How Big Data Will Shake Up eLearning

There’s a lot of talk about big data and how it helps businesses become more responsive to customers’ fast-changing needs. This type of 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 behavior, is opening up more opportunities to build effective learning environments than ever before.

The increasing availability of learner data 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.

Time to get personal

Learner data will help to enhance personalization for individual students. Personalization, relevance of learning content and smooth content delivery across PCs, tablets or cellphones, 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.

But even the most effective use of technology is best supplemented by what we like to call ‘the human factor’. A recent data analysis* found that 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. One-to-one coaching and active use of big data offers the best combination to deliver a personal learning experience that is just as effective as costly one-to-one training while being available 24/7.

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. Research has also shown 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*. 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.

With the help of data analytics, organizations can identify current skills gaps within their workforce – or potential future ones. It can unlock enormous power for an organization’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 helps to identify patterns that will support the standardization of learning modules across borders and for the entire organization. This includes standardizing 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 standardized glossary across the entire organization.

Risks and challenges

Despite the many advantages of big data, some issues cannot be ignored. For one thing, the increasing usage of personal data goes hand in hand with raised concerns about the privacy and security of individuals. 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 solution suppliers have matured and become experts in navigating global privacy regulations.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing 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.

*Data source: Global audit of HR and L&D professionals and senior managers carried out by Speexx from sample size is 72,197 Speexx students, during the period 01/06/2013 – 31/05/2014 across Europe, Americas, Asia and Africa.