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Making use of Big Data in corporate training


How can Big Data help L&D in your business? Jan Sramek explains.

The introduction of Big Data into HR has been accelerating recently. So far, the applications centre mostly around a few distinct areas, including recruiting, compensation, and to a lesser degree, performance management. However, not much has changed when it comes to Big Data within learning & development. In this article, we examine the root causes of this situation, outline the bottlenecks preventing improvements and innovation, and consider likely developments for the future.

Why hasn't Big Data meaningfully impacted corporate training?
Big Data hasn't impacted corporate training because, to put it simply, in this area, we simply don't have much of any data at all. Why not? Corporate training is often broadly split into on-the-job, classroom-based, and online. The former two activities happen mostly offline, and thus don't generate a large amount of data. Online
learning, however, should in principle generate thousands of data points that could be used by the company.

Unfortunately, one of the inherent problems with the current generation of presentation-driven SCORM courses (as opposed to semantic ones) is their inability to generate meaningful intra-course learning data. This means that in reality, most LMS systems only offer three data points for each learner and course: has the course been completed, how long did the learner spend on this course, and what was the percentage of correct answers on the final test. Considering the range of valuable data captured by modern adaptive learning systems (thousands per learning session), this is clearly far from ideal.

Things are changing, however, and companies that start using adaptive learning will increasingly accumulate a wealth of high-precision data about how their staff learn. The next question is, what can they do with it?

How will Big Data impact learning in enterprise?
Once adaptive learning and semantic courses introduce Big Data to learning management, these trends are likely to make a major contribution towards turning training into a more transparent, data-driven process, as well as dramatically improving the user experience for everyone involved: learners, authors, and managers.

"Things are changing, however, and companies that start using adaptive learning will increasingly accumulate a wealth of high-precision data about how their staff learn."

In particular, relevant learning data points will be captured with high precision, from individual exercises to the overall activity patterns, aggregated, dynamically analysed, and turned into analytics, visualisations and dashboards that bring insights to authors, managers, administrators, and the learners themselves. What will the learners get out of this change? The most important difference will be their ability to receive continuous feedback throughout the learning process. The next generation of products will allow them to track their own progress, compare themselves against their peers, or review areas they seem to have particular strengths and weaknesses in.

Course authors will finally get anonymised feedback from learners on anything from individual exercises to their courses overall. Even more importantly, authors' activity dashboards will give them an insight into how exactly learners use their courses. Such dashboards will show how learners spend their time across the course, common mistakes, and frequent misconceptions. These will then be used by the authors to fix problems or improve courses, with the changes propagated to the learners automatically – in real time.

Managers, similarly to authors, will get access to a variety of dashboards and visualisations – theirs will, however, be tailored to answer a different set of questions. Whereas authors want to know how to make their course better, managers care about understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their staff, and how to help them get better.

Thus, analytical tools for management will answer questions such as: are there patterns of missing skills in our workforce? What’s the biggest limiting factor for career progression for this person, or people in our company in general? Do our staff have any misconceptions or gaps that are impacting productivity, safety, or security?

What will this mean for how companies use elearning?
Firstly, the effectiveness and efficiency of elearning is likely to increase as all involved parties have better tools at their disposal. In addition, the experience of actually using such tools will improve dramatically; this will in turn improve the reputation of elearning amongst staff, and change its perception from "PowerPoint slides with questions" to an effective learning method that people enjoy using.

Secondly, as the developments above take place, the ROI on building great internal elearning courses is likely to increase significantly. In addition, advanced analytics, visualisations, and dashboards will help senior management finally understand in depth and detail how learning happens across the company. When combined, higher ROI and easier analysis of results are likely to lead to a trend of increasing investments into online learning by most companies.

Jan Sramek is the CEO & Co-founder of Erudify, a software company that provides an enterprise learning platform. Jan has always been fascinated by the idea of getting better. He has a long history of "hacking learning" and figuring out how to get better faster, including breaking the world A-level record in 2006. He later graduated with a First in Mathematics and Economics from LSE and Trinity College, Cambridge. Before founding Erudify, he was a proprietary trader at Goldman Sachs in London


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