Ed-Tech Patents: Prior Art and Learning Theories

Audrey Watters, Hack Education, Jan 12, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Good overview of some recent history regarding the (now-abandoned) Blackboard patent, as well as some more recent patents held by the Khan Academy. What's interesting is what is essentially a two-step method of shifting discourse in the field: first, the data-driven approaches described by companies like Khan are held to be "theory-free"; then, second, the method described in the patent embodies what we would previously have called the theory. For example: the method of "method for providing computer programming instructions," which bears a striking resemblance to "languages like Logo and Scratch as well as a plethora of online tutorials." Or for example: "a patent for using A/B testing to determine the “effectiveness” of an educational video." Audrey Watters comments cynically, "One might say then that Khan Academy does have a theory of learning; but I’d suggest that it’s behaviorism." But "Regardless, all these practices – these 'systems and methods' – are now going to be patented if the pressures and culture of the tech sector hold sway."

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