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Data & learning: Where are we?

One of the most interesting developments of recent years, affecting societies across the world, is how the subject of data is now a huge concern for “ordinary” people.

Panic over the manipulation of elections and the vast power and influence of tech giants has played a part, as well as scare stories about who has access to your fitness-app stats. And that’s not to mention the uncanny valley opened up by the voice-enabled device sitting in your kitchen. The one you suspect of whispering to your other devices. Has it heard you say you needed a holiday? Surely it’s just a coincidence that you’re now bombarded with ad after ad suggesting destinations. It must be.


A new world of data

We’re aware in ways we never before were that everything we do generates data. Banking, exercising, liking things on Instagram—even sitting in a chair passively consuming TV. All these normal everyday things generate data. This affects the world around us, whether we own and control it or not. (In most cases, not).

The underlying driver for this new awareness has been the digitalization first of content, then of social relationships. And like all aspects of digital transformation, this has been accelerated in the crisis produced by the global reaction to COVID-19.

Governments around the world present the headline data daily. Massaging figures to varying degrees (downplaying deaths or double-counting testing numbers) in order to titrate the degree of urgency or comfort they want their populations to feel. So, the extent to which an individual feels they can trust their own government will depend on the plausibility of the data story they are being told. Data becomes a locus of trust—perhaps the locus of civic trust in the digital era.


Active data 

Data is not passive and inert anymore, a collection of bars and pie slices on a dashboard; it is active. If it is central to our relationship with the government as citizens, it is even more central to our relationships with companies as consumers. And you can argue that companies have stolen a march on governments (this is perhaps the source of much of the moral panic about tech giants) in forging much more intimate relationships with people-as consumers than governments have been able or willing to countenance.


Where are we now?

This is the world we live in now. One where data is of central concern.  We all have a relationship with data that is intimate. Conflicted, by turns fearful and ecstatic, but in any event inextricably a fact of our existence.

This makes for an odd, slightly disconcerting shift when we look at the role data is currently playing in learning. Or not. Data might lie behind numbers one, two, and four of everybody’s hot list of L&D concerns right now. But when you look at the role it is actually playing in helping people learn, you see a lot more aspiration than practice.


To read the rest of the blogs in this series, download our new whitepaper, ‘Data & learning: A new common-sense approach’.


About the author

Alongside our CEO, Ben Betts, this blog and the rest of the ‘Data & learning’ series has been authored by writer, speaker, podcaster and Communications Consultant, John Helmer.


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