Big Data in Learning & Development: Challenges and Opportunities (Part 2)
Big Data in Learning & Development: Challenges and Opportunities (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of the article here.


Plan for L&D with Big Data in mind

Now that the challenges and opportunities have become a little clearer, the logical question would be “how to devise a strategy for L&D with Big Data in mind?”

“What most companies need is not more strategic analysis but a clear methodology to link strategic decisions, fast and cheap exploration of opportunities, and staged investment, and a radically different strategy to manage people, skills, training schemes, and internal digital platforms“ – Ricardo Perez, Professor of Information Systems, IE Business School.

When planning for BD-based L&D strategies, HRs must first answer a basic question: What data are we looking for?

The answer is threefold: how employees receive and perceive information; how employees behave and perform within the organisation; and how employees feel while at work.

Information consumption and perception

Around the globe, access to knowledge is just a click away already. Smartphones can be as cheap as USD 10 in Africa and Asia and trends are that by 2020 70% of all humans will own one. That means everyone will have the same access to world-class education. This development will enable all children around the world to access Khan Academy for everything children in First World countries learn at school, highlighted the Managing Director of Daimler Benz in 2017.

Since information is freely and widely available, learning materials such as guidelines, workshops, intranet, etc. can be obtained outside of traditional corporate learning resources, from sources such as social media, webinars, blogs, and others. Depending on company policies, materials from the latter sources can be consumed both while at work and outside of work hours. HRs must be certain as to what the information flow is and take that into account when planning for L&D practices. 

The second part is understanding how employees perceive information: “Do employees process and remember information better when it is given to them by external or internal sources?” It could turn out that information delivered by authorities outside of the organisation has a bigger impact on employees. Big Data can also track whether employees act upon that information by signing up to said external webinars or interacting (sharing and replying) to said opinion leader social media posts. This has to do with the practice of Data-driven content explained earlier in this article.

By conducting company-wide surveys, or even electronically tracking employee activity at work, HRs can collect data on these information gathering and processing habits and analyse it in order to understand who the bigger authority is: the company or the outside world.

Employee behaviour

As already mentioned (see Little Data), data on factors such as employee performance and satisfaction, career growth and remuneration, as well as interdepartmental and personal communication has long since been gathered in one form or another by HR departments around the world. By streamlining the process of data gathering (by means of anonymous questionnaires and automated tracking software), HRs are able to compile, extrapolate and cross-reference huge streams of data that can identify correlations between these basic, but important factors and the role, place, and impact that corporate learning has on them. This is where Little Data becomes Big Data.

Employee wellbeing

Breakthroughs in technology have afforded us unprecedented access to health analytics. Wearables and other electronic gadgets are able to measure things like blood pressure, arterial pulse, heart rate, and blood glucose level. In one interview, Norman Kurtis, vice-vean of Behavioural & Human Development at IE School of Human Science & Technology, suggests that the data provided by these devices can optimise a whole range of things such as insurance premiums, sick days, and overall productivity. Lee Newman, dean of the IE School of Human Sciences & Technology, goes even further, suggesting that this data can measure willpower, self-control, and brain performance in real time. By gathering and analysing this data, HRs can devise an L&D strategy that boosts these metrics in order to help employees improve their own cognitive performance.

Execute and evaluate L&D based on Big Data

Experts agree that it is no longer enough to just implement a Learning Management System which hosts a catalogue of instructor-led, computer-based training modules. 

“Learning is shifting to an environment of personalised, real-time coaching and reinforcement, and can even include the usage of virtual reality or gamiļ¬cation. Employees increasingly expect this level of service and experience and, particularly for technology companies that need to practise internally what they preach externally – it is a must for attracting and retaining key talent” – Vincent Turner, senior manager at Revel Consulting.

Once HRs have a clear understanding of where employees stand with regard to information processing, performance, and wellbeing, they are able execute an L&D strategy that is personalised and impactful. Depending on the analysis in the planning stage, HRs can segment and target groups of employees with different L&D tools. These can be both traditional (questionnaires, training courses, guest lectures, workshops, etc.) and digital (mobile apps, webinars, videos, VR/AR) in nature.

This is actually recommended, not only because it makes sense, but because it makes subsequent evaluation easier.

And since technology and HR are converging, HRs can borrow once again from the field of digital marketing and apply the so-called A/B testing method, where one L&D approach is tested against another in real time.

Here is an example: In addition to applying different L&D methods to different groups, take the biggest segment of employees with common traits and split it in two. Figure out a topic that is important to the organisation and provide one group with a written guideline and the other with a webinar. Then issue a questionnaire in order to compare the extent to which employees have processed and remembered the key points.

This will accomplish two things:

  1. It will test the validity of the original findings in the planning stage
  2. It will make planning for the next iteration of the L&D strategy easier

Here is where Big Data becomes truly indispensable. Ensuring that all the information collected during the execution stage is stored for further analysis allows for planning ahead in time. Once enough time has passed and enough data has been gathered, the time will come for the strategy’s next iteration. Analysing the data will provide answers to the following questions:

“Has the strategy succeeded in making an impact on the employees' overall knowledge and performance?”

“Has there been a change in the way employees process information, behave, and feel?”

“Are the L&D methods working?”

“Is the desired ROI being achieved or not?”


As technology becomes more advanced, L&D managers will be able to incorporate even more complicated tools in their strategies. However, it is important to remember that the employee is always at the centre of it all. Technology merely helps improve the results of human work.

“Using human analytics and behavioural measurement we can fine-tune the “how” we communicate and improve the outcome of our collective performance even more.  Applying the right technologies helps organisations to grow in a fundamentally different way, from hiring, on-boarding, and sharing knowledge to succession planning. There are a number of innovative techniques that will fundamentally change tomorrow’s workplace” – Wim Focquet, HR and Talent Management, IE Business School.

Digital transformation is inevitable and so are the challenges that come with it, but if organisations embrace the change, they will gain a competitive edge that will ultimately cause them to emerge stronger.


This article was kindly provided by Christophe Coutat, Founder and Managing Director at Advent Group.