How To Use Recommendation Engines Wisely
Recommendation engines can now be found almost everywhere. They tell us what products we want to buy, what books we find captivating, what YouTube and TikTok videos are most entertaining, and, of course, what educational materials are most valuable. No matter what the context is, recommendation engines do their best to serve us a variety of options matching our tastes. Their job is to make our lives easier, and they are great at what they do. They deliver what’s most needed, liked, and comfortable. But there’s a hidden price in that.
Recommendation engines enclose us in a bubble filled with the known, easy, and safe, but comfort rarely stimulates development. In fact, leaving your comfort zone usually means going through a certain amount of stress and uncertainty—natural reactions when we experience something new. And it is this new that broadens our horizons, inspires us with fresh ideas, and boosts development. Without this unease, we stay in one place. And someone once said that if we don’t move forward, we fall behind.
The Good And Bad Of Using Recommendation Engines In Education
Recommendation engines in education work in the same way as the ones present in eCommerce and entertainment: they suggest courses and materials based on initial questionnaires and/or our first steps on a platform and continue learning through careful data analysis. How does this influence our choices and, consequently, our educational progress?
Be it Udemy or Netflix, there is nothing more frustrating than browsing for an hour through the offers and not knowing what to choose. Recommendation engines can definitely help here. Filling in a short survey about our preferences can help us make the first steps in a new platform, saving time and frustration. Recommendation engines are also indispensable guides when starting on a new subject area, as they direct us towards materials covering information and skills that are perceived as essential in a given discipline. These suggestions help us structure our learning, give us a sense of progress, and shield us from information exceeding our level that could potentially confuse or distract us.
As we grow, we need new stimuli. We need new ideas, not just textbook solutions. Experts in every discipline are expected to surprise us with out-of-the-box thinking and mixing concepts from different fields. Recommendation engines won’t help us with that. They will be suggesting learning materials within a well-known range, thus, in a way, limiting our chances for development. Be it Spotify or YouTube, there comes a moment when we notice that all the suggestions we get are alike. To get out of this bubble, we need to know what exactly we are looking for and search for it directly.
Everyone has a hidden agenda, and the same goes for recommendation engines. They are built to guide us, but that doesn’t exclude recommending sponsored or more expensive courses among the first search results. In the end, even when we buy a ticket to a cinema, we still have to sit through a series of advertisements before the movie starts. So, let’s summarize:
- Recommendation engines are great, especially for beginners.
- They may, however, hinder development on more advanced levels.
- If we’re not paying for a product, we are the product.
- We can deliberately train recommendation engines.
Some, Well, Recommendations
Recommendation engines can be a great help, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t use them—as long as we do it consciously. Firstly, it’s worth taking a moment to learn more about the engine we’re about to use. The better we understand it, the better we can use it. Secondly, knowing the logic behind it, it might be worth taking a while to deliberately train the engine. Instead of letting it guide us let’s take over and show it what we are looking for and what we need it to do. Thirdly, it’s worth checking if you can turn the engine on and off depending on your needs. If not, it’s sometimes possible to set up another profile to check what we are not being shown. Every year Spotify prepares a summary of our music year. One time they enabled access to playlists containing music we’d never chosen to hear; I remember hearing some of my acquaintances call it a very valuable experience.