This blog, written by platforms consultant Mark Aberdour, looks at two questions around the ephemeral web: what is it and why is it important to those of us in L&D?
Learning platforms have flourished in the past decade, and as they have scaled with the rise of MOOCs, the data inside them has also become increasingly valuable. Different people see different value in this data. Some want to analyse data to predict outcomes and trigger early interventions when needed. Others want to analyse large datasets to advance machine learning techniques. Many more just see dollar signs in anything related to ‘big data’ so, in true startup fashion, they start collecting huge quantities of learner data now in anticipation of monetising it later.
But the learning technologies world needs to be mindful of the increasing unease among consumers about the storage of personal data by software providers and organisations, particularly among Millennials. Common concerns centre around data privacy issues, the ethics of amassing huge volumes of personal data, the exploitation of users by those collecting data, excessive government monitoring of citizens and the permanence of stored data.
What is the ephemeral web?
In response to this, a world of new apps and websites are starting to emerge which have garnered the rather fetching title of the ‘ephemeral web’. It’s a world in which personal data is stored for a limited time only, maybe just minutes or seconds, and where anonymity is the norm. Many common web applications already have an ephemeral or anonymous alternative:
- DuckDuckGo in place of Google (won’t store your search history)
- SnapChat in place of Instagram (photo destroyed after 10 seconds)
- Frankly and Wickr instead of Messenger/Skype/etc (messages “forensically deleted” seconds after delivery
- Incognito mode for Chrome browser (pages visited will not be stored in your browser history or cookie store)
Big data and the ephemeral web
The big data-obsessed world which triggered this backlash of ephemeral and anonymous tools among consumers is now colliding with the world of learning technologies. There are genuinely useful applications of big data in the context of education and work-based learning. In the workplace, data collected around staff performance, competence, skills gaps and assessment results can be anonymised, aggregated and analysed, revealing great insights for any organisation. We are already amassing vast quantities of data about learners through institutional LMSs, cloud-based learning platforms and MOOC vendors.
Elearning vendors dream of a world where a learning record is taken from school through college and into the workplace, following a learner throughout their career as they switch jobs. A personal learning record, from the cradle to the grave, might not be far away for citizens of the UK, for example. Standards like Tin Can API and Open Badges are emerging that will allow learning technologists to track previously unimaginable amounts of learner data, unwittingly facilitating our emergence into this brave new edtech world.
Clearly, this will not sit comfortably with a lot of people, even if education’s uses of learner data are not as commercial as say Facebook or Google with consumer web data. It’s likely we will see a similar move to the ephemeral web in the learning technologies space as a backlash against the excessive tracking of personal data about learners’ capabilities, performance and achievements.
To read the rest of this article and to find out how the ephemeral web may be used within the learning technologies industry, head to Mark’s blog Open Thoughts.