Demystifying Big Data and Analytics

For the past few years, buzzwords about (big or small) data and making sense of all that information have been thrown around quite often by industry research analysts and vendors alike.


First things first — what is big data? Where does it come from?

According to the Gartner IT Glossary big data includes high-volume, high-velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation.

The fourth V, veracity can be considered the most important. How accurate is that data in predicting business value? Do the results of a big data analysis actually make sense? Data must be able to be verified based on both accuracy and context.1

analytics-imageMore specifically in the context of HR professionals, department managers, chief learning officers, and training managers, the vast pool of information consists of personnel data, learning or training data, job profiles, competencies, performance appraisals, and more. Your organization already has some or all of these pieces of data, and even a lot more. One of the challenges is that these pieces of information are most likely stored or recorded in silos. 

Keep in mind there is already plenty of enough useful information to analyze within your Learning Management System (LMS) alone to get started.

Gamification Ideas for Learning & Development Programs

In our previous post, we discussed the concept of gamification and how it puts both play and healthy competition back into learning and staff development. Now that you understand how gamification can support your learning program’s strategic goals, how do you get started?

Let’s start with the understanding that there are two general types of gamification activities in learning development:

  • Structural Gamification – assigning points, badges or rewards to structure a competition among an organization’s employees, business units or extended enterprise. Points or rewards could be achieved various elements of a curriculum or a course such as achieving passing scores on a required certification within a specified timeframe. Generally, these scores would be posted on a leaderboard or something similar, often within your learning management system or a dedicated learning portal.
  • Content Gamification – when gamification elements are wholly integrated into the content and the context is more game-like.  The entire course does not have to be game-like, rather just certain activities that add a level of completion.

Again, the intent is not create a game in and of itself, but to offer elements that make the learning more interesting and reward learners so they are more connected to the content.

A good place to start when considering gamification is to consider adding a structural framework to measure learner achievement and display it for others to view. 

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Points for completion of courses. If learners have profiles in your learning management system, make these points or cumulative score as part of the profile so they have an instant reminder of their progress.
  • Badges earned by learners as they pass assessments or achieve point levels. For example, for a basic assessment they could earn the “Newbie” badge and as they progress they earn other badges either tied to skill level (e.g. “Expert”) or to terms relative to the content (e.g. “Master Crafter” for construction focused content).  As users accumulate points from above and cross certain thresholds, give them a badge (e.g. 500 points = “Just Getting Started” and 1,000 points = “Getting Things Done”).
  • Leaderboards make the results visible and introduce a competitive nature to the learning experience. We suggest sharing everyone’s progress and featuring the current leaders in terms of points and badge accumulation.

Once you move past structural gamification, we get to Content Gamification where the level of effort increases – but so does the potential to create a dynamic learning experience.  Effective content Gamification for adult learners should always include three elements: 1) a timed experience, 2) the ability to accede to new levels, and 3) the assignment of points or other rewards for each step of a gaming experience.

Some examples of content gamification include:

  • Timed quizzes/knowledge checks: achieve more points for accuracy on the first try, more points for completing within certain established time ranges; adding audible or visual reinforcements such as bells for correct answers can make this experience more fun as well.
  • Simulations – create online versions of real world situations where trainees need to solve problems. Just like pilots that train in a safe environment, this gives your teams an opportunity to try different problem solving techniques and be rewarded for their success.
  • Immersive Experiences – providing a rich interactive experience brings learners deeper into content and lets them focus on the learning objectives. Potential opportunities in an immersive experience include:
    • Scenario-driven situations with branching
    • Story based experiences
    • Quests and challenges

The objective here is to create an immersive experience that wraps gamification around the learning content. And in these types of experiences, you can still add activities such as point accumulations, rewards, badges, levels, and other recognition that add a competitive framework to the learning process.

When you are done implementing any of these methods, you will have created a learning experience that creates active learners who willingly participate in an enjoyable learning program – while satisfying your strategic training and learning objectives.

For more about Gamification and its potential for learning and development, download our white paper “Gamification – Does it have a place in your L&D Content Development.”

Home schooling, home college, company college

Peabody Institute Chair Hollis Robbins at Johns Hopkins University just wrote a provocative piece in The Chronicle Of Higher Education on an idea so simple and so intuitively right that it feels like it should already be in wide use. Dr. Robbins looks at the broad skill sets of multi-discipline PhDs and asks why one or some of them banded together couldn’t offer the equivalent of at least the first year of a liberal arts university education on a home schooling basis — and do so with better outcomes (and at lower cost) than the students would likely get at a good private liberal arts college or university; the idea being for the students to earn home college credits and transfer in to “formal” programs after they’ve done the first year or two with the private providers.

As you would expect from a humanities professor, the piece is balanced, subtle and eminently reasonable.

You can read the article here.

It got me thinking. The home college idea begs the question — Why couldn’t companies do the same thing? What a perk it would be for employees to be able to get, on a part-time basis, a top-flight liberal arts education through work. For companies of a certain size, hiring three or four full-time PhDs is a small cost. The professors might easily handle up to 100 company students a year. Smaller companies could band together to share costs.

Though such a program could easily be run by a corporate university, this idea is nothing like traditional corporate universities, which are generally driven by line-of-business needs and are vocational in purpose rather than about explicitly building employees’ personal capabilities.

It’s a radical and I think powerful idea. It’s kind of an anti-MOOC (though there’s nothing stopping any such program from incorporating MOOCs into the curriculum). It could also turn out to be cheaper (and a lot better) than sending an equivalent number of staff to community college.

The benefits to the business of setting up a company college might include:

  • An increase in employee engagement (and thus higher employee retention rates)
  • A reputation boost for the company in its industry and communities
  • A smarter workforce (hat tip to IBM) — let’s be honest, though humanities training does not easily translate into job-specific skill-set libraries, the general truth is clear — over the long run, better people means better business

On that last point, one of the downsides of doing what everybody else is doing is that there’s no strategic competitive advantage to be had in the process: your best outcome is to not fall behind your peers. The upside of doing something different, something like Dr. Robbins’ suggests for example, is that, if it works, you’re in blue water.

The consumerization of process

There is a great deal of talk about the consumerization of IT.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, transitions to SaaS (Software as a Service) suppliers, private and public cloud infrastructure investments, etc.

However, there hasn’t been a lot of headline news about the consumerization of company processes. But it’s happening and it goes hand in hand with the system and hardware changes.

People expect not only to be able to use their own tools at work but also to be allowed to use company systems the same way they dip in and out of made-for-consumer systems and services.

This means, among other things, that companies have to rethink some of their top-down service delivery models and invest more in self-service models or at least in better employee-access models.

One of the knowledge management gurus at Green Chameleon posted a blog piece on just this issue in relation to employee engagement around employee generated content or EGC (as opposed to the retail world’s UGC acronym — User Generated Content).

You can find the blog piece here.

It’s worth reading.

Save the date

We have announced three Next Steps conference locations for 2011 — all in September. The first in Chicago; the second in London and the third in Bangkok. Please come.

At Next Steps you can network with your peers from different industries, share your best practices, provide your input into our new products, or just listen to how the latest developments in our enterprise knowledge, learning, assessment, compliance, and talent solutions can free up your people to do what they do best.

This year we will be offering a completely new NetDimensions Product Workshop on the second day led by our technical consultants and featuring two tracks with a total of eight different hands-on sessions. We invite you to enroll in this unique knowledge-packed training program to gain practical NetDimensions product insights that you can immediately apply in your own environments.

Come to the NetDimensions user conferences and let’s take the next steps together.