Big Data. It's here and it's only going to get bigger. Some people will doubtless be trying to hide from it, because they are convinced they don't know how to deal with it, and that it should be left to people with Maths and Statistics degrees. The truth is that you can make a difference with a minimum of knowledge - if you're willing to change your approach. Some good ideas can be found in the health field (see the Longer Lives website), and in Harvard Business Review. As L&D professionals, we should strive to bring some of the benefits to organisational learning.
Making use of big data needs some changes in our approach, and one of the key changes is the move towards effective visualisation of data. Bringing in data from different sources can help to increase the overall validity of your data, and also to view it from different and clearer perspectives.
One key example of big data in action is Amazon vs the local book store. Because Amazon can gather so much information passively from your transactions, they can find ways of improving the customer experience. Here we have a concrete example of Gerd Leonhard's assertion that transactional jobs are being taken over by machines. What if we could improve our organisational learning in this way? Using data to start conversations about effectiveness could be used for improving leadership, as it was at Google, simply by making the data available instead of filing it away. Simply asking the right questions and aligning learning with the business can make a huge improvement.
So how am I planning to use any of this to change things within L&D? I've recently had a few conversations with colleagues that relate to using our data more creatively. One of our management programmes could possibly benefit from showing participants trends in the data, in similar fashion to the Google example mentioned in the session. Another thought I've had relates to stopping face-to-face equality & diversity training before it can even get started in favour of using data creatively to provoke discussion - still working the details but I think I'm on to something here....
See also: Learning & Skills Conference 2013 curated backchannel resources.