B. F. Skinner on Teaching Machines (1954)Posted: February 1, 2013
I really wish every person involved in online learning could watch this short video:
After watching that, you might assume that I am going to rant against B.F. Skinner. Far from it. In that five minute video Skinner tackles concepts of self-paced learning, the importance of quick feedback, the basics of gamification, aspects of proximal development, and mastery learning. He understands that it is not the *machine* that teaches, but the person that writes the teaching program. And he is better informed than almost the entire current educational press pool in that he states clearly that a “teaching machine” is really just a new kind of textbook. It’s what a textbook looks like in an age where we write programs instead of paragraphs.
That’s in 1954, people. I’m a constructivist most days of the week, but nobody really stands as tall in the field of learning as Skinner.
So Skinner doesn’t irk me. What irks me is that we start every tech discussion as if Skinner, Bruner, Bloom, and their subsequent critics never existed. For example, here’s a presentation on gamification. The principles of gamification are stated as
- Goal Setting,
- Norms of Reciprocity,
- Loss Aversion,
- Set Completion.
Know what? About half of those topics are covered in the five minute video. And covered better than you’re going to find them covered at any THATCamp shindig.
You want more? Here’s a news story from last year about Rocketship Schools and their learning labs:
As students log on in the computer lab, they access what amounts to an individualized skills plan, the day’s instruction based on assessments that adjust to their performance.
The Learning Lab holds 130 students and it’s nearly always full. Once students squeeze into their chairs and pint-sized headphones, the room takes on the hushed air of a study hall during final exams, with each student working at his or her own pace.
The title of that news story? Futuristic Rocketship Schools Redefine Teaching. The list goes on and on. You can play this game easily yourself: find a piece on Khan Academy, edX’s machine grading, read a Friedman article, attend a TEDTalk .
What we have to stop asking is “Why will this work?”.
What we have to start asking is “Why will this work this time around?”
The answer to that second question might be very plausible — the advances in technology have been incredible. We integrate social elements more seamlessly into technology than we used to. We are networked together. But it’s that question — “Why will this work this time around?” — that really needs to form the starting point of the discussion.
1954, people. 1954.