How Big Data and Machine Learning Will Change Employee Development

Feb 02, 2016


In a recently recorded webinar, Josh Bersin made ten predictions about how the digital HR will change the way we design the employee experience, including learning. He describes how the modern distracted, overwhelmed, impatient and untethered learner is shaking up corporate education. They do not want to take time out for formal learning. They want it on demand, in a collaborative environment, and tailored to their particular learning needs and desires. Modern learners are impatient with traditional learning and are taking control of their development.

These learning preferences are not new. We have been thinking this way for decades, but twenty years ago there were fewer opportunities. If you wanted to learn something then, you went to a learning institution and enrolled in a class. It required a significant commitment of time and money. Today we select from thousands of on-demand online learning experiences delivered in short bursts, at little or no cost.

As a result, we have thousands of employees taking charge of self- learning on thousands of topics, using dozens of available delivery and content modes.

It is unrealistic to believe that most workers will be able to plan and design personal long-term learning programs. They are already stressed and distracted, and we suspect most don’t have the skills to manage self-directed learning. It is difficult enough for them to take a moment to envision themselves in a future role.


New Role for Learning Professionals

Bersin’s prediction of the new role for L&D professionals is providing the structure for self-managed learning. But creating a plan for each person is an overwhelming task. Most companies don't have the resources to do it. The best they can do is use data mining to discover usage patterns and target learning paths to groups.

Machine Learning in LMS Platforms

Drilling down to dynamic individualized learning paths will take a new level of data analysis. What will make it possible and affordable in the near future is machine learning.

Machine learning uses algorithms to teach a computer program to improve itself based on its experience. It is not a new concept. Many machine learning applications are in use, including, IBM’s Watson, Google’s Deepmind, and Stanford’s Deepdive. Many businesses like American Express have been using machine learning to make better decisions and improve business processes.

One example of machine learning is the personalized suggestions that you see on the bottom of a web page when you buy a product at Another is an automobile that learns your driving style so it can adjust itself to achieve the best gas mileage.

We can apply machine learning to L&D as we do to business problems and customer product preferences. Skillsoft and IBM partnered on an initiative in 2014 to develop learning experiences based on content, usage data, and personal preferences.

Human capital management technology companies are investing in machine learning. Cornerstone has released its Insights on predictive data mining solution, and Workday acquired Upshot, leading data science experts, to develop its predictive analytical tool Workday Talent Insights.

Our Prediction

It will not be long before we see learning management systems with the ability to curate learning programs, learn users’ preferences, and understand their usage patterns. Interactive discovery tools will ask new users about their aspirations and interests, assess their knowledge levels, and recommend learning paths for a user to choose. Based on the learning paths of the people in the organization, they will predict future skill levels, identify gaps, and recommend actions. It’s only a matter of time.


"Workday Acquires Upshot, Strengthens Data Science Expertise - Workday Blog." Workday Blog. July 14, 2015. Accessed January 30, 2016. 

Bersin, Josh. "Predictions for 2016: A Bold New World of Talent, Learning, Leadership, and HR Technology Ahead." Bersin by Deloitte. January 27, 2016. Accessed January 27, 2016. 

"The Journey to Hyper-personalized Learning Paths." SkillSoft. Accessed January 29, 2016. 

"What Is Machine Learning?" Stack Overflow. Accessed January 27, 2016. 

Amyx, Scott. "How Machine Learning And Big Data Can Boost Business." Readwrite. November 13, 2015. Accessed January 27, 2016. 

"Skillsoft and IBM Research: Harnessing Big Data in Enterprise Learning by News Editor : Learning Solutions Magazine." Learning Solutions Magazine. January 31, 2014. Accessed January 27, 2016. 

Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.


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