What Happens When Big Data Meets E-learning?

by | Jun 5, 2015 | Articles

Speexx draws on lessons from over 70,000 corporate and academic learners, in order to communicate more effectively around the globe.

There’s been a lot of talk about big data and how it’s helping businesses become more responsive to fast-changing consumer needs by analysing social media activities or online purchases. But this thinking can equally be applied to corporate Learning and Development. Until recently, HR and L&D Managers have approached skills development from a business need perspective. But now, big data, revealing the way vast and detailed insights on learner behaviour, is opening up opportunities to build effective learning environments.

The increasing availability of learner data, (i.e. how students behave during a training programme in terms of learning curves, exercise preferences or types of errors committed), is set to change training, both in terms of its planning and delivery. For example, learner data can provide real insight into which strategies and content are working for employees and which are not. Analytical tools allow managers to respond to individual learners much more quickly and more efficiently than they used to.

Getting personal

Learner data will help to enhance personalisation for individual students. Personalisation is the adaptation of a learning programme to a learner’s or learning group’s needs and wishes, such as module types, preferred devices, specific content or reinforcement of a particular skill which is still lacking. Relevance of learning content and smooth content delivery across PCs, tablets or mobile phones, is key to the success of long-term learning initiatives.

Big data not only informs HR about how well individual learners performed or how quickly they finished an online module, it also offers insight into each student’s individual learning path and allows learning providers to respond to individuals as they encounter issues. For example, if one or more students are having difficulties with a certain learning module, it could be an indicator that it hasn’t been presented in a logical or intuitive to be solved. Learning providers can use this feedback to improve their training solution so that it suits learner’s needs better. Let’s look at how this works out for communications skills training.

More and more, companies are aiming to deliver consistent training programs to staff across all subsidiaries. The more international the company, the greater their focus on offering high quality communication skills training. This helps to get all employees up to speed with the company’s official corporate language and to communicate effectively, both internally and externally. Speexx recently analysed the responses of 72,197 Speexx students, during the period 01/06/2013 – 31/05/2014 across Europe, Americas, Asia and Africa .The analysis found that 89% of corporate learners appreciate the flexibility offered by online language training and 80% of corporate learners report a positive outcome from their online language training*.

However, when it comes to learning how to communicate, the feedback shows that even the most effective use of technology is best supplemented by what we like to call ‘the human factor’. 83% of corporate learners appreciate coaching and feedback provided by a personal trainer, while 84% of corporate learners consider a professional kick-off session to the course to be useful, highlighting the importance of human input and ongoing support.

With big data and the right analytical tools, L&D professionals can start tracking an entire learner population at multiple locations throughout the learning process.

What’s more, with the help of data analytics, organisations can identify current skills gaps within their workforce – or potential future ones. It can unlock enormous power for an organisation’s talent succession strategy and global workforce mobility. For example, a skilled French employee with a solid grasp of English working in Paris may be transferred to fill a temporary or long-term skill gap in the company’s US subsidiary

Delivering global learning standards

Big data refers to massive, rapidly expanding and often unstructured sets of digitized data which are difficult to measure with methods. But modern cloud computing services are becoming faster and more user friendly and can do most of the number crunching for businesses. Based on these new technologies which extract and analyse key data from large learner populations, big data helps to identify patterns that will support the standardisation of learning modules across borders and for an entire organisation. This includes standardising a company’s terminology. For example, one of our customers has 42 different terms for a single small part of a car engine. These terms are unique to this corporation and needed to be consolidated so that they had the same meaning for more than 50,000 staff across five continents. Big data analytics has enabled the car manufacturer to build and measure the usage of a standardised glossary across the entire organisation.

Facing risks and challenges

Despite the many advantages of big data, some issues cannot be ignored. For one, the increasing usage of personal data goes hand in hand with raised concerns about the privacy and security of individual learners. Data privacy regulations vary from country to country and the level of worry about privacy issues varies accordingly. However, these concerns can and have been overcome as learning providers have matured and become experts in navigating privacy regulations.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for HR and L&D managers has been the requirement to collect as learner data and feed it into a central LMS. There is a pressing need for learning content providers to develop custom APIs that will interface with learning systems in a way that goes beyond the simple view of learner data that standard interfaces allow for. However, new specifications for learning technology make it possible to collect data from the wide range of learning experiences a person has online and offline, using multiple technologies, in a consistent format.

As technology matures, HR and L&D departments can plan to incorporate big data into their global workforce development strategy. Learning data is key to the most effective learning delivery and by now, the technology is available to build the most effective and consistent training.


Modernising L&D in 2015: What are the top learning organisations doing differently in their L&D strategy?

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*Data source: Global audit of 72,197 students learning a foreign language online with Speexx, during the period 01/06/2013 – 31/05/2014 across Europe, Americas, Asia and Africa.

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