Technology has made our world pretty rad. Spotify finds us the music we love, Google completes our sentences, and Netflix knows what we'll like next because we watched Grey's Anatomy (nothing compares to Grey's, doe).

Companies in every sector are leveraging technology and data to transform our daily lives. They analyze us, and millions of others, to understand what makes us tick and what we want to achieve. Then, they leverage that data to personalize our experience and get us to the outcome we want in a smooth and enjoyable way.

We can find examples of technology like this in almost every part of our lives, enabling us to do things we'd never be able to do ourselves. Or, at the very least, they save us dozens of hours trying (yay, more time for Grey's!). But there's one dark, dusty corner of our lives that has been missed. When we step into this part of our world, it's like a throwback to the 90's. Seriously, you might even catch a glimpse of the floppy disk save icon in the wild. Can anyone guess which part of our lives it is?

I knew you'd get it. Education is lagging so far behind, it's like stepping out of a time machine when you enter into a classroom - even a virtual one. By saying 'pass' to the incredible technology we have available, the world of education is leaving so much on the table. And we don't believe it needs to be this way. It's high time we start leveraging data to bring education into the new, personalized world. Of all the personalized things we could have, personalized learning is the holy grail. This is what education was meant to be.

🎯 Data empowers the learner and ensures they reach their goals

Picture this totally realistic scenario in today's world. You set a goal to switch careers into software development and decide to teach yourself how to code. A few hours in, you've got 100 tabs open, all well-intentioned Google search results. Not ideal. So you start following a course, but all of your programmer pals keep suggesting different ones, bringing back the tab explosion. Sigh. A few days of this stumbling around in the dark, and all you're left with is the knowledge that the Chrome crashing icon is kinda old school and Google's bottomless black hole of content was not designed for teaching yourself something. Overwhelmed and demotivated, you declare that you were never meant to become a programmer and give up.

Now, let's rewind and play that scene again. But this time, we'll imagine that education has joined the new world and is now leveraging modern technology and data to empower learners to reach their goals.

Excited about your new professional goal, you jump online. You tell your modern education app what you want to accomplish, and the app starts to analyze your current skillset and knowledge base. Like a GPS, the app then builds a pathway for you to navigate to reach your goal. As you start taking steps along the path, the app analyzes how you're doing and packages this information up as progress indicators. When the inevitable bumps in the learning road arise, the app uses what it knows about you - and data from millions of other learners just like you who previously struggled with the same problem - to give you actionable insights. How you learn best, what concepts you need help with, what to do differently, when you're most productive - your app empowers you to be your best learning self. Ultimately, you reach your goal and do a very awkward victory dance.

Compare these two scenarios. Today's online learning is like driving around aimlessly. No map, no street signs, and certainly no GPS. You just keep going, hoping you'll reach your destination one day. Eventually, you run out of gas, ditch your car, and do the walk of shame home. But if education joined every other sector in World 2.0, you'd be in a Tesla using Google Maps. You'd be able to see your current location, your destination, and how far out you were. Along the way, you could add a stop at the best coffee shop in town and be seamlessly rerouted. And when the inevitable traffic jam arose along your route, you'd get directions for how to avoid the congestion. You'd arrive at your destination. And you'd be caffeinated, to boot.

🚀 Data gives educators powerful insights to transform the learning journey

This same system can be used to provide educators with the tools they need to transform school-based education. Today, educators are in the dark. A generic curriculum is presented to students, a bunch of stuff happens, and then grades pop out the other end. All the important bits in between are a black box to educators. Are they using school material? Is it helpful? Are they stuck? Why is Jimmy teaching himself medicine on YouTube? Mildred always did well on assignments, so why did she drop out?

Providing educators with data and insights is the equivalent of shining light into the black box, and exposing the actual learning that goes on between the delivery of a generic curriculum and the outcomes seen at the end. Turns out the students aren't using a bunch of our material. They are indeed banging their heads against their keyboards because they're stuck. Jimmy uses YouTube because things click when Crash Course explains it. And Mildred dropped out because the assignments were all busywork and didn't actually give her the skills she needed to reach her goals. With  information like this in hand, educators can take targeted steps to improve their curriculum, and personalize the learning journey to match the quirkiness of each individual learner.

People, it is time. No more excuses. No more stalling because of perceived obstacles. Data privacy has been solved. Let's bring education into the modern world and leverage data to really personalize the learning experience. Of all the areas of our lives to personalize, education should be our highest priority.


About the authors:

Emma Giles is the COO of Sophya, the world's first Learner Optimization platform. She is a PhD Student at Harvard University, and former Teaching Fellow at Khan Academy. She is an avid ultrarunner (mountains and forests preferred), and probably couldn't live without coffee. Follow her on Twitter @emma_k_giles.

Sehr Taneja is studying Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She lives for the magic of conversations that change her perspective, books that allow her to dream, and ideas that  transform the world. Her survival kit includes chocolates, tea, and puppies. Follow her on Twitter @sehrtaneja6.

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