What does Big Data mean for eLearning?

What is Big Data?




 Big Data encompasses the enormous flows of information received by organisations and sent by individuals. It can be used to reduce traffic, manage large clinical trials for healthcare companies, track every website you visit to provide you with targeted marketing, or track your phone calls. The trouble with all this data is analysing it.

A study by Forrester Research estimated that in 2014, companies were only analysing 12% of the data they were receiving, leaving a whopping 88% of data unused. Big Data is generally considered to be large amounts of data “so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate[1].

This isn’t a particularly precise definition so perhaps the following will enlighten you:

  • Over 230 million tweets are sent every day
  • Every minute over 48 hours of footage is added to YouTube
  • 600 Websites are created every minute of the day
  • Walmart handles more than 1 million customer transactions per hour





Something or someone has to handle, process and interpret this substantial stream of information.

In 2014 the entire digital universe was estimated at 3.2 zetabytes (a trillion terabytes); by 2020 this will expand to 40 zetabytes.

IBM’s CEO Virginia Rometty estimates that “there will be 5,200 gigabytes of data for every human on the planet by 2020.[2] Big Data is already huge, but it’s only going to get bigger.


What does this mean for eLearning?


 Well, luckily (I assume) that almost everyone involved in eLearning does not have to spend their days analysing large quantities of traffic information. The question is, what should they be doing with the data they are getting?

When learners access a course, they are providing various pieces of information being gathered by an LMS, LRS, or other applications (Scorm, TinCan). Course providers have tons of information at their fingertips and they can use this information to discover more about their learners. By using and analysing Big Data, we can see what times learners are choosing to study, how long they want to study for, what areas they get stuck on, which sections they visit and how frequently.

Developers can use all this information to customise their content to better fit their learners’ wants and needs. For example, if you find that your courses are frequently accessed during lunch hours, then consider splitting them into more bite-sized portions able to be studied for 30-45 minutes. If you discover that more people are using mobile devices than desktop PCs, perhaps design your courses to be more mobile orientated.

Critically all of this data can be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of an eLearning course and thus prove it’s worth investing in.


How has Big Data helped us?


Titan Learning uses Big Data to identify VAT knowledge gaps in our VAT eLearning courses. Big Data permits us to see where learners struggle and where they shine. This lets us know where to adjust the difficulty in our content.

Using data from our learners, courses are in a constant state of evolution to match the changing trends on a macro/micro scale. We discovered that users revisited particular sections, so we are developing a bookmarking feature so that learners can save their favourites. Big Data has allowed us to monitor the upward trend of mobile users within our members, resulting in course changes providing more mobile friendly interactions.

How do you plan to use Big Data within your organisation?


If you are interested in how Titan Learning uses Big Data, or in our VAT eLearning courses, then e-mail me @ alex@titan-learning.com.


[1] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data

[2] Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/theworldin2014/2013/12/ibms-virginia-rometty