Educators get big insights from 'little data'

Personalized learning is key to generating little data

Bigger isn't always better. One primary school is banking on the use of "little data" to gain valuable insights about students, Jamie Martines reports for the Hechinger Report.  

While big data analysis helps people understand how students are likely to behave based on a large set of information over time, little data provides insights into smaller actions, collected on a daily basis or even in real time.

Mark Bonchek, CEO of the consulting firm Shift Thinking, once described little data as "what we know about ourselves," and big data as "what organizations know about people."

At the Innovation Academy in Surprise, Arizona, little data is at the heart of student success. The school uses a system called iPAL (I Plan, I Assess, I Learn) to monitor state test results and help teachers and administrators track student progress. 

The data is generated by students' self-paced computerized lessons. Instructors can easily pull information from students' online profiles to see how well they're performing. After reviewing the data, educators can use their insights to design small-group activities or pinpoint students who need additional help.

For example, little data analysis can help educators learn more about an individual student's reading habits. By examining factors such as when and how often a student reads, a teacher can pinpoint specific strengths and weaknesses that can be tailored to a personalized learning plan.

Little data analysis relies on how teachers make use of the information collected, says Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise.

"We need to look at what data makes possible in the interaction between one teacher and one student" (Martines, Hechinger Report, 11/4). 

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