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Big Data...Big Learning!!

In October this year, I attended the HR Tech World Congress as a Speaker and Moderator in their Learning Track. The organizers had requested me to speak on Big Data and how it can be leveraged in the Learning and Development space.

While interacting with the delegates at the conference, my earlier notion of Big Data being a black box to L&D practitioners just got further reinforced. While most of them were aware that Big Data is going to change the way people learn, many didn’t know how to deal with this new phenomenon. This discovery prompted me into writing this blog.

Big Data is making waves today. It is going to change the way we do business, take decisions and engage with customers. Big data is going to have far reaching ramifications on governments, businesses, factories, educational institutions, hospitals, banks etc. In other words, it is going to change our personal, professional and social lives. Most organizations are looking for ways to leverage Big Data to foster innovation, greater customer engagement and growth. It is becoming popular with HR practitioners in helping them in Talent Analytics, Recruitment, and Employee Engagement. However, capturing, analyzing and leveraging big data for learning and development is still at its nascent stage. Why is that so?

What are the challenges?
ASTD, in collaboration with the Institute for Corporate Productivity, recently conducted a study (2014) to understand the penetration of Big Data in the learning and development space. Here are some of the interesting findings from the study:-

"Only 22% of organizations are currently leveraging learning related Big Data. Just about 15 % of survey respondents characterized their organization’s Big Data analytical capabilities as effective."

A deep dive into these findings tell us that L&D practitioners today are probably struggling with the issue of the right mind-set, skill-set and tool-set when it comes to Big Data. In the absence of these three essential elements, they have failed to present a compelling business case to their business leaders. Some of the key L&D measures used in the past were ‘average number of training days per employee’, ‚‘average learner feedback score‘ etc. Several leading organizations are known to attribute their success to these measures. Of course, this logic just doesn’t hold true any more. Organizations in general and learning professionals in particular fail to understand the link between data and success. In the world of Big Data, there’s so much more data, so many more linkages and so many more opportunities to leverage.

Big data: A Huge Opportunity for L&D
In spite of these challenges, there is some good news. Today data is more readily and rapidly available. It is accessible, and searchable and there are tools to help organizations get the most out of the data they gather.

Imagine being able to correlate business performance results with your learning interventions. Today we can take advantage of Big Data to drive vibrant, responsive, relevant learning interventions that engage employees and lead better organizational performance? Big Data can influence decision making in L&D in five different areas:-

  1. Employee Performance
    Big Data will tell us whether our training inteventions are resulting in enhanced employee performance or not. We would also know the extent of impact achieved through each intervention. After all, the goal of all trainings is to improve employees‘ skills and effectiveness. Great companies are going to analyze data to make sure that they are getting the best possible return on investment in their training programs.
  2. Employee Retention
    One of the primary motivations for people to stay in an organization is the prospect of career growth. And people know that one of the key contributors to career growth is skill development. Big Data can analyze historic data of people who have stayed back in the organization and tell you what courses, training programs or certifications they have pursued during their tenure. These would provide great insights about the linkage between learning and employee retention.
  3. Design and Delivery
    Big Data prodives useful insights into learners‘ activities and outcomes, motivations and attitudes, and the factors that both promote and hinder learning. These insights enable organizations to develop new models to increase instructional efficiency and effectiveness. With the help of Big Data the Instructional designers would be able to find answers to the following questions:
    • What sequence of topics is the most effective for a specific learner?
    • When are learners ready to move from one topic to another?
    • What learner actions are associated with more learning?
    • What learner behaviors indicate satisfaction, engagement, learning progress, etc.?
    • What are the tastes, preferences, likes and dislikes of each learner group (e.g., Gen-X, Gen-Y and so on)
    • What features of a learning solution lead to better learning?

    Answers to these questions would enable learning practitioners and instructional designers to design and deploy their learning solutions in the most effective and meaningful manner.

  4. Social and Informal Learning
    Social learning and informal learning are fast becoming popular and effective learning tools. However, organizations have still not figured out the right formula to optimize their benefits. Data can be used to organize learners with complimentary skills into teams and work groups for collaborative learning. It can also help learning professionals determine which social learning platforms are effective in which setting.
  5. Prediction of Future
    Big Data will help organizations predict the impact of training programs on individual, business-unit, and organizational success.Learning and Development practitioners would be able to determine how people would learn in future and what will predict learner success. They can predict what the return of investment will be for their future learning interventions.

From these facts, it is clear that the potential of Big Data in learning space is huge. But are organizations and L&D functions ready to unleash this potential?

Well, to make this happen, L&D professionals need a mindset to be more data-oriented and analytical. A mindset that would enable them, not only to capture the right data and make sense of it but also design the right solutions and show positive outcomes of the solutions they implement. If this happens, the future is bright !!

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