I want to know if my slender grasp of the latter will help me learn about the former.
You can get meta data about a site as well as about all sites and users within the Stack Exchange sites network, see e.g. the following routes:
- Gets various system statistics.
- Returns a list of all the sites in the StackExchange network
- Gets all the associated user accounts across the StackExchange network as identified by the given association_id.
This kind of meta and cross site information is not available via the Stack Exchange Data Explorer.