Personalize Learning Through Big Data

Jul 26, 2016

Article ImageTwo of the biggest challenges in designing and delivering organizational learning are determining what content your learners most need and want, and deciding what courses to develop and offer based on learner preferences and organizational needs. Get these two challenges right, and your organization wins with engaged learners who can move the company forward. Get them wrong, and you've wasted money and effort while alienating your learners.

The best way to meet these challenges is to analyze the needs and wants of your learners and others like them. In other words, use the available mountains of information about learners--called big data--to drive the development and delivery of your training.

What exactly is big data? In general, it refers to any extremely large collection of information, usually gathered in an online environment. The key fact about big data is that it doesn't yield its secrets to the casual observer. Big data requires structure and analysis in order to identify patterns and yield useful information.

Collecting and analyzing big data in the context of eLearning can yield a wealth of information that can help make learning more personal, more relevant, and more effective. In this context, we'll consider two kinds of big data: within eLearning, and outside of eLearning.

Within eLearning, your LMS can collect scads of facts about learners and the courses they take. Which courses are most or least popular? Which ones do learners do best or worst in? What feedback do learners give about your courses? Within a course, which spots seem easiest or most troublesome to learners? In the past, you might not have been able to use all the data that the LMS collects, but now analytics have improved to the point where you can slice and dice the LMS data to see which courses are most effective and where courses need to be improved.

Outside of eLearning there's a wealth of structured and unstructured data that may come from within your organization or outside of it. Social media, online forums, discussion groups, webinars, blogs, videos, podcasts, web traffic, or hashtags on Twitter can tell you what's important to your audience. That can drive development and delivery of effective, valuable employee onboarding.

Big data from both within and outside of eLearning can be valuable in personalizing your organization's learning experience and offering the most relevant courses to learners. There can be considerable benefits when you create a plan for analyzing and using big data to develop and deliver training.

Big data helps you focus on creating a specific plan to fit your organization's needs. There is no one-size-fits-all training plan. The latest trends and buzzwords may or may not be valuable to your learners. The only way to cut through the noise and sharpen your training focus is to analyze your learners' experience and then act on that analysis.

Big data helps you identify learning needs for individuals, departments, and the organization as a whole. From driving the overall curriculum to delivering just the right course to guide an individual's skill development, big data can show you where training dollars and effort are best spent.

Big data helps you determine the right platform(s) for your learning. For example, eLearning is convenient and can be offered at any time or on a variety of devices. Face-to-face learning is great for answering individual questions and providing real-time feedback. A blended approach is best, and analyzing big data can help you determine which platforms fit different circumstances.

Big data helps you analyze your current training for ongoing improvement. Look at feedback on instructors, training methods, and content to help improve your offerings.

Big data helps you predict future training needs. Use outside data to predict and track learning trends, new areas your learning may not be addressing, and industry needs that are just coming to light.

Some experts say that using big data can revolutionize corporate training. That can be true, but like any data-driven analysis, it comes with a caveat: data by itself is pretty useless. The value comes in the analysis of that data. The first step in using big data to drive your training is to educate yourself about what's possible and then determine what you want to achieve through your analysis.

(Images courtesy of Shutterstock.)