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Big Data? Big Whoop.

big data

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Score another similarity between marketing and adult education — both seem inordinately enamored with big data these days.

In marketing it’s all about dashboards and return on investment (ROI).  According to one marketing blog, big data provides “better insight about customers, the ability to more precisely segment customers into meaningful groups, and target offers with a higher degree of response. Big data is particularly relevant for predictive analytics where the goal is to model the intention or propensity of a buyer to purchase.”

In education, the growing interest in massive open online courses, or MOOCs, seems to be generating as much stir about big data as it is about what students might actually be learning in these courses.  Nick Carr writes:

Delivering a complex class to thousands of people simultaneously demands a high degree of automation. Many of the labor-intensive tasks traditionally performed by professors and teaching assistants—grading tests, tutoring, moderating discussions—have to be done by computers. Advanced analytical software is also required to parse the enormous amounts of information about student behavior collected during the classes. By using algorithms to spot patterns in the data, programmers hope to gain insights into learning styles and teaching strategies, which can then be used to refine the technology further.

These quotes are just examples of a glut of writing on the subject — some pro, some con — but my point is simply this:  Big data is big business.  My goal is not to choose right or wrong or prove the value of big data, but I do want to caution you not to get too caught up in what Tim Suther calls “a tsunami of data.”  Pick your favorite idiom, whether it’s everything in moderation or don’t miss the forest for the trees.  Heck, there is even a country song about missing What Mattered Most.  I tend to call it analysis paralysis.  You slice and dice the data until it either says anything you want it to… or nothing at all.  And then what do you do with it?

Christa Carone is the Chief Marketing Officer at Xerox.  She was quoted in a recent article on Forbes.com saying, “I wouldn’t want to give up the data that helps us make fact-based decisions quickly. But I fear that marketers’ access to and obsession with measuring everything takes away from the business of real marketing.”  She went on to say, “It’s impossible to measure ‘squishier’ meaningful intangibles, such as human emotion, personal connection and the occasional ‘ahhhh’ moment.”

May I be so bold as to say she could just have easily been talking about teaching and learning?

I didn’t get into marketing to be a number cruncher.  I got into marketing because I had a decent ability to communicate a particular message to a particular audience.  It’s not that I mind having some data to tell me if I’m hitting my mark, but I don’t want to spend all day looking at the numbers and miss the opportunity to make that personal connection.  And as adult educators — whether continuing studies instructor, facilitator, or corporate trainer — how many of us would choose refining the technology over seeing a student have that ahhhh moment?

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in ADLT 641

 

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