Professional musicians are listening to big data. The musicians want to find out the moments when a listener has the strongest emotional reaction to a song, the moments when the listener is most engaged and the moments when the listener tunes out. Progressive musicians plan to use this information to drive music-making decisions in the future. The musicians want to create music that does it all. Education needs to do the same.

The best education possible leaves a child brilliant and healthy through learning that is challenging, inspiring, engaging, and entertaining all at once. If educators are able to use big data to better facilitate that goal, why wouldn’t they? Schools already collect more data about schools than they like to admit. Microsoft has sponsored numerous information sessions for parents warning them that the increasingly ubiquitous Gmail available to students through schools means Google is collecting a lot of data. Personally identifiable information is removed, but Google has the data. Student information systems, social media providers and countless other providers have loads of data, and they all consider it valuable. Schools have even more data, and they are using little to none of it.

Big data represents an opportunity for education. Online, distance and blended learning environments are popular. Debates aside about the relative value of those experiences versus face-to-face, people want to learn whenever and wherever they want. If analyses of camera data on a student reading a book can specify the moment when a student laughs, reflects on her life, has an epiphany or checks out, why not know? Private and non-traditional public schools increasingly create knowledge through big data. All schools can do it.