Human+Tech in Education: Meeting Bloom's challenge


For this post, I owe a debt of gratitude to a fellow-traveller who connected through this blog and introduced me to Bloom's 2-Sigma problem. Serendipitous as it was, the conversation led me to think of my own quest in a new light and, to reframe the Human+Tech network proposition with a new sense of purpose. It was no longer a solution searching for a problem; instead, there was a clear goal and even a metric against which we can measure the efficacy of our intervention.

For me, this is also a great way to move beyond the false binary (as described in an earlier post - Human+Tech in Education) of human vs tech in education. While I celebrated the possibilities of technology - my entire career was about deploying new technologies - I always resisted the logic of automation: I do not think that the technologies can replace the human in education. Instead, I see Edtech's big - and sole - role as one of augmentation, one like the mobile phone that can carry human voice across thousands of miles but not replace it. Therefore, I have always looked for areas where technology can do what is otherwise not possible.

Bloom's 2-Sigma can frame this possibility in crystal clear terms. It also clearly sets the priorities for what technology should do. The democritising possibility of improving the performance of vast mass of students by at least two standard deviations is urgent and tempting enough to direct technology use to the two instruments that can achieve this: Mastery learning and individual coaching. This also provides a cast-iron justification for technology usage - without tech, this is impossible to organise - and yet, leaves an elevated and perhaps more meaningful role for the human tutors in the educational enterprise.

Mastery learning becomes possible only if we can allow the learners the possibility of carving their own paths and establishing their own relationships with the learning content; which is not possible in a classroom. This means allowing students personalised paths through education and not making education constrained by artificial time limits. Well-directed Edtech can make this happen at scale and with reasonable cost, which is not possible otherwise.

For individualised coaching too, which is about the tutors but with a different role, the challenges of scale and cost can be solved only by careful deployment of technology. Smart edtech can help prioritise, measure the effects of and supplement the coaching interventions, for a large number of students with a degree of persistence. 

We are at a point of departure in Edtech. Too much Edtech has been opportunistically built during the pandemic, on the promise of a 'new normal', without regard to the learners' preferences and aspirations, fuelled by easy money. In the coming year, as vaccination opens up the society, these assumptions will be tested, just as the inevitable fiscal tightening will pose new challenges to this bubble. It is likely that, at that point, a paradigm shift will happen: Tech will not go back to the bottle again, but it will have to justify its value. Rising to meet Bloom's challenge will be a good way to do that.


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