Hewlett Packard And The Pitfalls Of “Deeper Learning” In An Internet Of Things World

It was time to say good-bye to the chinstrap penguin. The paper mache model had kept watch over a corner of my sewing room for years, but with our child moving on to college and evidence of flour-beetles impossible to ignore, its time had come. It was an endearing second-grade project, now a decade old. It was the kind of project many of us remember; you know, the ones that start out scrambling around the back of a closet in search of a shoebox? Today, hands-on, creative projects have largely been cast aside in favor of online learning modules that tout their test score-boosting efficacy. There were many thoughts running through my head as I placed the bug-eaten model into the trash that day.

A day or so later, I happened to read a CommonWealth article in which Jeff Riley, education commissioner of Massachusetts, laid out a “radical center” vision for public education outlined in the report “Our Way Forward: For Massachusetts K12 Public Education.” The media outlet, a mouthpiece for privatization interests, framed the piece to appeal to teachers and parents beleaguered by decades of harmful ed-reform policies. There was talk of an unhealthy fixation on test scores, the need for a rich curriculum, and incentivizing teachers to create “innovative” lessons. I sensed a trap, and that trap was “deeper learning” and “project-based learning.”

In the article Riley also spoke of expanding assessments beyond English and math and of new “performance tasks.” His proposal touted adoption of “smart” technology, flexible career pathways, and perhaps most troubling, tracking and measuring “skills and dispositions” for future employers. The need for increased public funding was downplayed, though the possibility of outside grants was raised. No surprise there. The commissioner tipped his hand in the closing paragraph, though, when he shared his desire for education in Massachusetts to be more like Netflix than Blockbuster.

Riley’s proposal called for four things: deeper learning, evidence-based practice, holistic supports (wrap around services), and partnerships. Many will recognize items two through four as infrastructure for speculative investment in human capital, but the first item, deeper learning, requires elaboration.

Alliance for Excellent Education Deeper Learning Network Map

If you didn’t know better, you might be inclined to believe adoption of “deeper learning” strategies would be a good thing. It sounds like it might include fun projects and social interaction and experiential learning. But don’t be fooled, we’re not circling back to the days of paper mache penguins. Deeper learning isn’t just a throw away phrase, it is a specific educational tactic rolled out by Hewlett Packard a decade ago and intended advance corporate interests while profiling students.

In a 2016 blog post “Building The Deeper Learning Field Grant By Grant,” Phil Gonring of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation details how the company deployed hundreds of strategic grants starting in 2010 to remake education so that it could be digitally engineered and tied to human capital impact investing. Key partners included Stanford University, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Alliance for Excellent Education (philanthropic sibling to the Schott Foundation), charter franchises like EL and Envision Education and “innovative” project-based innovative learning programs like High Tech High and Big Picture Learning.

HP Deeper Learning Grant Strategy

Riley’s proposal for Massachusetts schools cited Sarah Fine’s work on deeper learning. Fine, a Harvard-educated researcher, is employed by the High Tech High Graduate School of Education in San Diego. High Tech High is among the high-profile “innovative” project-based learning schools promoted by venture capitalists like Ted Dintersmith. The graduate school hosts an HP-funded “deeper learning hub.” The graduate program is embedded in the high school, which was funded with a $9.3 million start-up grant from the Gates Foundation in 2000. CA. San Diego is a smart city and also a Collective Shift (MacArthur Foundation) funded City of LRNG (anytime / anywhere learning) that is piloting career pathways and digital badges.

Hewlett Packard has been involved in “evidence-based” human capital investing via the True North Fund. The company was also a member of Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), led by Ken Kay, who you may remember teamed up with Dintersmith and Knowlegeworks on the North Dakota state education takeover. This partnership promoted skills-based education aligned to corporate interests.

HP also funds School Retool, a professional development effort advocating tech “hacks” and “deeper learning” for school leaders in such far flung locations as Dallas, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Oregon, Idaho, and New Hampshire. In the early to mid 1990s Kay led the Computer Systems Policy Project, an organization that lobbied on behalf of the most powerful tech interests in the country. He now manages EdLeader21, which is sponsored by Battelle (defense contractor) for Kids. Evidently the next generation’s “deeper learning” skills are being aligned with the interests of a high-tech war machine.

HP Deeper Learning

Interactive version of above map here.

Ken Kay

EdLeader21 Battelle


At the same time, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation pursued a parallel strategy to remake the non-profit and philanthropic sectors for impact investing. See my previous piece here.

HP Reengineering Philanthropy

Interactive version of map above here.

Hewlett Packard is an expert in human capital profiling. In 2013 they developed a “flight risk” scoring algorithm to assess the likelihood valuable employees would leave their company (and conversely who was not worth retaining). They are developing HR gamification for behavior change and teamed up with Yet Analytics to create, EIDCC and artificial intelligence “brain” they say can calculate the rate of return on investments in digital education and other social expenditures.

HP Human Capital Management

Interactive version of map above here.


Source for above.

Gamification HP Chart

Source here.

Data is the new oil, and classrooms are key points of extraction. Social-emotional data is prized, because it can be manipulated for impact investing and human capital management purposes. Listen to a short clip from a Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Group presentation on social-emotional learning by an executive from Otus in which he describes future possibilities for wearable tech data capture.

We know there is intense interest in capturing data on a person’s “Big Five” “OCEAN” traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (see featured image). Project-based learning is a great way to obtain this data, especially with group projects where team interactions can be tracked with increasingly sophisticated sensors. Not surprisingly HP’s spin off, HP Enterprise, is doing work in IoT, Blockchain, and sensor based technologies, all of which can be used to aggregate data related to people’s interactions with augmented reality, “smart” environments.


Interactive of map above here.

Open Education Resources (OER) are a part of education’s augmented reality world. Value can be created if one can track how person interacts with educational materials, whether text, video, game, or simulation. Meta-data can be used to profile users and content. Demonstrations of competency via OER have been linked to issuance of digital badges for informal learning. Interactions happen via xAPI and SCORM protocols, which were developed by Rustici Software for the Defense Department’s Advanced Distributed Learning program. Considerable research into digital training and intelligent tutoring systems has been undertaken in training US military personnel. The goal of Executive Order 13111, signed by Bill Clinton in 2000, was to leverage developments in defense training and use them to engineer the learning of civilians, too.

HP Education

Interactive version of map above here.

ADL : IoT Education

Interactive version of map above here.

OERs are being pitched as digital text books in higher education, a seemingly useful solution to the problem of cost-prohibitive print books, but the plan is for material to be unbundled and served up by algorithms via personalized, curated playlists. That awful Knewton Datapalooza video? Yup, those learning pathways are comprised of OER. In K12 education OER are central to the delivery of blended learning activities and provide curriculum for cyber schools.

Knewton OER

Knewtown OER 2

Education is being aligned to workforce demands, as stable employment opportunities shrink. Profiling is being used from early ages to put children on ridiculous career pathways to jobs that may not exist ten years from now. These pathway alignments will reinforce existing power imbalances and structural racism. Far from being a chance to experiment with other ways of learning, “deeper learning” projects will be used to prop-up predatory work-based initiatives that legitimize child labor while at the same time dictating whose capital merits investment and who is disposable. While the branding for “deeper learning” makes it sound progressive, in execution it’s actually extremely repressive.

We’ve crossed over into the realm surveillance education where screens, wearable tech, QR codes, beacons, and Internet of Things sensors are starting to give classrooms the feel of Winston’s apartment from 1984. The era of the non-digital, disconnected, wheat paste penguin seems to have passed. Now we are seeing things like the image below, an IoT enabled puppet designed to teach science to elementary school students. It includes embedded sensors to track the child’s physical location in the room.

IoT Bee

Supposedly these puppets gather data on how effectively instruction is delivered on how bees pollinate flowers. This technology was developed with National Science Foundation funding at the Center for Learning Research and Technology at Indiana University Bloomington whose projects include: iSTEP (Science Through Technology Enhanced Play) and PLAE (Promoting Learning Through Annotation of Embodiment). Researchers are using software called OpenPTrack, developed with the UCLA’s REMAP, Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance, that tracks social interactions in augmented reality settings.

We need to understand that creativity and play and hands-on learning and projects are being harnessed to predatory systems of data extraction that will push children’s lives onto digital platforms. The puppets and games featured in these videos (viewable here) are intended to normalize a violent act of digitizing the lives of children without their consent.

Step Bees My sense is that when people hear the term “deeper learning,” they presume it means learners will have time and support to delve into subject areas; that they will be able to learn deeply about a given topic. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

I believe what “deeper learning” is actually about is using digital platforms and IoT to better analyze LEARNERs as human capital. It is more about them learning US and categorizing US than it is about empowering students to learn about the world.

It is about risk scoring people as human capital.

It is for financial speculation and social control.

I’m going to miss that penguin.

I’m ready to fight for the return of “shoebox” projects.

I’m ready to fight IoT in classrooms.

#EducationForLiberation #SmashTheTelescreens




32 thoughts on “Hewlett Packard And The Pitfalls Of “Deeper Learning” In An Internet Of Things World”

  1. After reading about EdLeader 21 a couple of years ago, I had concerns. The group self-identified as having impact on a huge number of students/schools. I’m glad to see that the organization is on the radar of AWrenchintheGears.com

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Reason Foundation is linked to the Koch’s in many ways including as associate member of the Koch’s State Policy Network. In 2012, Reason interviewed controversial school superintendent Elizabeth Fagan. (The Colorado county school district she managed was sued by the ACLU.) IMO, Reason’s interview was an attempt to promote her views. A quote from the interview, “I’m part of a superintendents professional learning group, EdLeader 21 (a group
    that) “allows us to support each other”.


    1. Mr. Berg you are a consultant who sees education as a commodity for your personal benefit. Clearly it is not in your interest to understand that HP created the concept of “deeper learning” as a way to atomize education under banner of “personalization” so that children can be sucked up as human capital data for neoliberal financialization. I see you are in Portland. Interesting. You must understand the future of “education” is managing surplus human capital by screening children for workforce readiness, increasingly via predictive analytics and IoT tracking, often in simulated (synthetic / gamified) work-based environments. Intel is a major player in this. HUGE presence in Portland (Hillsboro). Beware what you are promoting. It is dangerous. It may make you a buck in the short term, but you are selling your soul for a few amazon books and a smattering of speaking gigs.


      1. It seems clear what you are against, but I am not clear what you are for. Would you point me to a post or two that gives a positive statement of how you want the education system to work?


          1. So would you be happy with schools as they are if the only thing that changed was removing the data collection systems and redirecting all the attendant funding to teacher’s salaries, infrastructure, and supplies?


            1. Are you aware of the shift from physical schools to “lifelong learning” / re-skilling / badging aligned to workforce interests? You cited Partnership for 21st Century Skills on your page. It is all that, and many of those “skills” are aligned to defense interests. EdLeader21 is now sponsored by Battelle for goodness sake. The plan is to kill physical schools in favor of online learning and limited “hands-on” “project-based” activities designed to pull SEL data for profiling purposes. Heck, eventually there won’t even be a “real” project, just synthetic environments with xAPI data capture via haptics. I don’t get the sense you really have a clue what is planned. And yet you are happy to chime in with the buzz words to sell stuff for your personal benefit. Schools have always been intended for social reproduction-to reinforce stratification of race/class. No, there were no good old days, but the Blockchain LRS Edu-blocks version is going to be even worse-automated with DAOs and smart contracts. People need to know so they can make better, more strategic choices for truly liberatory education. https://dissidentvoice.org/2019/01/common-schools-and-the-nationalistic-aims-of-public-education-in-the-u-s/


              1. I am aware of such things. I don’t give them much credence as viable educational solutions at the level of the whole system because I’m a psychologist who did research on patterns of motivation in two alternative schools here in Portland. One of the schools is a home school resource center and the other self-identifies as a democratic school. You might find the democratic school particularly interesting because they operate in a fundamentally different way from regular schools. Rather than impose universal academic requirements they impose universal social requirements for participating in conflict resolution and the democratic governance of the school itself.

                The idea of completely replacing teachers is a non-starter on my understanding of how learning happens. That understanding leads me to make a useful distinction between shallow and deep learning. Shallow learning is the result of the learner being coerced into an activity that they find meaningless or boring. My commitment in education is to enabling more educators to use that distinction to improve their classrooms and schools.

                I’m sure there are people who are still convinced that learning is just the delivery of content, which is the only reason they would champion the replacement of teachers with algorithms. Since learning doesn’t work that way they are going to fail, on the whole. AltSchool found that out the hard way.


                1. You make these statements as if you believe the goal of impact investors is to support the creation of an educated populace. That is not their goal. Instead, they plan to use these “innovative” systems to create raw material (life outcomes data) for financial speculation and social control. Digital training is a tool to manage surplus labor in an era of increased automation that demands accurate risk profiling. Students will be reduced to data profiles, tracking anticipated economic productivity against likelihood of dissent. For such purposes screen-based and IoT education will be well suited. The types of schools you mention will be for elite children. These schools will train up the technocratic overlords. I guess consulting for them may be lucrative, if soul-sucking. Pay attention to ASU+GSV. There is a reason firms like Ridge Lane are emerging now. It has nothing to do with liberating poor people through quality education. https://wrenchinthegears.com/2018/05/16/speaking-out-against-pay-for-success-predatory-public-private-partnerships-and-dr-hites-ties-to-ridge-lane-lp/


                  1. Sounds like liberating poor people through quality education something that you want to have happen. What kind of schools do you think can make that happen?


                    1. No. Charter schools are required to teach to the same state standards as the traditional public school with much less oversight. They may be non-profit but most are owned by for profit Charter organizations. Charters are how they will end up privatizing education for profit.


                    2. How have you made a career in education and have no understanding of privatization? No, I do not support charter schools in ANY form. Plus, ESSA will tied ALL education into federal accountability measures (for impact investors) via Education Savings Accounts-every school that takes these vouchers will have to align their curriculum and give up the student data, plus SEL data. That’s how they’ve set it all up. Before long, a decade maybe, everything collapses and we end up with VR simulations and badging.


                    3. Karen, while I really appreciate the nuts and bolts of Anita’s piece regarding the legislative elements, I do see it as a problem that the conservative assessment of what is happening is limited to ack “Socialism!” Too many sidestep the direct ties between data-mining, impact investing, and the militarized policing / state violence that will be used against all who resist, including leftists. Impact investing is an infrastructure that has been systematically built up by trans-national global capital. It’s true. Sure the UN is involved, but as a tool of Microsoft and Accenture. WE (the US) are the globalists. This isn’t a simple matter of government overreach-it is a matter of elected government being overtaken by global fin-tech interests. So, I think that part needs to be brought into equation. Otherwise what, you get no government and Google/Bezos/Thiel/Omidyar in charge of everything? What is happening around evidence-based policymaking, not just in education but in ALL public benefit services, is 100% bipartisan. Pitting one group against another simply confuses an accurate analysis of what is happening. What is happening is happening because of automation and the global political economic system. Don’t think the folks in Davos don’t know. They are happy for people to remain confused. It makes it easier for them to put the finishing touches on IoT and digital ID.


                    4. I don’t think you grasp that the plan is homeschooling for most funded by ESAs, but those systems will be predominately online, corporate developed modules tied to skill development. Anyone who takes public monies for homeschooling will be, as Anita Hoge points out, tied into the data harvest enterprise. This is “anywhere, anytime” learning: https://wrenchinthegears.com/2016/09/23/from-neighborhood-schools-to-learning-eco-systems-a-dangerous-trade/


                    5. I read one interesting post that you wrote and decided to investigate further. I’m asking myself: Are you a sophisticated analyst with insightful views about education and how to bring it about through the empowerment of local communities? Are you some kind of independent journalist with reasonable reporting standards? Are you a conspiracy whacko that is only against the powers-that-be regardless of what form they take? Are you some kind of political ideologue who can’t see past your assumptions? Are you something else altogether?

                      You don’t seem to understand that I am trying to figure out what you actually want as an education system. Are you an educational Luddite that sees no value in computers? Would you be for homeschooling or charter schools that were non-computerized? Do you want forest schools where the kids hang out in the woods all the time?

                      What do you see as a positive possible outcome for K-12 education given where we are now? If you see something like that, how do you think we can get there? If you don’t see that then I honor your cynicism and will put my attention towards people who are going to be more productive as activists.


                    6. Honestly, white men of the settler state are not going to offer any productive solutions to the present situation. In my heart I know what we face is the continuation of the Doctrine of Discovery. Answers must come out of the Black Radical Tradition and Indigenous sovereignty movements. This is not a simple matter of choosing a delivery vehicle for education / training. The scope is much, much greater than that and touches on the delivery of ALL benefit systems. My role is to follow money, interpret my findings, and provide intelligence that may enable oppressed communities to more effectively fight what is coming and maintain a solid resistance. I operate in the vein of Norbert Weiner. I will struggle against cybernetic oppression as long as I am able. The answer to questions of what form education should take is not mine to give, but I welcome participating in conversation with affected communities to the extent that they find my research helpful. You can’t put me in a box. I think that is what you are struggling with. Sorry. I got a solid liberal arts education and I’m using it to go deep. Meanwhile…a priority should be creating counterpublic spaces to practice alternative ways of being and thinking outside the cloud.


            2. Don Berg,
              Why don’t you answer a few questions?
              (1) If there wasn’t money to be made in education, what interest would you have?
              (2) When the founder of 4 major ed organizations funded by Gates identified the goal of privatization “…brands on a large scale”, did you think, count me in? Gates and Zuck, as individuals, not their foundations are investors in the largest for-profit seller of schools-in-a-box with an anticipated ROI of 20%.
              (3) When AEI’s Frederick Hess provided his blueprint for the wealthy to use money to transmute education to achieve their schemes (“Don’t Surrender the Academy”, Philanthropy Roundtable) did you think, where do I sign up to be part of that?
              (4) When Gates and John Arnold (Enron, hedge funds and an anti-pension campaign shared with the Koch’s) sponsored a session for the new education initiative by Tom Daschle’s Bi-Partisan Policy Center lobby shop, did you think, what a great financial opportunity for someone like me?

              I infer it’s convenient for you to buy into the bogus propaganda that U.S. education is a failure. Inform yourself by reading Diane Ravitch’s books and blog. If any of the hedge funds, tech business predators or corporate slime were really interested in education as benefit to individuals or the nation’s productivity, they would start by stopping the financial sector’s 2% drag on GDP. The American education system is obviously highly successful, to first overcome the huge Wall Street drain and then, to make money for billionaires. We can agree the schools have failed to teach students, after employed, to demand the rewards for their work place gains.

              (You aren’t stupid enough to accept the blather about worker and job skills being misaligned, are you?)

              Main Street losing the economic multiplier effect of local education dollars spent locally will be the death knell for American democracy.


  3. I do no disagree but what Anita tried to do was bring immediate attention to just one part of the big picture that if passed will bring ALL children and ALL schools under the same umbrella and set it up perfectly for all the things you research. Regionalization of tax money, Pay for Success, etc etc.


        1. Well sorry to say but it does fall under the banner of socialism. It also violates our Constitution which does not give the federal government any authority to do what it is doing. The left always denies socialism when that is exactly what is taking place in this country. Sorry to just have to disagree on this issue but lets call it what it really is.


          1. Lol, tell me again how Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, UBS et al fit into the “socialist” agenda. Therein lies the limitations of y’all’s analysis. And Lamar Alexander, oh he’s just a misguided dupe of the left? Tell me another one.


            1. Karen only believes in socialism for corporations. She’s silly enough to think tech monopolies are free enterprise.
              She listens to the Koch bros.’ bait and switch about liberty and freedom which fronts for oligarchy. She should read Princeton Prof. Martin Gilen’s research proving the U.S. is not the representative democracy the forefathers envisioned nor a fulfillment of the capitalism of Adam Smith. Karen would have let 1,000,000 Irish starve to death for her misunderstandings.


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