A New Data Mindset

If a world of information surplus is changing the way think about learning, commerce, government and a great many other sectors, what is the impact of all this data on how we think?

Our brains are wired to function efficiently in data-poor environments. We see two potentially relatable events and we immediately attempt to draw comparisons and maybe even causal relationships between them.  We do this all the time; there is a flood in Florida, so it must be climate change. School literacy scores are falling so it must be the new literacy program or the screen time, or the lower pay for teachers.

Even if we guess right about a cause, what is the likelihood, in a reasonable, democratic society, that we would ever be able to make a meaningful change based on that assertion? Even more remotely, what is the likelihood that any change we make would have the desired effects and that we could prove that those effects are the result of that change?  We can keep chasing our tails in an increasingly complex world, or we can change our mindsets to be more open to inductive correlative thinking.

The artificially intelligent machines we are building now are programmed with mathematical correlation models using reams and reams of data that humans simply cannot process. They will make decisions based on the probabilities of success of any choice that is made and more often than not will be right.  Humans, on the other hand, attempt to do this using our gut and when the factors are known and the model is simple we can usually get it right. When it gets complex, we begin to lose all credibility.

Unfortunately, we are very far off in our ability to adopt this type of thinking, whether human or machine, in our education systems and most human teachers are highly suspicious of this.  It is time to at least begin to trust our data and let is speak to us.


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