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Teachers Can Not Be Replaced by Artificial Intelligence or Personalized Learning

Megan Kalina

Western Oregon University



This paper examines artificial intelligence and personalized learning while

establishing its role in education. This paper takes a stance supporting educators

and their critical role in teaching and provides evidence against personalized

learning and artificial intelligence with support from Audrey Watters, Alfie Kahn,

and Neil Postman. This paper also evaluates the other side of the argument

while addressing the ideas from Marvin Minsky, Bill Gates, and the Chan

Zuckerberg Initiative.


Humans have been educating youth informally for thousands of years, and since

the colonial times educators have been imparting knowledge to students in a

more formal setting. For the most part, industrial model of school as we know it is

quite similar to the schools our parents attended and similar to the schools our

children do attend. If asked what the main difference is between school now and

school fifty years ago, the majority would insist the answer is an increase of

technological advances being implemented into the classroom. The merging of

technology into the classroom is increasing at an astronomical rate leaving many

wondering what this means for the future of education and what changes may


A major educational reform has been on the horizon for many years and

some individuals believe that this reform will include replacing educators with

personalized learning and artificial intelligence. As outlandish as this may seem,

there have been trials of implementing artificial intelligence as well as

personalized learning. Regardless of how intelligent a machine may appear, it

cannot replace the physical interaction and responses of a human being.

Technology cannot replace teachers. This paper evaluates two technologies that

are currently competing with human teachers: artificial intelligence and

personalized learning.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)


Artificial intelligence is creating intelligent machines that carry out tasks that

normally require human intelligence. Marvin Minsky was considered a pioneer in

artificial intelligence, and spent countless years promoting the development of AI.

In 1959 Minsky founded M.I.T.s AI Project that led to countless research papers

and led Minksy to receive the Turing Award in 1969 (Rifkin, 2016). The Turing

Award is considered the computer sciences highest prize. During his time at

M.I.T., Minsky inspired many scientists to explore the field of AI, and he

dedicated his entire life to promoting the needed investment into developing AI.

Although his frustration with the lack of advancements were quite evident, his

strong belief that robots would take over doing every day tasks held true until his

recent passing.

Minsky isnt the only one that predicted that teachers will eventually be

replaced with robots. B.F. Skinner compared the ideal classroom to that of a well

functioning mechanized kitchen. Skinner claimed that robots would be more

productive as well as efficient (1956). While humans will never be as automated

as the proposed robots leaching into our classrooms, one cannot possibly feel

sane sending children to a school that functions as well as a kitchen. Teachers

are considered role models. Albert Einstein said it succinctly, Setting an

example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.

(Ekeren, 1988, p.234). Minksy and Skinner did not reflect on this important

component; if our students are spending the majority of their day with a robot that

is only trained to teach, then what or who do our children become? Anyone with

any experience in education knows that teaching is much deeper than the

subject matter as children are not simple creatures. Children have many different

needs that can only be met with real people.

Children flourish with human interactions. Much evidence has indicated

that human language is developed through the number of words that are spoken

in a childs home and conversations with parents directly impact reading

achievement (Ortiz, Stowe, & Arnold, 2001). This does not include the number of

words a child hears that is attached to a screen or listening in on a phone call.

The research suggests that children from more affluent households spend less

time watching television and more time engaged in face-to-face conversation in

comparison to their peers (Fernald, 2014). Parent involvement with their childs

literacy heavily influences social and emotional development (Fantuzzo &

McWayne, 2002). A screen cannot succeed the physical interaction with a

human being. Furthermore, machines lack the compassion and trust that

educators and parents have earned, but scientists are still pushing to create a

robot that will replace us.

Numerous attempts at replacing a human with artificial intelligence have

been tested with limited success. The Turing test was developed in 1950 by Alan

Turing; this test evaluates whether a machine is intelligent. Very few machines

have passed the Turing test, with only two machines passing to date. The Turing

test only requires 30% of the judges to be fooled into thinking the robot is an

actual human being. With a 70% margin for failure, the Turing test appears to fall

short on convincing people that the results are reliable or valid. A pedalogical

agent named Clippy was supposed to guide people through using Microsoft

Office in 1997. People hated Clippy and much preferred to ask a real human for

help while learning the product (Watters, 2016). Siri is a more recent bot that has

found its way into the hands of many people through the millions that own an

iPhone. Ron Lee tested Siri by asking Siri the same questions that are asked of

Loebner contestants; Siri miserably failed (Wallace, 2013). Siris responses

ranged from obscure to completely nonsensical. This reiterates the importance of

physical contact, trusted relationships, and human communication.

A final thought on AI is the amount of trust we are giving ourselves in

creating these machines. While Minsky is on the extreme side in support of AI,

especially when he refers to robots replacing humans entirely due to our flawed

features (Minsky, 1994). He refers to our flaws as physical exhaustion, limits in

retention, as well as limits in wisdom. With robots, there would be endless

possibilities with the robot never aging and continually being able to work on a

problem without other distractions that debilitate the workings of our mind. While

these robots may be able to work longer and more thoughtfully with the

possibility of solving major issues such as cancer, with truly intelligent machines,

there would be no control.

For example, if we give too much power to our technological creations,

then the technology becomes greater than us and we lose control (N. Postman,

1998). Neil Postman refers to individuals as giving technology the same standing

as the air we breathe. Technology has become as common as taking a drink of

water; we give very little thought to how the technology we implement into our

daily lives effects other aspects of our lives. If robots are created that pass the

Turing test with a high percentage of the judges believing they are human, then

we are creating a being that is more intelligent than ourselves. Postman insisted

that we teach our students to be well versed of the effects as well as the history

of technology so we create adults that use technology rather than being used by

it (1996). Technology is a tool and should be treated as such. All tools have their

place and can be valuable, but as with all tools, they can be deadly. Technology

always has side effects; the effects must be weighed carefully and not taken


Personalized Learning

The rest of this paper will be focused on personalized learning due to the

extreme prevalence and attention being received. Personalized learning uses

technology to personalize the learning experience for the student. Personalized

learning differs from AI as it does not completely replace the human. Another

major difference is that personalized learning is already being implemented in

many schools with many supporters pushing personalized learning into every

school in America.

Those that support the implementation of of personalized learning into

every school claim that the personalization challenges advanced students while

scaffolding other students and bringing the students up, ultimately closing the

achievement gap. In Alfie Kahns article Four Reasons to Worry About

Personalized Learning he compared personalized learning to that of Burger

Kings, Have it your way! campaign (2015). The learning may be personalized,

but youre still beginning with the same hunk of factory-produced frozen beef.

Personalized learning does not truly take into account each learners interest or

current development. The software just decides if you get extra mayonnaise or

not. Kahn also emphasizes that true personalized learning is allow the child to

develop their own educational path; the personalized learning we are providing

for children is decided by us (2015). When he refers to us, he is referring to the

creators of the programs that we are trusting to educate our children. The most

troubling factor is these programs are not being developed by educators that

have our students best interests in mind.

For instance, Bill Gates and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are major

proponents for the use of personalized learning in schools, and teamed together

providing over 12 million dollars to support their endeavor (Herold, 2017). On the

surface it appears that Gates and Zuckerberg are providing resources to kids and

funding pilot programs for the better of education. However, it does not take

much research to uncover the true motive: money. Gates has jumped from one

thing in education to the next and drawing many skeptics. He has gone from

promoting charter schools to pushing the implementation of the Common Core

State Standards, and now promoting personalized learning. Moving from one

big thing to the next can have consequences that stretch much further than

Gates (Reckhow, 2017). Due to this heavy monetary influence, Gates and

Zuckerberg are defining what personalized education is with very little input from

educators (Watters, 2017). There are research-based practices that personalize

learning that do not include technology. These practices are over looked,

because regardless of possible repercussions, individuals follow the money

(Allington, 2005). Unfortunately, our education system is built upon marketing

and whoever can package the newest curriculum in the flashiest manner that

promises to make teaching easier and less expensive is the winner.

For example, time and time again, educators have seen practices based

on the same major theories cycle through their classrooms. The educator is

usually forced to adopt the new best way for the best way to only change a few

years later. The issue lies in the disconnect between the classroom and those

that design the curriculum. The curriculum designers usually have very little

experience with educating children despite their vast experience in their field.

Even with the funding being provided to schools for new programs, the schools

are then in turn forced to provide technology that can properly run the programs.

Once the program and funding fizzles out and the designers have moved on to

the next best thing, leaving schools with expensive technology, confused

educators, and drained funds from already dying programs such as physical


Finally, supporters of personalized learning are missing a major caveat;

the students need for socialization. Humans are social by nature and

socialization has many educational benefits. Alfie Kahn emphasizes the amount

of learning that takes place through collaboration. Children make sense of their

world through experiences and feedback from peers. Personalized learning does

not take into account a confused look, misconception, or prompt the child while

the child seeks to fit the new information into their schema. Without socialization,

an even bigger problem ensues. If you ask a child what their favorite part about

going to school is, many students will include playing, talking, or learning with

friends. Students are motivated to attend school and put forth the effort in

lessons because they are motivated. Motivation is a feeling within us that pushes

us to pursue an activity and remain actively engaged (Ormond, 2016). There are

many factors that influences motivation including environment, interaction with

peers, and schemas of an individual. Motivation can manifest itself in many ways

with both internal and external motivation playing a factor into a students

willingness to engage in material. Therefore, personalized learning and learning

games need to be used sparingly. Video games can be used effectively to

increase motivation as well as personalize learning (Gee, 2008). If video games

are used as the only mode of instruction, then the students become uninterested

because playing video games incessantly eventually loses its appeal. Without

motivation which teachers spend a lot of time building in their classroom,

students will not engage with the software rendering it completely useless.


Educators must be willing to stand up for what is best practice for their students.

Our students are already being inundated with personalized learning experiences

that are anything but personal. Students are spending hours testing each year

with the information providing little regard to the instructional design component

of teaching. Educators need to be well versed in the happenings of educational

technology or it will swallow them whole and take their students with them

(Postman, 1996). It is physically possible for teachers to be replaced with robots,

but this is only possible if we allow us to be replaced. Educators know they are

not replaceable; they just need to find their voice and tell others the same.

Artificial intelligence and personalized learning are here to stay, but they need to

find their way out of education.



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