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This article is from the In-Depth Report Learning in the Digital Age
See Inside Scientific American Volume 309, Issue 2

How Big Data Is Taking Teachers Out of the Lecturing Business

Schools and universities are embracing technology that tailors content to students' abilities and takes teachers out of the lecturing business. But is it an improvement?

That does not mean teachers are going away. Nor does it mean that schools will become increasingly test-obsessed. It could mean the opposite. Sufficiently advanced testing is indistinguishable from instruction. In a fully adaptive classroom, students will be continually assessed, with every keystroke and mouse click feeding a learner profile. High-stakes exams could eventually disappear, replaced by the calculus of perpetual monitoring.

Long before that happens, generational turnover could make these computerized methods of instruction and testing, so foreign now, unremarkable, as they are for Arizona State's Hawkins and her classmates. Teachers could come around, too. Arizona State's executive vice provost Phil Regier believes they will, at least: “I think a good majority of the instructors would say this was a good move. And by the way, in three years 80 percent of them aren't going to know anything else.”

Take an adaptive quiz on state capitals at

This article was originally published with the title "Machine Learning."

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