Are you Interpreting eLearning Data Correctly?

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Our belief: At Vignettes Learning we use stories in eLearning; however, we make them interactive. The emphasis is getting learners involved in the story and not just telling the learners the story.
Synthesis.The responsibility of eLearning developers does not stop at implementing lessons. Post-learning assessment and data analysis are major factors to determine the efficiency of the learning modality. eLearning facilitators should ask themselves: Are we interpreting data correctly?
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Recently, the British Broadcasting Company website published an article written by Malcom Gladwell entitled “Viewpoint: Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War?” It is both intriguing and enlightening. It showed the vital role of data analysis and consequences for the erroneous process. Gladwell cites historical references pointing to the failure of American intelligence executives to correctly interpret the data of the Vietnam War. It proposes that the Vietnam War could have ended much earlier and saved thousands of lives had there been accurate interpretation of information collected.

Konrad Kellen was part of Rand Corporation, a high-level think tank commissioned to interpret Vietnam War data. He was part of the Vietnam Motivation and Morale Project headed by Leon Goure.

 Gladwell summarizes the objective of the project:

“The idea was to break the will of the North Vietnamese. But the Pentagon didn’t know anything about the North Vietnamese. They knew nothing about Vietnamese culture, Vietnamese history, Vietnamese language. It was just this little speck in the world, in their view. How do you know that you’re breaking the will of a country if you know nothing about the country? So Goure’s job was to figure out what the North Vietnamese were thinking.The idea was to break the will of the North Vietnamese. But the Pentagon didn’t know anything about the North Vietnamese. They knew nothing about Vietnamese culture, Vietnamese history, Vietnamese language. It was just this little speck in the world, in their view.”

As the Vietnam War ensued, Rand Corporation managed to interview captured Viet Cong guerillas and produced 61,000 pages of transcribed manuscript. Goure interpreted these data and concluded that the Viet Cong were utterly demoralized and they were about to give up. Goure recommended more bombings to break North Vietnam. Everyone but Kellen believed Goure.

According to Kellen, his interview with a Viet Cong Captain changed his perspective. The captured officer revealed that North Vietnamese believed that they could not win the war. Kellen interpreted this data differently and concluded that “an enemy who is indifferent to the outcome of a battle is the most dangerous enemy of all.”

The US government ignored the opposing recommendation submitted by Kellen. The Vietnam War continued and the rest is history.

Data analysis and interpretation are vital in any industry including the eLearning sector. As eLearning facilitators and developers, we should interpret the data without biases or prejudice. It is in the best interest of our elearners to give up control over our desired results or projected outcomes.

Vignettes Learning is running a program called STEX, an online application that gathers learner’s feedback and reaction over simulated training scenarios. We do our best to interpret data in the most objective way in order to get accurate evaluation. Aware of the consequences of manipulating data to achieve preconceived outcomes, I would point out that our guidelines in data interpretation are meticulously followed.

In the medical field, wrong diagnosis could lead to dangerous results. This can very well compound the problem and endanger the well-being of the patient. This logic is also applicable in eLearning. 

Here are some points to ponder in analyzing elearning data:

  • Give attention to details. All data are important, even the seemingly insignificant ones.
  • Approach your data with an open mind and objective disposition. Do not prejudge an assessment based on initial results.
  • Analyze the data with someone who has an opposing perspective. You need to test conclusions and recommendations by putting it in a crucible, so to speak.
  • Detach yourself from the analysis and do not get emotionally attached to the outcomes.
  • State your margin of error in your assessments. No one is infallible.

Malcom Gladwell compares data analysis to listening. The ability ”to listen” correctly to data is a skill all elearning facilitators and designers should possess. Of this, the author of the article writes:

“Listening well is a gift. The ability to hear what someone says and not filter it through your own biases is an instinctive ability similar to having a photographic memory. And I think we have a great ]deal of trouble with people who have this gift. There is something about all of us that likes the fact that what we hear is filtered through someone’s biases.”

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Viewpoint: Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War by Malcom Gladwell

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