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The Forthcoming Data Revolution in Education

Data currently informs so much of what we do. Amazon.com tells us what books we'll enjoy based on what we purchased in the past. Netflix does very much the same thing with movies. Facebook suggests friends algorithmically and now, as of last week, Twitter does too.

The process of formally educating one's self and/or one's children has been slow to adjust to the internet. The reasons are understandable: The acquisition of knowledge is one of the single most important things we do during our lifetimes, a responsibility we do not want to delegate to a passing fad. Additionally, many believe there is something Romantic about education; it is a remnant of the French Revolution that must be done in person with a gentle, supportive hand on the shoulder.

Well of course it turns out that the internet is not a passing a fad, and is becoming a bigger part of our lives daily. And as for the Rousseaueans who still believe our teachers must be in the room, we can point to a little industry called online dating as a counterpoint.

The benefits of online learning are quite clear, which explains the spike in the number of people earning online degrees:

-The best teachers can be broadcast to a much larger audience.
-Without books or physical spaces to rent, online learning is almost always less expensive than traditional learning.
-There is no need to commute and/or waste gas.
-You can learn whenever and wherever it is convenient for you.

We also cannot forget the data. Some day very soon the internet will give us succinct, crystallized data w/r/t what we do and do not know. Learning items will be tagged at very specific levels and as we go through our experiences -- scholastically or recreationally -- and the internet will help us home in on exactly what we want to learn. This process will be aided by historical data. The day is not far off when an internet service will be able to factually assert "It seems like you cannot remember the year the Bill of Rights was signed -- but those who answered the following review question correctly were able to retain that knowledge for an average of 7.2 years."

This future is on the horizon, and it's exciting for many of us who care deeply about using technology to improve education.


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