The Deskilling of Teaching and the Case for Intelligent Tutoring Systems


  • James Hughes IEET



education, automation, proletarianization, deskilling, rationalization


This essay describes trends in the organization of work that have laid the groundwork for the adoption of interactive AI-driven instruction tools, and the technological innovations that will make intelligent tutoring systems truly competitive with human teachers. Since the origin of occupational specialization, the collection and transmission of knowledge have been tied to individual careers and job roles, specifically doctors, teachers, clergy, and lawyers, the paradigmatic knowledge professionals. But these roles have also been tied to texts and organizations that can disseminate knowledge independently from professionals. Professionals and organizations turn knowledge into texts and tools that enable lay people to access knowledge without the intermediation of professionals or organizations. In the 21st century, one emerging tool for transmitting knowledge is the intelligent tutoring system. This paper examines how technological, epistemic, and economic trends in education are supporting the routinization, proletarianization, and automation of the occupation of teaching, leading to the increasing substitution of intelligent tutoring systems for human instruction.

Some trends, such as standardized curricula and testing, both restrict teachers’ professional autonomy and facilitate the creation of pedagogical tools. Other trends reduce teachers’ ability to resist automation. The growth of adjunct teaching and paraprofessional roles in higher education allows organizations to take over and rationalize parts of the traditional teacher role. Faculty evaluations and learning outcomes assessment weaken professional claims to be the sole arbiters of instructional quality and student learning. The widespread use of intelligent tutoring systems also depends on the sophistication of software capable of performing the social-emotional and cognitive roles that educators perform. Eventually, pedagogical software will be able to interactively individualize curricula to the needs and interests of every learner, more cheaply, quickly, and accurately than any human teacher. Assessment of learning will be continuous, and certification of learning will be for specific skills instead of broad area competencies. Intelligent tutoring systems will help transition education from its medieval and industrial-era model to more accessible and flexible continuing education for employment and life enrichment.




How to Cite

The Deskilling of Teaching and the Case for Intelligent Tutoring Systems. (2021). Journal of Ethics and Emerging Technologies, 31(2), 1-16.

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