Will Big Data Change Education?

How will big data analytics reshape how we teach and how we learn; and how will it change what we learn?

Big Data.jpg

This is one of the questions posed in ‘Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think’ (2013) by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger Kenneth Cukier.

Below is my summary of how they answer this question:

You might like to read this post first: What is Big Data?

Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier start off by arguing that public education treats children like ‘another brick in the wall’, seeing them as empty slates on which instructors may make their mark – but this mindset is an artefact of the constraints in which the school system exists – we mass produced graduates because for centuries there was no other way to deliver individualised instruction to a broad population. The old system was based around ‘small data’ which slotted students into set paths, big data favours a more flexible and open approach to education:

How big data will change the process of education?

  • First – we know more about individual differences because we can track student performance better – continuously through the learning process – educational data moves from stock to flow.
  • Second – we can tailor lessons to the needs of the individual, not the general average, which is actually no one!
  • Third – we can more easily learn what works best in teaching, the data enables a feedback loop.

‘The result is that education is one of the most significant areas where big data will make its mark. It will improve learning, which in turn will improve society and economic prosperity. Just as importantly it will improve student’s self-esteem.’ (202)

In short, the education system can be redesigned around handling individual differences, rather than trying to eradicate them or treat them as if they don’t exist.

How big data will change what we learn in education?

As to the question of what we learn – the increased role of big data in society means we will need to become more comfortable dealing with probabilities rather than certainties… and we will need to learn that we know far less than we think!

Big data means that many jobs – many of those involving making decisions – will be automated in the future, but humans have unique capabilities such as creativity and originality, irrationality and the ability to break radically from the past – so education should foster these things rather than seeing education as a process of pouring knowledge into the skulls of students.

Conventional education may have difficulty of breaking out the old mold of education, and digital disrupters are playing an insurgent role….

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