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How big data changes the training scenery

We live in a world of data. Money is no longer our only currency; big data is catching up. Until recently, the more data a business had — about how to improve their product/service, about the competition, about new technologies — the better their chances to be successful. But “the more, the merrier” soon led to data overwhelming. It’s no use now having a lot of data, or big data; companies needs to be able to sort it and make meaning of it, as fast as possible.

In the e-learning arena, big data means the data produced by learners interacting with the learning content during an e-learning course or training module: their learning progress, the time spent on each lesson, the time spent on a particular part of the lesson (a video, for example), their assessment results, their social sharing, their interactions with other learners or with instructors, and so on, and so forth.

All these data affects companies' ability to deliver success in learning and development, learner engagement and ultimately, business performance.

Big data offers insights on how people learn

Learning is somehow an organic process that is unique to each individual. But even with a high number of variables of the learning process, instructional designers can still identify patterns that are common to groups of people.

A cloud-based LMS can store an impressive amount of data on all the learning activities of each user. Not only does the system register data, but it also sorts it and delivers it in comprehensive — and sometimes eye-catchy — reports.

Managers and instructors need all sorts of reports: course status, course completion, module progress, proficiency coverage, missing work, assessment grades, learner activity, and so on. These will help them better understand how people learn, at what pace, and to identify any problems that might exist with the learning materials, or even with the organizational learning strategy.

Meaningful big data is a prerequisite for delivering personalized learning experiences to all trainees.

Big data gets us a step closer to personalized learning

Trainees everywhere crave for a personalized learning experience. From the moment they log in the learning management system, until they log out, learners want to feel they are the center of the training universe.

They want a personalized dashboard, based on their interests, level of expertise, and personalized set of learning objectives; they want a clear learning path, with custom resources and instant feedback along the way; they want some relevant suggestions for other related or more in-depth courses at the end of each learning module.

They want it all because they know their learning results will be the best. Personalization of the learning experience leads to better participation, higher engagement rates, higher retention rates and improved productivity.

The only way for instructional designers to create customized courses for each trainee is to first know their specific learning needs. Since learning management systems can store enormous amounts of data on each user, trainers can create customized courses for all learners. Their activity in each learning session will generate metrics that will be the base for the next and improved learning session.

What's most important is the fact that L&D professionals can connect any learning experience with real employee performance. LMSs can collect data on all sorts of learning experiences, no matter if they happen online or offline:

  • attending a formal course;
  • taking a formal test and being assessed based on theoretical knowledge;
  • having a conversation / meeting with a colleague or a manager about the learned subject;
  • performing a task;
  • searching online for support or watching a YouTube video about how to perform that task;
  • receiving / giving feedback related to that task;
  • performing an improved version of the same task.

Well, the actual collection of all these data happens through xAPI and its learning record store of actor – action – object activity statements, but everything can be connected to the company LMS and its analytics and reporting tools, for best training results. Find out more about xAPI and how it works here.

Big data and data safety

Security of data is a serious concern for many companies. Corporate data is usually synonym with sensitive data. Some company documents, details about employees, providers and clients are best to be kept in a safe place, away from unauthorized eyes. Internal data on learning and development must also be kept safe.

Risks are everywhere:

  • Online data can be stolen;
  • Company computers can get hacked;
  • Personal computers of employees who access work file from home can get virus infected;
  • Mobile devices have their own malware to fear;
  • Untrusted internet connections - like those in airports or coffee shops - can invite Wi-Fi snooping;
  • People are prone to error, and they can accidentally delete important files.

How can companies avoid these risks and keep all their learning data safe? Well, a cloud-based learning management system seems to be the best option.

If all learning data is in the cloud, the human error can very rarely affect it. First of all, corrupted hard drives can’t corrupt the data in the cloud. Then, accidentally deleted files or entire lessons can be usually restored from the cloud trash can. Some LMSs keep the deleted files for 30 days; this allows plenty of time to get all of them back if necessary.

Cloud-based LMSs are quite hard to get hacked due to their powerful and constantly updated security protocols. Automatic back-ups ensure that all changes are saved instantly, while custom restriction of access for users will control how much and what type of information is available for each stakeholder. Also, password protection, double encryption, and a few white-listed internet connections offer a greater control over the accessibility of the LMS. What’s more, the system automatically tracks data on any suspicious activity, which makes it easy to identify any data breach before it gets serious.

As for the management of sensitive personal data, like bank accounts and other details required in an online transaction, LMS vendors largely embrace SSL certificates. These certificates ensure the learning management system becomes a safe place for data transfer, logins or credit card transactions, and all the data is handled only by authorized administrators.

In the end...

While there are concerns about the possible misuse of big data in the context of business learning and development, it seems that the benefits that come along seriously outnumber any disadvantages. What's more, I think the use of big data will skyrocket over the next years, so organizations that will know how to handle big data fast and accurately will have better ROI, as well as a great chance to keep being successful in the future.

What is your experience on using big data in your organization? How can is be better used in learning design? Share your thoughts in the comments section!