Human nature is not a machine: On liberty, attention engineering, and learning analytics

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9 Scopus citations


This article undertakes a literature review to examine learning analytics through the lens of attention engineering. Informed by a critical literature synthesis from the fields of cognitive science, history, philosophy, education, technology, ethics, and library science, this analysis situates learning analytics in the context of communication and education technologies as tools in the manipulation of attention. The article begins by defining attention as both a cognitive activity and a metaphysical state intrinsic to intellectual freedom. The Progressive Era concept of attention engineering is then introduced and reinterpreted in the context of attention scarcity and academic capitalism in the Knowledge Era. The affordances of information and communications technology replicated in educational technology to facilitate data capture, analysis, and intervention in the form of “nudge” learning analytics are outlined as evidence of contemporary attention engineering in education. Attention engineering in education is critiqued as antithetical to students’ intellectual freedom and development as self-sufficient learners and independent thinkers. The academic library’s role in teaching and promoting attentional literacy and attentional autonomy is explored as a response to the intellectual freedom challenges posed by learning analytics as a form of attention engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-53
Number of pages30
JournalLibrary Trends
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Library and Information Sciences


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