November 16, 2023

Dan Meyer: The Misunderstanding About Education That Cost Mark Zuckerberg $100 Million

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Dan Meyer, blogging at Mathworlds, explains some teaching fundamentals that fans of computer-delivered “personalization” do not get. He starts out by noting reactions to the Matt Barnum piece about Zuckerberg’s step away from techo-ed, and looks for the single misunderstanding that led Zuckerberg to his expensive mistake (he’s quoting Barnum).

This is the Summit model, which I have witnessed firsthand:

Summit also featured 16 hours a week of “personalized learning time.” Students worked at their own pace on a computer, which fed them a “playlist” of content where they learned specific skills. Students could move on once they got eight of 10 questions right on an online quiz.

That seemed to be the biggest draw for Zuckerberg, who contrasted the approach to “having every student sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher explain the same material at the same pace in the same way.” He suggested this could lead to transformational improvements in student learning. The goal, he wrote in 2017, was “scaling this approach to every classroom.”

There it is. You see this misunderstanding time and again from the people who influence whatever passes for a national strategy in education technology.

In 2016, for example, the Gates Foundation announced a fund for personalized learning under the same premise:

[Personalized learning] allows students to progress through content at their own pace without worrying about being too far behind (or ahead) of their classmates.

Sal Khan echoed this premise in 2018:

For us, personalization is — and we could talk about the different flavors of personalization that people use out in the world — but for us, it is, you learn at your own time and pace.

I have tried to illustrate as often as my subscribers will tolerate that students don’t particularly enjoy learning alone with laptops within social spaces like classrooms. That learning fails to answer their questions about their social identityIt contributes to their feelings of alienation and disbelonging. I find this case easy to make but hard to prove. Maybe we just haven’t done personalized learning right? Maybe Summit just needed to include generative AI chatbots in their platform?

What is far easier to prove, or rather to disprove, is the idea that “whole class instruction must feel impersonal to students,” that “whole class instruction must necessarily fail to meet the needs of individual students.”

Read the full post here. It’s a good dive into how teaching works (and how tech bros fail to understand).


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