10 Ways Big Data Will Improve Learning

Educators are trying to use data to make decisions.  Consider some of the uses for achievement and effectiveness measures:

  • instructional improvement
  • student matriculation
  • program/school authorization
  • program/school and accountability and improvement
  • product/service adoption
  • staff evaluation
  • parent/student choice

But we haven’t had much to go on.  We are near the end of centuries of data poverty.  For the last decade we’ve been trying to use a simple year end test for many of the purposes noted above–a bad idea, but we didn’t have much more to go on.
The shift to personal digital learning will soon swamp our schools with more data than teachers ever dreamed possible.  The shift is far more than just trading in textbooks.  Following are ten of the ways learning will be different and better:

  1. Predominantly digital learning experiences accessed anywhere anytime
  2. Online assessments many of which are embedded in learning experiences
  3. Customized playlists are driven by recommendation engines informed by comprehensive learner profiles
  4. Students benefit from a web of support informed by a comprehensive profile
  5. Students work with a team of learning professionals, some local, some at a distance
  6. Every student has access to every course taught by an effective teacher
  7. Progress based on demonstrated mastery
  8. Achievement recognition systems recognize and reward academic progress
  9. Students build a comprehensive portable digital learning portfolio
  10. Social learning groups by task, learning level, interest, geography

When students learn on three screens every day and produce 10,000 keystrokes, it creates new educational options and it demands a new policy set.  The 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning recommended by Digital Learning Now is a good start.
I’m writing a paper on Big Data and how it will inform the decisions made by educators and policy makers.  The paper will try to address the electronic student record–a portable data backpack–that includes a lot data including a super gradebook. We’ll also try to figure out how some of the profile can be made available to multiple providers (test prep, tutoring, after school) with parent permission.  Let me know if you have views on how this should work!
More and better data will inform educational decisions, lead to better public policy, and will boost achievement.  It’s time for schools, districts, and states to begin planning for Big Data.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Richard Shadrin

To know this data is important, to use it valuable, most importantly, the will to modify or dispose of systems that prevent new programs to emerge as a result of this data another entirely. The BIG question is: Is there the drive and the clout to overcome statsis and make information useful in changing educational delivery. History would say it is doubtful anything but small changes find their way into our ed systems. Big changes will emerge only when the shape of school--schedules, the roles of teachers, testing and governance are addressed as a comprehensive national initiative. Other than that, all else is incremental and dare I say casual in nature.


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks Richard,
Big Data gets big when schools go 1:1--they'll all have it and some will start using it. At that point we need to show that it makes student and teacher lives better/richer. In the 'appified' world, I think this is inevitable but it will certainly be uneven.

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