Through the Lens of L&D: So What Is Big Data All About Anyway?

Big Data is a buzz term that has been floating around for some time, and the promises it makes, and potential it advertises are huge. So what is Big Data and how can it help you to build on and improve your Learning and Development offerings?

Big Data is the name given to the growth and availability of information or data, whether structured (like information in databases) or unstructured (such as emails or financial transactions), that focuses on revealing patterns and trends usually around human behaviour and interactions. The use of this data is to provide more accurate analyses, leading to better decision making resulting in more fruitful outcomes in the forms of efficiency, ROI and greater risk management.

These are the big promises of Big Data, so how can Big Data help Learning and Development professionals?

It has been accepted that while eLearning can potentially produce plenty of data, offline training, mentoring and coaching doesn’t create the kinds of easily accessible information that sets Big Data’s heart on fire. While boffins are debating the use of SCORM, which generally only provides whether the course has been completed, how long it took and final assessment scores, and the upgrade to TinCan API, which can create data for offline learning but is intrinsically time consuming to implement, Learning and Development professionals are continuing their hard work into finding, creating and launching L&D solutions to meet their business’ needs. At this stage there is no quick fix to bridge the gap between the data we have and the data L&D can potentially come up with in the future.

With all these problems, how can Big Data help L&D professionals today?

While there are quick wins to be had in the form of working to improve cost-effectiveness, analysing time spent completing training versus time saved in (hopefully) resulting efficiency, and finding wins which can be replicated from previous learning and development undertakings, much more can be achieved with existing data from partner departments. The key resource for L&D professionals comes from the ability of Big Data exploit Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) data, and use it to optimise training offerings and track their success. HRIS data can be a veritable goldmine of information including performance, productivity, retention, and metrics in areas as diverse as sales and engagement. By exploiting this data, Learning and Development professionals can gain a greater understanding of how their efforts are being reflected in the work lives of their organisation’s staff, and if there is no reflection, then they can gain a greater understanding of what needs to change to ensure that their efforts and funds are being directed to learning solutions that have an impact.


The challenges of Big Data are the same challenges that are posed by implementing ROI programs that measure L&D effectiveness. Big Data can bring big rewards to organisations that are willing to invest time and effort in discovering the metrics around their learning and development offering. The days of ticking boxes as a means of developing your staff are gone: with the demographic crisis that is being heralded by every prominent business journal, where boomers are retiring, leaving unfillable knowledge gaps, and millennials are reported as happy to take their knowledge capital to whichever employer is going to best develop them and help them to achieve their career goals, no organisation can afford a set and forget mindset on their L&D offerings.

You can find out more about developing metrics around your L&D offering here.

One thought on “Through the Lens of L&D: So What Is Big Data All About Anyway?

  1. Pingback: L&D and the Crisis of Credibility: 5 Core Reasons Behind Our Lack of Perceived Legitimacy | LearningYourDevelopment

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