The Opportunity at the Intersection of Innovation, Education, and Artificial Intelligence, a Conversation With Michael Horn

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This is a podcast episode titled, The Opportunity at the Intersection of Innovation, Education, and Artificial Intelligence, a Conversation With Michael Horn. The summary for this episode is: <p>Teachers are amazing, but they're not superhuman ... Michael B. Horn is a speaker and the author of several books, including the award-winning "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns." "We've spent the last century-plus adding new responsibilities to a teacher's job," he says. "Every few years, we identify a new social ill ... and we say, 'Schoolteacher, that's now your job.' That's hard for a teacher. Turns out teachers are not super-human. They're people. Asking them to do all these things is a struggle. It can lead to burnout. That's a source of seeking to do things in different ways. To make their lives simpler and manageable."&nbsp;Listen as Michael and host Levi Belnap discuss innovation in education.</p>
Clayton Christensen story
02:57 MIN
What is innovation?
00:59 MIN
Why does innovation matter?
00:59 MIN
Why does innovation matter in education?
02:16 MIN
The Race Between Education and Technology
01:35 MIN
What role does technology play in innovation?
01:16 MIN
The role of people in innovation
02:56 MIN
Using innovation to better serve learners
01:38 MIN
Necessity is the mother of innovation
01:53 MIN
The friction and struggling moments
01:59 MIN
Friction in teaching
03:08 MIN
Teachers adopting new innovations
02:23 MIN
The teacher's heavy workload
02:18 MIN
AI in education
03:04 MIN
The future of education
01:51 MIN

Levi Belnap: This is Supervised Learning, a podcast where the Merlyn Mind team learns from experts in artificial intelligence, technology, and education. We hope you enjoy learning with us through these conversations, with those who know. Time to learn. Michael Horn, welcome to the show. I'm so excited to talk to you, because in many ways, I feel like I'm trying to follow your career. I had the fortune to stand on the shoulders of Clayton Christensen, a giant in both of our lives, and I think that's a lot of how you've ended up where you're at, but I'm now trying to bring innovation to education. And I think there's nobody better that's ever done that maybe than you. So tell us a little bit about how you ended up where you're at.

Michael Horn: Yeah. Well, look, I'm honored that you would say that and super appreciative to be on the podcast. And as you mentioned, Clay Christensen, mentor of ours, and in 2005, I was in his class at the Harvard Business School. Had come in with a public policy background, but had frankly gone to business school to get away from that and get away from the writing I had done before. And while I was in his class, he offhandedly said to me, excuse me, not just to me, to the entire class, he said, "If anyone's interested in writing a book with me on public education, please stop by afterwards." So I happened to stop by, but not even for that purpose. I stopped by to talk to him about my paper for the class. And then at the very end, I said, "Did you mean coauthor a book with you about public education, with a student you'll coauthor?" And he was like, "Yeah, of course. That's what we're going to do. We're going to change the world." And I was like, "So I didn't come to business school to do that. I came to business school to get away, but I think I have the background to help you on that." And the course had totally ... On a serious note, I mean, it totally changed the way I saw the world. Every problem out there, and just the opportunity to be able to apply these ideas to such a pressing public policy problem, not just in the country, but in the world really spoke to me, and sort of what motivates me. So he eventually signed me up in February, I think is when I signed on the dotted line. I was not his first choice, I ought to add, and I signed on and he said, "Okay, it'll take a year to write the book and then I'll help you find whatever job it is you want." Well, it took two years to write the book, not one year, and at the very end, he said ... or sorry, midway through, we started this think tank together, the Clayton Christensen Institute. And all of a sudden, I had this decision at the very end, which was do you go off and try to have another job, or you've just poured your heart and soul into something you really believe would help improve education worldwide, for each and every student and holy smokes, you've built this organization and you've gotten grant money from the Gates Foundation and others to go actually build an organization and make it robust. And that's what I wanted to do when I went to business school. You'd kind of be silly to turn your back on that. So it's become my life mission. I get up every morning and what motivates me, what I think about is how do you unlock opportunity for every single individual in this world, regardless of age, stage, and so forth, to be able to make progress, to build their passions, to fulfill their potential? And it's been a total driving force for me since.

Levi Belnap: Wow, what a fascinating trajectory, how you've ended, where you're at. That's so exciting. So as we talk today, we're excited to talk about innovation and education, right? Clayton Christensen, one of the greatest thinkers definitely in terms of innovation, helped you get into how to bring innovation into education. Before we dig into what that means and what it can do for education, I think defining innovation is an important piece. What is it? Everybody and everything.

Michael Horn: Yeah. I mean, innovation is one of these buzz phrases right up there with disruptive innovation and others, but it comes to take on the meaning of whatever you want it to mean. So when I think of innovation, I don't necessarily just think of technology or breakthrough innovations or giant leaps forward. I think of really any sort of improvement that helps us do something differently from what we've done before to get better outcomes. And it's really taking invention and putting it into action, and defined against that, innovation could be a process improvement. It could be a new technology. It could be just a different way of seeing the world that unlocks different priorities and value propositions that you hadn't seen before. But it's really that state of continuous improvement in many ways or discontinuous improvement to do things in a novel way that unlocks outcomes and value for people.

Levi Belnap: Okay. That's really interesting. So then if we start with a big picture in mind, why does innovation matter? Maybe especially in terms of education, why is it so important that we're talking about innovation?

Michael Horn: Yeah, so I think without innovation, you don't make progress about doing things better to serve more people. Innovation is the lifeblood of helping an organization improve and change how they operate to better serve those that they're trying to serve. And that could be again, small, incremental improvements. It could be giant breakthrough leaps forward. It could be these discontinuous shifts that when we think about disruptive innovation, doing things radically different to serve a population you never served before, and maybe it's a more primitive product or service that you're offering, but it unlocks all of this opportunity for people that had nothing before. Those are the sorts of things that innovation enables. And without it, you launch something and you just stay at a standstill, status quo forever. And we know no idea is hatched perfectly, you need to improve it to better serve individuals. And that to me is the real why behind innovation.

Levi Belnap: So let's point that back at education, so innovation then are the changes that must happen to do things better to make progress. Do we need to change education? Do we need to make progress? I guess, why does innovation matter in education?

Michael Horn: Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, look, we could go into the statistics, and there's that pathway, which I will go there in a moment, but just taking a big picture view, I think any enterprise ought to be seeking to improve. I think any enterprise, any leader, any person who works in an organization ought to have the humility to say, "I know things are not perfect right now." If they were, it would be a boring world in which we live. And we ought to seek to improve, to better serve individuals with whom we work, and seen through that lens, I think innovation is an imperative anywhere and particularly in education, where we're really unlocking opportunity for individuals to learn who they are, to learn about the world, to learn connections and create connections between things in the world that will allow for a better civic society, that will allow individuals and their families to have better lives, that translates to all these values and good in the world. That innovation's important. And then on top of that, you can pick your range of metrics. Some people, test scores is very meaningful to them, and you can see that a lot of our students not just in this country in the United States, but worldwide are not able to do certain things that we might say are basic minimum for the knowledge economy in which we're now operating. Some people, test scores don't speak to, and they might look at graduation or completion rates. Some people, even that, they might say, "Well, that's a fallacy because education is ... There are other ways to learn besides formal education." And they might say, "Well, let's look at incomes and let's look at placement into jobs and let's look at job creation and new innovation in sectors and things of that nature, the ultimate outcome." Or even the quality and the fabric of our civic society, which I think everyone would agree is fraying in many ways these days along different dimensions and against any one of those, education can and should be better to build our collective society and individuals to be the best version of themselves.

Levi Belnap: So it sounds like a race we're never going to finish because if we finished, we're done progressing, so we need to keep improving. Education pays benefits if we improve for everyone.

Michael Horn: Yeah. I mean, it sounds exhausting, but there's a great book, The Race Between Education and Technology that came out about a decade ago. And it basically makes the point that technology and society keep racing ahead and education is always trying to catch up if you will. Because nothing around us is static. So even if we assumed it was, I would argue we need to make improvements to better serve. But our factory model education system that we have today, where we batch students up based on their age or date of manufacture, and we teach to them, and then we ship them out the other side, and some people have mastered material and they go to college and some people haven't and they go to maybe career technical school, and some of them just go direct into the economy, that was an incredible success. That sorting mechanism behind that was an incredible success for the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly the first half of the 20th century. But we're no longer an industrial economy where you can make a great wage as a high school dropout moving into a factory job. Those do not exist the way they do. Our world is fundamentally changed. And if we're going to stand still, we're just leaving a lot of people's lives in the balance as a result of that choice. I think that's right, it's always a process of trying to improve and do better. And that's challenging. I'd also suggest it's the fun of it. And frankly, as educators, our job is to help people learn how to learn and to help them learn. And part of that is modeling it by learning ourselves and changing. And that's a really refreshing, exciting thing.

Levi Belnap: Oh, I love that. So you mentioned this race between technology and education, and you said earlier in defining innovation that it's not necessarily technology. You can have innovation that comes from process change, from new ideas, from new behaviors. What role does technology play in innovation though?

Michael Horn: Yeah. Look, technology is obviously a force multiplier, and lots of economists have looked at this way before Clay Christensen ever did. And they would always conclude that there was this delta that would create productivity improvements, that would allow you to change the mix of human labor in an equation to allow you to do more things. And technology is this force multiplier that allows us to become more productive, to do things in different ways, to do tasks that we never otherwise would've thought possible in the past. And the really cool thing about technology as we've observed it is that it improves at a rate much faster than our individual lives change. And what that arms us with is when you innovate using technology, if you put it in the right systems and models and so forth, it allows you to tackle more and more complicated problems without greatly increasing the cost of doing so. And that makes the fruits of that innovation far more widespread and beneficial to much more of society. So technology is an incredibly important lever in the innovation process, but I think just to say it's not the only way of doing it, but it's an incredibly important force multiplier in that equation.

Levi Belnap: Force multiplication, feels like something we need. We want to solve big problems, we need to do it faster, better, simpler, right?

Michael Horn: Yeah, and just to make it personal for a second. So my wife's father was one of the head researchers in the futures division of IBM for decades. And then Samsung. He's now retired. But when he was at IBM in the late 80s, early 90s, he was the inventor of a lot of the handwriting technologies that we now use, handwriting recognition. And then he was doing a lot of the work on screen technology. How do we create really small screens that you could watch TV on your phone?

Levi Belnap: Wow.

Michael Horn: And it was interesting because I was watching a sporting thing or something like that the other day. We get YouTube TV and it's a great way for me to keep up with sports without bothering my family and my wife pointed at me and said to her dad, "You predicted this 30 years ago. How cool is that, that it's manifested itself in my husband being delinquent right now?" But I think that power of technology is very neat to reimagine how we do things.

Levi Belnap: So that touches on the human role. So your father-in-law's role in helping see the vision, create that innovation, so we see the role of technology. What is the role of people in innovation and being leaders of innovative practices?

Michael Horn: I think it's incredibly important, and I'll say it on two dimensions. One is obviously, as you said, the visioning work, the prototyping, making judgements about what we want to come, what are our moral boundaries, what should the technology do? This is obviously a huge topic in artificial intelligence, right, for big reasons. One of which is you can very easily encode bias in your code if you've not thoughtfully used data and theory to drive something that is going to be encompassing of a diverse set of people that will use it. And nowhere is this more true than in fact, in working with children, where it's actually very hard to understand when they're speaking, what they're saying. So training your artificial intelligence, your machine learning with children's voices and children's syntax is incredibly important, otherwise you're going to miss a whole population that you might seek to serve in so doing. So people play huge roles in the vision and creation, collaboration and so forth of those processes. The other place that they play a huge role is the development of organizations around them to put business models in place that make these innovations sustainable and scalable over time. And I think as we think a little bit about Clay Christensen's work on this, one of his big contributions is to say innovation isn't just about technology. It's really about the business model innovation that accompanies that technology, and people create business models. And it turns out that if you're in a particular longstanding organization and you've been doing things the way you've been doing them for a long, long time, and then this disruptive innovation comes along, something that's more primitive, not as good as the traditional out there, but it enables these new value propositions around affordability, convenience, accessibility, simplicity, such that it can serve people who were not previously served by the dominant services or products in the market, you as a leader of an organization, you have a choice. The disruptive innovation is coming. Are you going to make the leadership decisions, the organizational decisions, the business model decisions necessary to create a unit that can prioritize it? That you can invest in to go out and be the disruptor, or are you going to be disrupted by something that you don't control, that maybe lacks your values and know-how and so forth? And to me, leadership, I think a lot of people read Clay Christensen's work around disruptive innovation. They're like, "Well, it has an aura of inevitability about it. It's just going to happen. You're just going to get overrun." And my sense is leaders are incredibly important in disruptive times, because they really chart the courses by which the innovation follows.

Levi Belnap: That seems particularly important. Many of our listeners are school leaders, school administrators, principals, very thoughtful teachers. So they are in that role, they are seeing the changes and it's on them basically is what you're saying to embrace and make the changes that make their own classes, their own districts, their own schools better.

Michael Horn: Yeah. It's a big point of mine, which is when I wrote Disrupting Class with Clay and Curtis Johnson, I think for many people, it was an extremely compelling vision and they were excited and some people said, "Oh my gosh, your pedagogical point on X was terrible." And I would say, "I'm not the pedagogy expert. If you have a better vision for how to create a classroom of learners or to create a community of learners, each of whom is going to excel, go for it. But I hope that these principles of how you innovate are helpful to you, so that you can make the likelihood of you succeeding for those learners far more successful than you otherwise would've been. And that you can use this idea of innovation to make your improvement efforts that much more robust to better serve learners." And I think that's what we all get to do as educators is the innovations are coming, whether you like them or not. How do they get implemented? Who do they serve? What's the thought behind them? What's the morality behind them? What's the considerations and trade-offs you're going to make? Because there are trade-offs. There certainly are trade-offs. And I would really rather have a very thoughtful group of educators alongside the kids, alongside the students, alongside the individuals making those choices.

Levi Belnap: So speaking of trade-offs, you could innovate in lots of different places. Any school leader could choose one innovation over the other. You probably can't do everything at the same time. I know one of your co-authors, I see your books behind you. I was going to lift up your books, but you already have them there. Bob Mesta, who you wrote your recent book Choosing College with, he's also a mentor of mine. And he always had this phrase of, "Every innovation opportunity starts with struggle. The seed of all innovation is a struggling moment," to use Bob's words. What does that mean, and why is that so important in picking where you're going to innovate?

Michael Horn: Yeah. Well, look, if you don't feel friction, if you don't feel struggle, then you feel no need to innovate or do things differently. Because you're just humming along. So they always say necessity is the mother of innovation or invention depending on which form of the quote you take. And I think it's similar, which is that necessity, that struggling moment, that sense that things are not what they should be, that it could be better on the other side, there's a push in my life, that I can't keep doing it this way or there's a discomfort, that sense, that friction is incredibly important because it causes you to say, "Today's the day I need to figure out a way to do this differently. I need to get around this barrier. I need to get around this roadblock. I need to reach that child I haven't been able to reach." And it causes you to do things that step outside your normal routine, which is innovation. And that is you innovating as an individual to create a better life for you, to create a better life for your students, to create a better experience for all of you together, whatever it might be, but I think without that struggle, it's just a heck of a lot easier. Like we said earlier, constantly innovating sounds exhausting. And you would only choose to do it if you felt like there was friction that you needed to resolve to make your life better, and I think that's right. Human beings, there's a saying in the cognitive science literature, which is human beings are fundamentally lazy. We don't want to put in the work. Working and learning, that's hard. It actually burns energy. It's hard. We prefer to just be on a hammock relaxing. And unless there's that friction that's turning the hammock over and creating a lot of turbulence, we're not going to innovate to realize you should put a structure and a bed in place.

Levi Belnap: So the friction in education, where is it? And I think especially now as we're talking in the middle of post COVID-19, we're all in remote or hybrid or different learning situations. I think we could talk a lot about that friction, but I'd actually love you to talk more about broadly the friction that you've seen over the past two plus decades of researching this and looking at this and where are those big opportunities, the struggling moments that rise to the top of here's where innovation is most impactful in education, here's where the struggling moments are?

Michael Horn: Yeah. It's a great question, and they have to be organically felt. So sometimes, I think we create friction that doesn't actually resonate on the grassroots level. So no innovation occurs, no change occurs. When that happens, it has to be deeply felt. So the most obvious area where you see this friction is in motivation, if you will. And what we always like to say is students are all motivated, but they're motivated along their jobs to be done, which is to succeed, make progress on a daily basis, to have fun with their friends, things of that nature. And it turns out that the classroom activities that most kids do don't actually intersect with that very neatly. So they may not have motivation toward the assignments that someone else is giving them. Well, that creates friction. That creates struggle, both from the students who are perhaps frustrated that they're not doing as well as they might want to, that they're not feeling successful, that they're feeling like failures, that they're getting in trouble, that they're having privileges taken away from them, there's lots of different ways to manipulate motivation it turns out intrinsically and extrinsically. And then secondarily, obviously teachers feel all that source of friction, the child that's disruptive, not in the disruptive innovation way, but the calling out way. As you put it in the pandemic right now, we feel this acutely where students are in front of Zoom rooms constantly, wandering off, switching windows, chatting to their friends. My daughter was in a dance class the other day and my wife came in and saw her chatting with a friend she hadn't seen, "I miss you dearly, blah, blah, blah." She's six, but those are all moments where we see that friction, that struggle to get attention. So I think that motivation piece, which again, I think all students are motivated, but how to harness that motivation toward the things that we know will help develop them into better adults that are prepared for the complicated world in which we live is the real struggle that I think really motivates a lot of people to try to innovate and do this work better.

Levi Belnap: I love that. So on the student side, aligning that motivation, making it easier to connect the motivation they already have with the assignments or the learning that could happen. What about on the teacher's side? We've seen a lot of teachers being overwhelmed, teachers burning out, teachers leaving the profession. What is it about teaching that causes so much friction? What are some of the key ... I don't know, early opportunities where innovation can make a big difference there?

Michael Horn: Yeah. I mean, there's so many on the teacher's side. One of them just from a historical perspective is we've spent the last century plus just adding new responsibilities to a teacher in a school's job. Every few years, we identify a new social ill, and invariably, we realize that education has something to say about it. And therefore we say, "School teacher, now that's your job." From providing a menu of courses and opportunities to teaching the morals and inculcating civic responsibility to ensuring learning, to making sure reading and math are in place, to STEM, to counseling and social capital, we keep layering on new and new things. That's hard for a teacher. It turns out teachers are not superhuman, they're people, and asking them to do all these things is a struggle. It's tiresome, it can lead outright to burnout because it's too much for so many of them. So that is a source of seeking to do things in different ways to try to make their lives simpler and manageable in many ways. A second one is no teacher wants to come into a classroom and have 30 kids not pay attention to them, or to be unruly and disruptive and so forth and engaging your students, capturing their imaginations, lighting them on fire to go tackle something that you're passionate about is something that teachers want to do. And that's another set of frictions or struggles if you will there. And then I'll just say a simple one, which is one of my favorite innovations in technology and education over the last I guess 20 years at this point is the company that used to be called Wireless Generation that you know, now it's called Amplify. They introduced this very simple Palm Pilot device that did a very basic reading assessment through DIBELS in the early 2000s. And the real insight there was simply teachers are already doing this very complicated assessment work of young students' reading ability. And right now they've got a stopwatch, the text, the righting of errors, looking at the student management complexity to do. That's four discrete tasks that they have to be doing at the exact same time. And it's really, really hard. If we can just simplify and automate that into one interface and make it much easier for a teacher so that they're not balancing all these different things, we're going to make their lives a lot simpler and easier. And teachers loved it, because it did just that, and if you are trying to make a teacher's life harder, good luck with your innovation. But if you're trying to solve something that they're struggling with that is causing them more time, that is causing them more headache, that is making their life harder to do what they're really passionate about doing, you have a really good chance of doing something that helps them.

Levi Belnap: Oh, that's very interesting. And that aligns really well with the mission of why we exist, our organizations here, trying to figure out how do we make teachers' lives easier and bring the best of new technologies into the classroom. So I want to dig in on that piece especially because I saw some research that you did with Bob Mesta and Thomas Arnett out of the Christensen Institute, looking at ... I would love you to explain it, but basically the idea that teachers aren't going to adopt all new innovations, it's only going to happen if it's kind of solving a real problem for them, and maybe dig into that for us a little bit.

Michael Horn: Yeah, absolutely. So the question we asked was why do teachers hire, if you will, big instructional changes in their classroom? Why would you overturn a way of teaching that you'd been doing for several years, maybe decades in some cases? What would cause you to say, "Today's the day I ought to change completely what I do?" So we interviewed teachers who had made such a dramatic change in their classrooms to actually identify the trade-offs and decision making and timeline of such a change, to figure out what were the jobs to be done that they would hire, if you will, instructional change for? So putting it into English, if you will -

Levi Belnap: Nobody knows what jobs to be done means.

Michael Horn: Exactly. No one knows what that means. So why would you change practice? What problem were you trying to solve? What was the progress you were trying to make in your particular circumstance when you made a big change in your classroom? And what we found was that there were four reasons or sets of reasons that people would make this change. So the first one was they said basically, "We want to look like a leader in our school community." So the school basically had decided, "We're going to make a set of changes." And the teacher would say, "I want to be part of that." And they would care a little bit less about what the changes were. More that they wanted to be a leader within their school community who was helping rally and show others a better way to do things, to engage their students and so forth. The second one we found was teachers basically being very frustrated that they could not hold the attention of their students and that they could not engage them. They didn't want to make a radical shift in their classroom. That would be too much work, but they wanted some easy solutions that they could plug in on top of or in addition to, or to save them a little time, to do things differently enough that it would grab people's attention. And they'd often hire technology or videos or things like that to do this. The third one was in essence to paraphrase, it was teachers who basically said, "I'm sick of this. I've concluded the system does not work at all. And if I can't radically redo my classroom and learning environment completely, then I'm out." One person said to me, "I was about to quit teaching so I could go be a truck driver." He had been teaching for almost 20 years when he said this. So, these are people who are disgusted and they want to overthrow the system. They're like, "Factory based model stinks. We want mastery learning, overhauled, student-centered environment." And then the fourth one we found was basically teachers going along to get along. The school was doing something and they didn't want to be the one stick in the mud holding things up basically, but they weren't super excited about it. They were really doing it out of a sense of compliance rather than intrinsically excited about it. And no surprise, if you're doing something that you don't really believe in, turns out not to go terribly well, but that's basically what we found.

Levi Belnap: And on the piece where you said they were looking for ... Basically, I need to challenge and engage more of my students, but I need to do it in a way that's manageable. As we look at what teachers have to deal with today, it seems to be to your point, we're giving them more and more responsibilities. We're also giving them more and more tools. You now have potentially a device in every student's hand. You have I think the average is like 1,300 apps used by a district every month. There are applications for everything. How is a teacher supposed to manage all of that? How do you help them with that part?

Michael Horn: Yeah. I mean, I don't think there's a great solution out there right now, unless a teacher simplifies and says, "We're just going to do this one thing." And most teachers don't teach that way. They have a common core curriculum, not to be confused with the national Common Core, but they bank on this is going to be our central scope and sequence for the year. And then they plug and play lots of different things. In our day, it was a lot of worksheets or a particular module from a unit that they had picked up from somewhere else or things like that. Now, they do a lot of that with apps and things of that nature. So they're constantly plugging and playing all these things together, and it's really hard to coordinate. And now on top of that, when teachers become increasingly teaching in a blended environment with taking advantage of all these devices, and now students are all over the place and they're learning, that complexity goes from like seven to 11. And you're really dialing it up, if you will. And outside of sort of learning management systems and things like that, which I tend to think of those as more course management systems. They're ways to keep track of assignments and the syllabus, but they're fundamentally not student centered ways of seeing the world. They're not actually tracking learning, they're just tracking delivery of the stuff. It's actually very hard to manage all of these different things out there. So I think you talk to most teachers and they say, "God, I would love something that would simplify the administration of my job, to offload a lot of these things I need to manage through." And you talk to a lot of teachers right now, God, what they would trade I think to not have to reset a password for the 15th time right in the middle of a Zoom session as someone is jumping on DreamBox Learning or something like that. All of that complexity is very difficult.

Levi Belnap: So that brings us to artificial intelligence.

Michael Horn: Yes.

Levi Belnap: How artificial intelligence has been very effective in many industries to simplify complexity, automate routine or tedious tasks. How has artificial intelligence been used to date as you've seen in education, and what have the misses been? And maybe where are the opportunities? How could AI be used here to some extent?

Michael Horn: Yeah, so I've been a big skeptic of artificial intelligence in education. And I think predominantly for the reason that we've tried to apply it in the most complicated of settings, which is to say student learning. And students all have very jagged learning profiles. Lots of learner variability. We could call it different learning needs at different times. And to think that you can come up with an algorithm that can maybe at most contemplate three different pathways to track learning. And that somehow, it understands that Johnny didn't eat breakfast this morning. And therefore, we should underweight the fact that he missed these questions because it was really an extraneous factor. It had nothing to do with the content. Michael really geeked out on it. But that's because his father happened to talk to him about that very subject this morning. So he was essentially cheating. A, the algorithms are flawed to begin with, I would argue, because it's so complex. B, the observable traits that you can capture data on are so diffuse that it's very hard to model. So some people might say, "Well, let's just create something that's better than the alternative," which is a textbook maybe. And I think it's easier to do that in linear subjects like math. And that's where we see DreamBox for example, takes advantage of some of those algorithms to do better than some of the alternatives. But I think it's been way over-hyped and overstated, because of the complexity of learning and all the different things you could choose to learn as well. Where I think it could be useful is exactly what you just said, which is to say we have a very well understood process. We have a very well understood pattern. Let's use artificial intelligence or machine learning to automate that, and to simplify it, and to allow people to take advantage of it more seamlessly, so that it does not burden them. And those routine processes it turns out are not in the learning of a classroom. They're in all the functions around the learning. I think you could say that they are around the teaching if you think of teaching as very just lecture driven. But we know that's not the most effective way to learn. That creates a very passive learning experience, which the research is not very clear about a lot of things, but the research is very clear passive learning is terrible. So it might help automate teaching, but that actually doesn't help the end objective learning, but what's really exciting about it is it could potentially automate all of these other things that teachers, they didn't sign up to be doing in the first place, so they'd love to get it off their plates, whether that's attendance taking to how you hand out an assignment. All these things that are very well understood, if you can get AI and machine learning to help with that and to be cognizant of the different circumstances and different processes in play, that seems pretty exciting to me as a potential.

Levi Belnap: We agree. We think that there's a lot of opportunity here, we're working on it. So thank you so much for joining us, Michael. This conversation has been fantastic. I've learned a ton from you. As I was preparing for this, I read a quote from your book from over a decade ago talking about what was going to happen in the future with online learning. And there was this one statement that based on the data, we think in 2019, 50% of high school classes will be delivered online in some fashion. And then I just started laughing thinking, "You missed COVID, it's 100% now." So because of your prophetic ability, any ideas about what it looks like 15 years out from now?

Michael Horn: Oh, gosh, I think technology consistently under performs in the short run, but it over performs in the longer run. So that's one thought that I would leave for people and the time horizons in education may be a good deal longer for two reasons. One, it's a very complex multi-stakeholder process with a lot of people who have lots of different interests and for you to make progress, it's important not just to hit the job to be done, if you will, of just teachers. You also have to understand what parents and school leaders and students and community stakeholders are trying to do as well. And it's like playing on a six-layer chess board. It's hard. But the other thing I would say is it's much harder also to innovate within an existing system. And one of the things I think we missed in disrupting class was the disruption is really at the classroom level, within a school system that's established, which just makes it inherently harder to change the regulations and metrics and so forth that you're using to ... essentially the processes and value proposition and priorities of that system. I think the biggest changes are going to occur among the 250 million children worldwide who have no access to schooling, period. And that I think we're going to see major advances in autonomous learning or technology enabled learning that help students just become literate and numerate at a very basic level. And I think in 15 years' time, that'll start to give us some new visions of how to rethink schooling completely that could leapfrog what we do in the United States. That that would be my prediction to keep an eye on.

Levi Belnap: Wow, what a wonderful vision. I hope that comes to fruition. So people want to learn more about your research, I know you are always doing new and interesting things. I love some of your podcasts. Maybe you can tell people more about where they can listen to you, where they can read about you, where they can find more info.

Michael Horn: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate it. Look, is my website. It's a hub for all the media activity I do. We have a couple podcasts, Future U, Class Disrupted. Future U is higher ed focused, Class Disrupted is K-12 focused. I have a YouTube channel, Michael B. Horn, and a Facebook page, Michael B. Horn, where I do a bunch of live videos about the future. We'll have you on at some point, it'd be fun. And people can keep up and then you can always subscribe to my newsletter on Substack, or follow me on Twitter.

Levi Belnap: Thank you so much, Michael, for joining us. It's been a pleasure.

Michael Horn: Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Levi Belnap: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Supervised Learning. Until next time, keep learning.


Teachers are amazing, but they're not superhuman ... Michael B. Horn is a speaker and the author of several books, including the award-winning "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns." "We've spent the last century-plus adding new responsibilities to a teacher's job," he says. "Every few years, we identify a new social ill ... and we say, 'Schoolteacher, that's now your job.' That's hard for a teacher. Turns out teachers are not super-human. They're people. Asking them to do all these things is a struggle. It can lead to burnout. That's a source of seeking to do things in different ways. To make their lives simpler and manageable." Listen as Michael and host Levi Belnap discuss innovation in education.