setups, like a classroom and a teacher reading through the notes. They want the incorporation of techniques like adaptive learning, digital courseware, and almost any technology that can help them learn as per their learning curve.

Yes, who wants learning in a stupid classroom with some teacher just, you know, teaching stuff. Hey, I can scratch off "adaptive learning" and "digital courseware" now! Let's wind up for the big finish:

Every student is unique and has a different pace of learning, personalized learning will allow students to accelerate at their own pace. The main reason why personalized learning has become such as important part of the higher education system is because of its assessment-driven features, showcasing academic advancements from time spent in a classroom to competencies mastered with experiences. There's no one size fits all in the education space. Now the question is; have you implemented this yet?

A nod to micro-competencies and the not-one-size-fits-all of what is most likely a one-size-fits-all software solution.

"Data analytics" appears eight times in this piece; "AI" appears fifteen times. An explanation of exactly what those are purported to be, or exactly how they would help anyone learn anything-- that appears zero times. Just a repetition of these and other buzzwords like a magic incantation intended to conjure up.... well, what? Investor money, I suppose. What hasn't happened here, of course, is any attempt by the investment firm to actually study up on education  history, the background or application of personalized [sic] learning, or the actual practical wisdom of employing (or defining) such a system. What hasn't happened here is any attempt to acquire understanding any deeper than a shallow pile of buzzwords. I guess all of that would have been too much of a sweat task.                                                                                                                                                                


  1. Has anyone bothered to tell these dolts that kids actually LIKE TEACHERS?

  2. Or explain to them that entry level positions are not going to have "enhanced learning experiences".

  3. The absolute worst part of this article, for me, is the atrocious writing and grammar. As you alluded to Peter, it seemingly comes off as if a "still adapting" AI wrote this article.

    Who would buy into this hogwash when the person writing it, an alleged 'educator', can't even use commas correctly? Can't even write in complete sentences? I can't imagine anyone eating up this garbage - it's akin to reading the Nigerian prince email scam, overlooking the horrendous amounts of writing errors, and saying "By jolly gee this sounds swell, here's my money!"

    There are some many cliche and trite phrases thrown around in this article that it is more satire than serious business proposal.

  4. "It is, as one colleague, observed, as if Betsy DeVos was being translated by an AI."

    Yes, translated from Urdu to English by way of German, all run through Google Translate.

  5. Maybe with personalized (sic) learning, the author would have mastered comma usage. Yikes.

  6. This post made me LOL, no AI needed.

    It's not often a first-draft essay gets past the editor without revision.

    I feel bad for the author. We should never have seen this piece in its stream-of-consciousness-wed-to-a-thesaurus-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow-pot-of-comedy-gold state.