Until Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor and whistleblower, blew the proverbial lid off of the NSA’s data mining practices in 2013, most of us hadn’t heard of Big Data.

How Will Big Data Change the Way we Learn?

While the circumstances that introduced the concept of Big Data to the world were indeed nefarious, expectations are sky high that Big Data will change our understanding of how people learn. But are training managers and instructional designers ready to take advantage of Big Data?

The eminently quotable W. Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality control and the first data scientist, was famous for Demingisms like “In God we trust; all others bring data”. Deming’s contemporary, management guru Peter Drucker originated the training manager mantra: “If you can’t measure it; you can’t improve it.

Assessing the effectiveness of training is essential to determining your organisation’s training ROI. Training can be a huge investment. By analysing training data like assessment scores and surveys,  in conjunction with data from other business systems, training managers can determine whether training has in fact translated into learned behaviours that support the goals of a business in terms of customer service, productivity, efficiency, or workplace health and safety.

A popular training evaluation model, the four-stage Kirkpatrick model, collects data about how trainees reacted to training, fared on tests that assessed what they had learned, and how trainees performed in the workplace after training. In the final stage, the outcomes of the training are compared against a business’s goals. While the Kirkpatrick model evaluates training after it has been completed, Big Data provides the potential for a training manager to evaluate learners as they learn as as well as having data driven insights into the ongoing benefits of the business.

But before we get too excited about the potential of Big Data to transform learning, there is the lack data literacy to contend with. According to a study by the Corporate Executive Board Company (CEB), an advisory group for businesses, 62 percent of the workforce currently lack the necessary analytical skills to interpret data and use insights into worker and consumer behaviour in their decision-making. The volume of data available to businesses is growing at a staggering 60 percent a year but the lack of data literacy in business is creating a noticeable insight gap.

To close this insight gap, a training manager needs a grounding in statistics and basic statistical techniques such as profiling, trend analysis, and correlation analysis. MOOC providers like Coursera and Udacity offer free introductory courses in Big Data and statistics, as well as paid courses that act as primers for the burgeoning field of data science. These short courses in statistics are an excellent introduction to analytics for the training manager looking to leverage data in course design and decision-making.

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