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The Dawn of Data as Dusk of Degrees

Currently, we are unable to prove our “hidden” knowledge, things that are learned “along the way” rather than in a certified course or degree program. That needs to—and will—change, perhaps thanks to these innovative start ups.

Today we are all creating data and do it all the time, with every swipe of a credit card, click of a mouse button or finger tip on a touch screen. With the rise of mobile devices a whole new data set, Geolocation, got into this immense pool of information, yet we, the creators of information are not really profiting from it. Sure, we get a free coffee or burger if we check in to our favorite coffee shop or burger restaurant but that should not be the end of the line.


Information or data when looked at one by one might look trivial but as soon as you zoom out and take a look at a chain of information you will be able to see a pattern. Fast food restaurants are amongst the first to use this trend by rewarding us with a free drink or something else after we checked in to the place three times. They can do so because they collect all their customer’s data, filter it and draw conclusions. They can even go a step further and share (sell) this information with health insurance companies which then are able to draw their own conclusions based on the data obtained e.g. diseases people may get later in life based on the stuff they were eating and therefore cut health benefits, all of which led to a big scandal in Germany a few years ago, but that’s a different story.

Down to the present day many people don’t realize how much they actually share every single day and how it could be beneficial for their careers. As I said, one information or data set alone may be trivial in itself but collected and filtered over several months or years it might actually say a lot and become meaningful.

In today’s society all our knowledge is proven by snapshots taken from and during our educational career. What I mean by that, it’s the tests we took and the exams we sat and hopefully passed. However, knowledge and learning are far more than a test score.

Up to now, no one is able to prove ones “hidden” knowledge, things we learned “along the way”. That needs to change.

Imagine you are an art lover and every spare minute you either read a book, watch a documentary on TV, listen to a podcast on SmartHistory or go to exhibitions. I think it is pretty safe to assume that after some years you have gained a level of knowledge equal if not superior to someone who studied art at college. The difference is that if you decide one day to quit your job and start working for an art gallery or similar, you will most likely have a much harder time getting the job than someone fresh out of college as this person will have a prove in form of a diploma but you have just your knowledge which is not proven according to present day standards in our educational system and even in society. Yes, there are the successful career breakers and people creating their own jobs or niches but these are the shining exceptions and far from a general validity.

Now what if you tracked everything related to your hobby / passion over the years and your employer could take a look at the data, seeing that every single day you worked on the topic? The great and exciting thing is, all that data is already out there. What we have to do is to a) finish with the old mindset seeing data either as something boring or dangerous and b) establish a mindset that values data and what makes people want to have control over their data and to help them collecting it in a meaningful way.

Let’s take a look at three examples based on applications and services most of us use every day.

Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook check-in

Each time you visit a museum, an art gallery, a conference etc and check in the venue this data would become part of your Knowledge Graph. If you became a regular at a particular museum the collected check-ins would prove that you are actively interested in a certain topic or the data could underline a general interest in art or history.

Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Netflix, iTunes, Blippy

Most of us buy books and DVDs online these days. Every book you buy related to art or history should be part of your Knowledge Graph. Same is true for documentaries which we most likely buy or rent on Netflix or iTunes. Additional information could be a rating or review you give. And even if you bought your books in a classic bookstore the data could be tracked via services like Blippy.

YouTube, Big Think, TED, Fora.TV

More and more top shelf educational content is available on the Internet for free. Take lectures from universities on YouTube and iTunes as an example. And even not looking that far, Big Think itself has a great collection of videos on a variety of topics you can learn from. Most video platforms track how long the videos are watched by each user. This information would be a great addition to the Knowledge Graph.

There are of course more possible ways to make sense of education related data. In January I wrote a post on “Why Analytics will become more powerful than High Level Degrees” based on one of the best examples for such a system, the Khan Academy. In an interview with Forbes, Salman Khan said

In ten years, twenty years [from now] I think an employer would rather like to see your log from a site like Khan Academy where it doesn’t get just a 3.2 point GPA in psychology. It gets what you did, when you did it, how well you were able to help your peers, how consistently did you work.

“Well, this guy worked three hours every day for twenty years on this stuff. This is a persistent kind of guy I want working for me.”

And we will be able to give people this kind of analytics. I think that can be a more powerful transcript than just a high level degree right now.

Yesterday Chris Dixon shared the story of one of his friends who got accepted by the MIT without a high school diploma but based on “a pile of code he wrote and sent it to colleges.” Stanford, Berkley and others dismissed his application but got very interested in him when he was ready to start his Master.

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