Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Learning Experience Design

My last book was ‘AI for learning’ in which I explained the massive role that AI has already played in learning and how it will shape the learning landscape of the future. In that book I explained how learning experience designers will have to upskill to deal with the new world of AI, data, learning analytics and the complexities of new AI interfaces such as voice, AI mediated and adaptive content. The technology is about to become much smarter and much more complex. Learning designers will have to understand how AI will shape interfaces and content.

This new book, Learning Experience Design, sees learning design as grounded in learning theory and evidence, so that appropriate experiences are selected, then professionally designed. This moves us from the old to the new, seeing experiences as more than just flat pieces of media but a whole world of learning experiences that motivate and result in lasting change to long-term memory. 

The book is about the sheer range of possible learning experiences, as well as what media and learning theory lies behind their use. 

Chapter 1 looks at what Learning eXperience Design is through each of those three words – ‘Learning’, ‘eXperience’ and ‘Design’.

Chapter 2 looks at who LXDs are, where they come from and what they do. It digs into the design process and the practical challenges LXDs have to face.

Chapter 3 covers the learning theory behind LXD and looks at emotion, attention and motivation, what you need to know to design learning experiences. Not all experiences are optimal learning experiences and without a knowledge of the science of learning, it is too easy to design the illusion of learning.

Chapters 4 to 7 deal with interfaces, text, graphics, audio, video and animation. Learning Experience Design needs knowledge of the media and technology through which learning takes place.

Chapter 8 shifts gear into engagement, questions and feedback. Good learning experiences need to push into effortful learning.

Chapters 9 to 12 takes effortful learning to another level through scenarios, simulations, AR, VR, games, gamification and social learning.

Chapters 13 and 14 bring everything together through practice, transfer, workflow learning, curation and data.

It has a ton of learning experiences, based on evidence-based research and practice, as well as lots of DOs and DON"Ts.

Available here on Amazon.

Also some recent podcasts...

The Curious Case of Benjamin Bloom! bit.ly/3FEdYk8 Pragmatists & practice bit.ly/3aAK5mk Behaviourists bit.ly/3iUnINE Cognitivists bit.ly/3oUxOBK

7 ways AI & Data are transforming learning

Tesla passed $1 trillion market cap today so it is now worth more than Pfizer, Aztrazeneca, GSK, ExxonMobil, BP, and IBM combined. The only companies now worth more than Tesla are Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. Their common denominator is that their underlying tech is now AI. Europe is falling behind, as we'd rather regulate than innovate.

Those who claim to ‘know’ where AI is going, and how fast, are being constantly challenged. 

So where is it going on learning? Well the main area of focus is NLP (Natural Language processing). AI is moving fast on several fronts here.


Tesla has what seems to be an outrageous valuation. Yet what is being valued is not traditional car production, it is the driving data it harvests and the promise of a world where the very concept of vehicles and transport will be transformed. This will happen in learning. The data we gather will feed into optimising future learning experiences, as processes not events. This is why AI, or rather AI that uses data, will shape the future landscape of learning. Data will lie at the heart of all learning experiences. I explain this in my new book ‘Learning Experience Design’.

AI is the new UI

I’ve written about this in ‘AI for Learning’ and ‘Learning Experience Design’, the reshaping of UX as almost all interfaces are now mediated by AI - all social media, Netflix, Amazon, Google, YouTube - almost everything you do online. This is now happening in learning thorough LXP systems. In addition, voice interfaces are now in smartphones and on devices in cars and homes. It is getting better, faster and is scalable. AI is changing our whole relationship with technology, making it more human.

AI personalises

We know that personalised learning gives really significant advantages to large numbers of learners. We’d all love to have one-on-one teaching but that was never economically possible. It is now. Adaptive and personalised learning, enabled by AI, is now here at all levels in learning. CogBooks, a company I helped build has just been sold to Cambridge University Online and will power its online learning. LXPs, such as Learning Pool’s Stream, something I’ve been involved in, will deliver personalised learning to employees in the workplace and workflow.

AI teaches

Teaching largely addresses deficits in motivation and effort, learning is largely achieved by oneself. Took me a long time to truly understand this. It can create sense-making experiences for learners. The problem with traditional online learning is that it was essentially the presentation of content. It never really did what a good teacher does and that is create the opportunities for learning then allow and support you to make the effort to learn. AI enables both. We do this in WildFire.

AI learns

We used to have teachers and learners. Now we have teachers, learners and technology that also learns. Tesla learns as it aggregates driving data and uses that data to improve performance. The more we use Google the better it gets. The more we use personalised and adaptive learning the better it becomes for future students. We are no longer stuck on a plateau of human performance but on an upward trajectory of performance, making learning better, faster and cheaper.


Transformers, such as GTP-3 are already useful in learning. We’ve been using them in WildFire for summarisation, content creation and question generation. This software is so powerful that just learning how to ask it questions or do things for you needs a new skillset - it is called ‘prompting’. These AI models have been trained with unimaginably large data sets. They have so much data in their training set that they, at times, transcend the ability of humans to create prose. They are now also entering the world of audio, images and video. They will literally be transformative.

Edge AI

The processing and application of AI on the ‘edge’, on devices, has really arrived. Look at the new Pixel6 mobile phone to see how AI is being delivered via chips in devices such as phones. It has a Tensor AI chip on-board; so translates, transcribes and does speech recognition blazingly fast. It can also erase unwanted objects on photos. These are seriously difficult tasks that require localised processing.


We can wallow in existing practices and technology and see modest but not substantial change in the efficacy and cost of learning. Or we can accept that the future is one where data, and what we do with that data, determines upward progress. A future that uses AI and data to create learning experiences as processes not events, improve interfaces, personalise, teach, support learning. All of this possible to wherever, whenever and to whoever. Technology, specifically AI and Data are finally delivering what we used to call Lifelong Learning.

Monday, October 18, 2021



I got the Blockchain and Bitcoin ‘bug’ around 2015, gave talks on the subject, even got married (should I say remarried) on Blockchain, paid for in Bitcoin. Then, volte face, I became a sceptic real quick and over the last few years, I’ve seen it get worse - huge projects trying to solve problems that already have adequate solutions or problems that don’t actually exist and now this period of speculative mania.

The Great Bitcon is a financial mirage, a shark that needs to keep afloat through dirty energy and liquidity to keep it afloat. That gold coin image is a complete con. As Nassim Taleb says, its worth is “exactly zero”. There is no common good here, in fact it is a dangerous, damaging piece of energy hungry speculation… and unsustainable.

As if to confirm the absurdity of Bitcoin as a currency, there’s been an experiment, on a real country -  El Salvador! Pick a small, poor South American, stagnant economically, with a horrific homicide rate, run by two massive drug gangs (MS13 and Barrio18) and a major land-route for drugs into the US - and give it a highly volatile virtual currency. Its capital San Miguel is the money laundering capital of central America  - hotels, nightclubs, car dealerships, right down to the hardware stores. What could possibly go wrong?

Former PR man, turned Dictator, Bukele, is what has gone wrong. Despite having brought inflation under control by pegging the ‘colon’ (you couldn’t make it up) to the dollar, he decides he wants to be Mr Cool. It’s a stunt. He has sacked the judiciary, put his henchmen in place, limited the power of the opposition and in true South American Dictator style - scrapped the limited term law for Presidents. A few weeks ago he gives everyone $30 in Bitcoin. You don’t solve the problem of poverty by foisting a volatile asset on poor people. Not that poor people get the money anyway.

So, how’s it going? It dropped 20% in the first day and is already trickling upwards into the hands of the rich and  gangs, with whom the President did a deal. Widespread reports of fraud in the wallet system has left people bewildered. Few businesses are accepting the currency and 15,000 took to the streets demanding it be stopped. They even destroyed a Bitcoin ATM.About half of El Salvadorians have no internet access, sure many have phones but the old and poor often lack the skills to use this stuff. It’s a process of exclusion not inclusion. I repeat, the last thing we want to do for poor people is get them involved in a highly volatile asset, when what they need is stability.

The great con works as there’s something in crypto for everyone, from the idle speculator to every species of ideologue. For Libertarians - no authority in control. For the Left - no corporates and banks in control. For the Right - no corporations in control. Why? Because no one is in control. That’s the real problem. It is, quite simply, speculation or to use old Marxist expressions, the purest separation of capital from production the world has ever seen, and its seen a few. A pure expression of greed from those that can least afford to lose - the young, women and ethnic minorities. The FCA rightly issued a warning this year NON-TRIVIAL DOWNSIDE RISKS.

I get that people are concerned, especially during Covid and it is that uncertainty that’s driving the speculation and volatility fuels this speculation. But spare me the duplicity of doing good - it’s just plain bad. You always hear about winnings, never losses. What’s happened is that the whales, VCs, hedge-funds and billionaires have stepped in. It’s the 1% folks. The people who control it are the people with lots of it.

Jackson Palmer, founder of Dogecoin says crypto has “evolved to incorporate many of the same institutions tied to the existing centralized financial system they supposedly set out to replace. All the while shoving cash and profits back up the funnel towards the rich, not the bankless & the poor. Crypto avoids audits, regulation, taxation, all the protections that are they to protect citizens”. It sucks capital in like a black hole, indeed it has to, to sustain its existence, but without contributing to real economic productivity.

That’s not to mention several other bad actors; tax evaders, money launderers, sanction busters, ransomware gangs, kidnappers and scammers. Forget your password - hard luck. Get scammed - hard luck.

Then there's the fatal objection. Right in the middle of one of a serious, global energy crisis, where Lebanon quite simply went dark and where fuel poverty will hit hundreds of millions, cryptocurrencies are doubling their energy requirements, to the equivalent energy use of Poland. Talk about swimming against the tide. It’s not just the cost of mining, the cost per transaction but the waste. The problem is systemic, it is in the model of verification, in the maths. It is quite simply energy intensive. It’s also an emissions disaster as its primary energy source is fossil fuels. When China banned Bitcoin mining and trading, the miners fled to other countries.

Why Khazikstan? Low financial regulation, only 6% renewables and tons of dirty coal. Why Mongolia? Low regulation and tons of dirty coal. Why TEXAS? Cheap electricity. Why is it cheap? An independent grid, deregulated, old infrastructure, low investment, so bad that they had severe outages in February of this year - it is estimated that up to 700 people may have died, 4.5 m homes and businesses had no power.

Why did China do what they did? Climate change targets. It came on the back of huge internal Chinese energy outages, where factories were shut down. China has a target of being carbon neutral by 2060 and see crypto being regulated and banned through climate change blowback alone. Oh, and the chips for mining are almost all made in Taiwan.

No hears you when you scream with the pain of your hacked losses or lost password in cryptoland. No one comes to your rescue in an unregulated suprastate environment.

My fear is that crypto is ‘doomed to succeed’ to take us to dark, ugly places we can’t get back from. I said at the start I had gone from zealot to sceptic. I will keep an open mind but I am convinced that cryptocurrencies are purely speculative, not a viable set of currencies, destabilising, increasing inequalities, energy intensive and therefore on an unsustainable path, both politically and in terms of climate change.

Since when did Christmas become the celebration of successful supply-chains?

Since when did Christmas become the celebration of successful supply-chains?
We believe, like children, that there really is a Santa Claus. Santa has become the just-in-time delivery point at the end of a global network. In truth it is just-in-time manufacturing, with no resilience or just-in-case. The Reindeer are shiploads of containers on polluting ships that radiate out from ports to shops and Amazon centres, via low paid lorry and van drivers. Santa is a shitty piece of logistics software.
We have fallen into buying endless amounts of consumerist crap from China and as that economy stagnates, we blame everyone but ourselves... so when Santa goes ‘Ho Ho Ho’ he’s laughing at our downright stupidity. Turns out we’re the turkeys voting for our own Christmas extinction, going out in a blaze of neon lights next to our personal mountain of landfill.
In my lifetime I’ve seen Christmas explode into a heap of glittery crap. Houses lit up like Las Vegas Casinos. Christmas trees, often plastic, laden with more baubles per branch than leaves. Chocolates that come, not in boxes but enormous buckets. People really want all their Christmases to come all at once, in the form of a skipload of junk for every man, woman and child.
When Jesus was born there was no room at the Inn, no doubt because workers in hospitality were in short supply, the Three Kings brought single natural presents, not cartloads of tawdry rubbish, so let’s get back to dreaming, not of a White, but Green Christmas.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Roediger and Karpicke - Retrieval practice and effortful learning

Henry L. Roediger (Washington University in St. Louis) and Jeffrey D. Karpicke (Purdue University) have been at the forefront of the research on retrieval practice. For centuries memories were seen as objects to be retrieved but neutral for learning. Few saw that act of retrieval as a learning experience in itself, something that produced learning. They can be said to have put retrieval practice, as a learning strategy, on the map by confirming the efficacy of free recall over rereading, stimulating research in the area.

Testing Effect (Retrieval Practice Effect)

In their Testing-enhanced learning (2006) paper they showed that repeated tests substantially increased retention relative to learners who simply restudied the prose material. Restudying had a better short-term effect but retrieval practice, 2 days and 1 week later showed a significant difference. Roediger et al. (2011) then did a study on text material covering Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China, in the real context of real classes in a real school, a Middle School in Columbia, Illinois. Retrieval tests, only a few minutes long, produced a full grade-level increase on the material that had been subject to retrieval.

The first solid research on the Testing effect was by Abbot (1909), then Gates (1917), who tested children aged 8-16 on short biographies. Some simply re-read the material several times, others were told to look up and silently recite what they had read. The latter, who actively retrieved knowledge, showed better recall. Spitzer (1939) made over 3000 11-12 year olds read 600 word articles then tested students at periods over 2 months. The greater the gap between testing and the original exposure or test, the greater the forgetting. The tests themselves seemed to halt forgetting. 

Tulving (1967) took this further with lists of 36 words, with repeated testing and retrieval. The retrieval led to as much learning as the original act of studying. This shifted the focus away from testing as just assessment to testing as retrieval, as an act of learning in itself and Karpicke and Roedegir’s work in 2006 and 2009. McDaniel (2011) did a further study on science subjects, with 16 year olds, on genetics, evolution and anatomy. Students who used retrieval quizzes scored 92% (A-) compared to 79% for those who did not. More than this, the effect of retrieval lasted longer, when the students were tested eight months later. 

Karpicke and Blunt (2011) also showed that retrieval practice is superior to concept or mind-mapping. Spaced, retrieval practice is even better (Karpicke & Bauernschmidt, 2011). It has been shown to be effective at all levels in education; elementary, middle-school, Universities and in adult medical education.

The work by Kornell (2009) also shows that even unsuccessful testing is better. Retrieval testing gives you better internal feedback and works even when you get few or no correct answers. Testing, even before you have access to the material, as a learning experience, also helps learning. Once again, Huestler and Metcalfe (2012) asked learners what worked best and they were largely wrong.

Illusions of competence

In their 2006 research, Karpicke and Roediger used rereading as the control, as that is what most learners do, see Karpicke, Butler and Roediger (2009), and in doing so uncovered a fascinating supplementary finding. In a survey of 117 students they asked them to list their study strategies, then also choose from a list of set strategies. The majority chose rereading as a strategy with relatively few using self-testing or free recall. They christened this the ‘illusion of competence’. Just as Bjork had done in asking students about practice techniques, they found that students think they will do better by repeated study and not free recall practice, yet the evidence shows the students were wrong. This lack of metacognitive awareness severely limits the ability of learners to learn.

Make It Stick

Make It Stick (2014) by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel takes a wider view. It is the result of over ten years of focused research on 'Applying Cognitive Psychology to Enhance Educational Practice'. It is practical and gives plenty of advice on both how to teach and how to learn, the point being that knowing how to learn is a necessary condition for good teaching.

Researchers like Bjork, Karpicke, Rodeiger and McDaniel claim that most good learning theory is counterintuitive. Most students are misled by teachers and institutions into the wrong strategies for studying; reading, highlighting, underlining and rereading. This feels productive but the evidence suggests it is a largely ineffective strategy for learning. It turns out that we are very poor judges of our own learning. The optimal strategies for learning are in the 'doing' and some of that doing is counterintuitive. We think we are mastering something but this is an illusion of mastery. It is easy to think you’re learning when the going is easy – re-reading, underlining and repetition but it doesn’t work. To learn effectively, you must make the going harder. They also explain why the research is not about rote learning, the charge that is usually levelled against them.

The real force behind successful learning is effortful learning. By effort they mostly mean retrieval practice. Practically, they recommend regular, low-stakes testing for teachers and learners, not ‘teaching to the test’ as summative assessment but regular formative exercises, where recall is stimulated and encouraged. Test little and often – that is what makes effortful learning stick.This is not testing as assessment, it is testing to learn. Interesting research is also presented for the idea that having a go at retrieval, even when you make mistakes and errors, is better than simply getting the exposition. 

They also recommend spaced practice, especially spaced retrieval practice and interleaving and delayed feedback.


It is not that retrieval practice doesn;t work only that it only works for limited types of learning, such as factual recall, and that the effect fades, even disappears for more complex material. Many of the trials are on verbal information, word-pairs and so on. An associated problem is the difficulty in designing retrieval practice and transferring it to the classroom or online environment. It is ebay to design low-level practice.


Their work has gathered a great deal of attention, especially in schools and stimulated other research on different audiences with different types of material and in different contexts. Movements such as ResearchED have promoted the research and its spread in recent books on teaching practice, and online, has been significant.


Brown, P.C., 2014. Make it stick. Harvard University Press.

Abbott, E. E. (1909). On the analysis of the factors of recall in the learning process. Psychological Monographs, 11, 159–177.

Gates, A. I. (1917). Recitation as a factor in memorizing. Archives of Psychology, No. 40, 1-104. 

Spitzer, H. F. (1939). Studies in retention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 30, 641-656. 

Tulving, E. (1967). The effects of presentation and recall of material in free-recall learning. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 6, 175􏰀184.

Huelser, B.J. and Metcalfe, J., 2012. Making related errors facilitates learning, but learners do not know it. Memory & cognition, 40(4), pp.514-527.

McDaniel, M. A., Agarwal, P. K., Huelser, B. J., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger, H. L. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in a middle school science classroom: The effects of quiz frequency and placement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 399-414

Karpicke, J.D., & Bauernschmidt, A. 2011. Spaced retrieval: Absolute spacing enhances learning regardless of relative spacing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(5), 1250-1257. 

Karpicke, J.D. and Blunt, J.R., 2011. Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331(6018), pp.772-775.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Mill - Utilitarianism, associationism and women’s rights

John Stuart Mill saw education as a means to the end of achieving happiness for the individual and happiness as a whole. Hot-housed as a child, and educated by his Scottish father the philosopher John Mill and Jeremy Bentham, his Godfather, he was kept apart from other children, reading Greek and Latin at age 8. As a teenager he suffered from depression, which he in part saw arising from the intensity and isolation of his education. He felt as though his purely rational education had not allowed him to develop feelings such as sympathy and appreciation of the real world. Finding Wordsworth helped him overcome this tendency to immediately rationalise and analyse the world.

He was one of the most significant intellectual figures in England in the mid-nineteenth century, as a philosopher, politician and economist. He also played a significant role in the advancement of women’s rights.

Empiricism and associationism

As an empiricist, he saw sensory experience as the raw data from which all else arises, even logic and mathematics. This meant he saw the mind as a tabla rasa, ready to be filled with sensations that lead to all manifestations of consciousness and thought. It is the scientific approach making inductive inferences from experience that should be used to build a view of education.

His associationist psychology meant the association of small pieces of data, sense data or feelings, to form our view of the world. This came from Locke, Hume and Hartley and forms the basis of his empiricism and belief in the strength of the scientific method.


From his Godfather, Jeremy Bentham, he saw Utilitarianism (1863), expressed in the formula ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people’ as an empirical theory based on the observation that this is what all people actually desire - happiness. This is not to say that one should pursue one’s own happiness at the expense of others,as the greater good is a sure source of happiness for the individual. Although he did believe that some forms of happiness were higher than others and , unlike Bentham, saw feelings as important guides in moral, aesthetic and other judgements.

Utility is intimately connected with liberty and in On Liberty (1859) he is keen to press the idea that one cannot infringe upon the rights of others to pursue their happiness, unless their actions cause ‘harm’. State and social control were to be resisted. As they infringe upon the development of the individual. This debate around freedom of expression is still relevant today, along with the ‘harm principle’ and influenced his views on education.


Education was the means to attain true happiness, not in the simple sense of hedonistic pleasures but the higher forms of happiness. He refused to believe that most learners were innately incapable of being fully educated. In his Autobiography, he was also critical of the idea that one should only teach what learners enjoy, as this appeals to a primitive view of the lower pleasures of ‘fun’ and prevents access to the higher pleasures and happiness of subtler, elevated subjects. This hinders rather than helps learning as it prevents the learner from reaching their fullest potential and happiness. Above all education should teach children to become autonomous being and and to think for themselves.

Education should have a strong moral purpose, to overcome the selfish pursuit of pleasures at the expense of others. Moral education must encourage the capability of appreciating that the happiness of others, the greater and common good, leads also to the happiness of the individual within that society and culture. The taking on of public duties and active participation in society and democracy was important.

In On Liberty (1859) he proposes compulsory, universal education for every citizen, including women, all the way up to University entrance. Although he was critical of the idea that such education should be provided by the state, as that could result in compulsory coercion and control, which was counter to his views on freedom and liberty. One notable example of his aversion to education coercing learners, was his view that religion, as a subject of opinions, should not be taught in schools.

Women’s rights

In The Subjection of Women (1869), he calls upon his utilitarian and libertarian principles to defend the emancipation of women from the social pressures to conform to what men think. Women are forced to lead less happy lives because they are not free to pursue their own happiness, almost in a state of slavery. Here, he also called for the abolition factual  slavery.

He makes the case for absolute equality, especially in the freedom giving process of education that would give women, as citizens, freedom and independence. 


Mill’s influence has been immense in politics, notably his ideas on freedom of expression and liberty. He is still read and quoted at length on these issues to this day and these issues in education, especially in the campus culture clashes, are still with us. His influence on education is not via his purely empiricist views but his appeal for compulsory, universal education was realised, at least in the developed world, along with the inclusion of women, especially in Higher Education. Mill played a key role in the latter.

His focus on happiness also influenced the recent rise of positive psychology, through Seligman and others, although much of that debate seems to ignore the deep and sophisticated interest taken on that topic in the 19th century.


Mill, J.S. and Stillinger, J., 1873. Autobiography.

Mill, J.S., 2018. (1869) The subjection of women. Routledge.

Mill, J.S. and Bentham, J., 1987. (1863) Utilitarianism and other essays. Penguin UK.

Mill, J.S., 1989. (1859)  'On Liberty' and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press.

Bentham - mummified inventor of Principle of utility and Panopticon

Jeremy Bentham sits mummified in the foyer of UCL (University College London). He is the founder of Utilitarianism, expanded on by John Stuart Mill and a living philosophical movement to this day. Most famous for his prison design, the Panopticon, much discussed by Foucault, he also wrote extensively about politics, the law and education. His general aim was to apply the basic principle of Utilitarianism, the utility principle, to all aspects of life. Transparency was all, the idea that all should be open to inspection, some would say surveillance.

Principle of utility

The principle of utility or ‘greatest happiness principle’ is the pursuit of pleasure over pain. It means designing society and institutions for the greatest happiness for the greatest number. It is based, for Bentham, however, on psychological egoism, the idea that we are all motivated by self-interest in the pursuit of personal pleasure and avoidance of pain. Pleasure and pain can be measured in terms of intensity, duration, certainty, proximity, productiveness, purity, and extent. His hedonistic, or felicific, calculus proposed a classification of 14 pleasures and 12 pains. These could be measured and the happiness factor calculated for any action. This led to some precise, some would say odd, recommendations for building institutions, such as prisons and schools.


The idea of the Panopticon prison was a radial design where all prisoners could be seen from a central hub. Bentham applied this idea to education in Chrestomathia (1817). One should not see this as a wholly authoritarian ‘school as prison’ model but rather similar to the modern lecture hall in the round. The aim was to encourage good citizenship and this cutting off from the outside and surveillance, so hated by Foucault, was designed to free the mind from mischievous influences and delusions, with a focus on useful art and science. Intellectual instruction protects the individual from groupthink and allows freedom of thought, even self-delusion. 

He was interested in producing, not only good participatory citizens but also public servants and leaders. It was not just learners but teachers and other public figures that had to be open to scrutiny, to prevent delusion from taking hold of people’s minds. The Panopticon idea in schools was to do away with cribbing and copying. His curriculum was science-based (Natural Philosophy) and empirical, based on the senses and memory. Human testimony was also important, from biography and history. 

This authoritarian element in his thought has gained most of the attention but you can find in his writings a much more liberal figure, who really did value individual freedom of expression, women’s rights, legalisation of homosexuality, animal rights, the abolition of capital punishment, slavery and the separation of church and state. He was also against physical punishment of adults and children.

Industry Houses

The National Charity Company was his idea for the relief of the poor. Industry Houses would produce huge numbers of educated apprentices, who would repay their cost of living debt by working when released. The idea was to use education to allow poor children to get gainful employment, with 200 young people in every one of 250 Industry Houses.

There is a utopian streak in Bentham’s educational writing, grounded in his utilitarianism. He wanted to start over again, rearing children to become useful citizens of a society free from corruption, delusion and venal rulers. Citizens were to be able to challenge rulers in a liberal democratic society, where education and transparency were their weapons but also accept an education that allowed this to be realised.


There is an element of behaviourism in Bentham, with his view of the regulation of simple pleasure and pain, but Bentham’s best known influence has been on Foucault, who took from him the idea of the Panopticon in Discipline and Punish (1975). The Panopticon prison was never built and Foucault takes the more authoritarian aspects and ditches the rest of Bentham’s thought, so one could argue that it was clearly an early 19th century experiment in designing a society of educated, critical and useful leaders and workers, not a Foucaultian nightmare..

The current debates about whether the internet is a force for democritisation or digital surveillance, often introduce the Panopticon idea as a metaphor for a dystopian view of technology, yet Benthan saw it as offering transparency, freeing us from fake knowledge and beliefs. 

Bentham’s influence on Mill was profound, as Mill carried over his utilitarian principles, improving on them by taking it away from a simple hedonic calculus. They both held strong philosophical beliefs based on the pleasure principle that shaped their views of society and education but it was Mill that had more realistic recommendations. Their influence on the modern movement of positive psychology, with its focus on ‘happiness’ has also been significant.


Betham, Jeremy. A Comment on the Commentaries and a Fragment on Government, London: The Athalone Press 1977. p. 393.

Semple, J., 1993. Bentham's Prison: a Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bentham, J. Chrestomathia, (1817) 1983. Edited by M. J. Smith and W. H. Burston.

Bentham, J., 2001. Writing on the Poor Laws, volumen I. The Collected Works of Jeremy.

Bentham, J., 2010. Writing on the Poor Laws, Vol. II, M. Quinn.