Data doesn’t tell you where to go

Learning Analytics, data-driven learning strategies, and new training tech like xAPI are all gaining traction these days. I for one am VERY happy to see this!

But ask we gain more new information, let us not lose sight of what we do this for.

No matter how you parse all that data, it can’t tell us where to go. All it can ever do is point, hopefully to some things we may not have thought of yet. That is its core value, showing us blind spots and reveal ignored interconnections.

And is this important?

Well, it depends on where you’re going. So, it is if you say it is.

Data can show us what happened in the past. It can’t say why. We must overlay our values over the data to give it any value. We say what matters.

What matters is all about what we believe. This is within us, not the data about us. Data doesn’t tell us what to do, and thus it can’t relieve us of responsibility for making hard decisions. Data on its own can’t even say the word “because”. Because this requires an intelligence…such as yours.

When we tell stories using data, we’re curating it based on what we believe. We are selecting certain elements that we FEEL are relevant highlight, and glossing over other things that we FEEL don’t count.

When we use data, we are saying what matters to us.

There is plenty of activity these days around machine learning, artificial intelligence, algorithms, decision engines, etc. and I am actually very happy to see it! Let us use all the tools at our disposal to better guide our success. Let us differentiate what we said we believed from what we actually did. Let us better predict some of the familiar pitfalls ahead based on the ones behind us. There is much to learn, many illusions to shatter.

As much as we let it, our data supports us on this journey. On its own, it is merely a survey of the past territory. Data can tell us many things, but it can’t tell us where we should go next.

Do you need more data to know where to go?

If you already know there are some seriously flawed actions in progress right now under your watch, and you’re confident you know what needs to happen next, then you know where to go. Don’t distract yourself with quantifying anything. Roll up your sleeves and fix it already. You’ll learn plenty of lessons while you’re doing this that teach you in ways that big data simply cannot.

If you work with people who go with their gut, people for whom no amount of evidence will change their approach, then they are saying that they already know where to go. If you want, go that way with them. You can use data to help power a path in that direction, but data is clearly the wrong tool to change that direction. Gut-people won’t care about your data, they’ll insist they know better.

If you aren’t entirely clear on what your goal is or where you are going, if you have yet to figure out what raving success would look like in your case, then data can’t help you get there. You’re not ready to chart a path. You wouldn’t even know when to stop if you arrived! What is really important here?

First we must decide what matters, then choose what counts & how best to count it.

This is what the Digital Learning Asset Framework is all about. We are not competing with learning delivery standards, instead we seek to establish a framework for why these learning resources matter and how best to use them.

And those people who trust their gut, they could be stubborn and ignorant — or they might just be on to something.

Do you need more data to know where to go?

Well, you do if you say you do.

After all, it’s your call to make.