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Learning with Big Data – The Future of Education

Lessons personalized to the individual. Homework and tests optimized to what works best. Textbooks that talk back to teacher and author. Big data changes learning.

Big data transforms learning by measuring aspects of education that have evaded empirical scrutiny for centuries. This is different than simply adding computer technology to schools. We’ve been doing that since the 1980s, with the result that a lot of old IT junk had to be carted away. And MOOCs merely democratize the distribution of education — it’s the traditional “sage on a stage” except it’s via a screen.

However, the real change happens when we apply big data to learning. Then almost everything gets upended. We can collect and analyze how students interact with the material, so we’re able to see what materials work best and teachers can improve their performance too. Students can learn at their own pace. We get unprecedented visibility into the learning process. The focus here is not to spy on students, but to learn about learning.

Learning with big data brings three main changes. We can collect feedback data that was impractical or impossible to amass before. We can individualize learning, tailoring it not to a cohort of similar students, but to the individual student’s needs. And we can use probabilistic predictions to optimize what they learn, when they learn, and how they learn. As these changes unfold, we’ll find that many of the tools and institutions we rely on must themselves change.

The e-textbook, the digital lecture, the very university becomes a platform or nexus for the acquisition and analysis of data. This may lead to an unbundling of the educational experience and perhaps bring new competition to many areas of education, as new players emerge.

However, the marriage of big data and learning also brings significant dangers. One is the permanence of information about evanescent aspects of our lives, which can give them undue significance. There’s also the risk that our predictions may, in the guise of tailoring education to individual learning, actually narrow a person’s educational opportunities to those predetermined by some algorithm. Many probabilistic learning reduce education from a shared experience to one that is custom-made—but so insular that we’re atomized.

Among our remedies is a call for a shift from regulating how data is collected to rules regarding how it’s used. This will allow us to learn from data while at the same time it places strong constraints on big-data analyses that risk tarnishing a student’s future through probabilistic predictions. We also argue for tough enforcement and skilled specialists—algorithmists—to assess the effectiveness and navigate the intricacies of big-data systems.

We have always seen in new technologies the chance to reform education, whether through CDs, television, radio, telephone, or computers. “Books will soon be obsolete in the public schools,” Thomas Edison stated confidently in 1913. “It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years.” Will big data really go where other innovations have barely made a dent?

Yes it will. Big data will fundamentally alter education. By gathering and analyzing more information about how each of us learns, we’ll be able to tailor the experience to the precise needs of individual students, a particular teacher, and a specific classroom. The nature of education fundamentally changes, because with big data, society can finally learn how to learn.

What people are saying

“An inspiring and informed book about an unfolding transformation — not just in the way we learn, but in the way we learn about learning.”
—Jace Kohlmeier, Dean of Analytics, Khan Academy

“The digital revolution in education will see a fundamental shift from teaching to learning. ‘Learning with Big Data’ offers a lively and engaging account of the tools that will make this shift not only possible but inevitable. We have customized clothes, coffee and playlists; the classroom is next.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, President of New America Foundation, former Dean of
Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School

“Read this short but powerful book: the ideas not only set the stage for a
modern theory of learning, but transform how teaching materials themselves
can ‘learn’ and education can be tailored to the individual. The book
shows why big data is a big, useful topic.”
—John Seely Brown, co-author of “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the
imagination for a world of of constant change” (2011); Visiting scholar,
USC; former chief scientist, Xerox Corp

On the authors

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University. The co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We, Live, Work, and Think, he has published over a hundred articles and eight other books, including Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. He is on the advisory boards of corporations and organizations around the world.
Kenneth Cukier is the Data Editor of the Economist and co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. His writings on business and economics have appeared in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, the Financial Times, and elsewhere.

Publication Info

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: USD 2.99
Available as an ebook only.

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© Viktor Mayer-Schönberger & Kenneth Cukier – Website by Matuvu

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