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Tech Headlines for March 2014

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Skillsoft and IBM Leverage Big Data in Enterprise Learning 

Skillsoft recently announced a multi-phase joint development agreement with IBM to leverage the power of big data in enterprise learning. The goal of this collaboration is the development of an enhanced adaptive learning experience for users with a focus on productive data-driven learning outcomes. 

By combining IBM Research’s unrivaled big data and customer experience analytics capabilities with content interaction data from Skillsoft’s 50,000+ learning assets, new methods of creating and assessing optimal learning experiences at an individual level are possible. 

As the data analytics market continues to experience exponential growth, companies seek new ways to maximize performance using big data technology and analysis. In 2013, Gartner reported that 64 percent of organizations invested or planned to invest in big data technology , a continual increase from previous years. The corporate learning market provides an ideal application area for big data analytics. As organizations continue to offer more online learning to their employees, they need to analyze which learning experiences are the most productive and apply that knowledge to continually improve business outcomes. This combination of business need, data and technology presents an industry landscape that is ripe for capitalizing on the full value of what big data and analytics can bring. 

“Big data has the opportunity to transform corporate learning outcomes,” said Anshul Sheopuri, Manager and IBM Master Inventor, IBM Research. “We are pleased to work with Skillsoft to create new enterprise learning-based big data techniques that will drive personalized user interaction resulting in improved engagement. Our initial findings show insights that can make the learning experience customized to users’ preferences and drive next generation adaptive learning and integrated development.” 

The first phase of the initiative not only identified the key drivers of engagement, but also demonstrated their connection to improved learning outcomes for users as well as significant business benefits to Skillsoft. In the second phase, the focus is on realizing these outcomes by piloting and then deploying the big data models that are being developed. 

“We are thrilled to explore new ways of leveraging data to boost learning outcomes,” said John Ambrose, Senior Vice President, Strategy, Corporate Development and Emerging Business, Skillsoft. “With IBM’s research scientists and technology, we now have the ability to holistically look at content interaction data and understand trends in user interactions and drivers of engagement. Together, we look forward to further harnessing the power of big data to define a more personalized, adaptive enterprise learning experience.” 

The first phase of the research initiative is complete. Skillsoft and IBM will release future insights of data analysis and relevant findings as the agreement progresses. 

USDA Invests in Distance Learning

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in February that the Obama Administration is investing in rural telecommunications equipment to help expand access to education and create jobs in 25 states.

"Expanding access to broadband will greatly improve educational and economic opportunities for rural residents," Vilsack said. "Broadband gives students more courses to choose from, more skills to use in high-paying jobs, and more opportunities to enroll in colleges and universities offering the best education available today. We must make needed investments to connect our rural residents to the 21st century technology that will help them compete in a global economy."

The announcement of nearly $16 million in USDA grants for distance learning and telemedicine services helps to support President Obama's ConnectED initiative. In June 2013, President Obama announced an effort to connect 99 percent of America's students to high-speed Internet over the next five years. Since 2009 USDA has provided support for more than 3,300 educational institutions receiving distance learning services to help rural children get an education that is as good as that of their peers in cities.

These investments are being provided through USDA's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant program. It provides funding to rural hospitals, clinics, schools and libraries for equipment and technical assistance for telemedicine and distance learning. Grant recipients must demonstrate that they serve rural America, prove there is an economic need and provide at least 15 percent in matching funds.

For example, the South Central Ohio Computer Association in Piketon, Ohio, has been selected for a $184,000 grant to link 20 high schools. The Association will train students for high technology careers through a mentoring program using advanced communications technology. In Idaho, funds will be used by the Idaho Education Network to purchase distance learning equipment for K-8 schools in 62 of Idaho's most rural and economically challenged communities. The distance learning equipment will also be used to train emergency service personnel after school hours.


Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $150 million in the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. These investments complement other USDA efforts to improve rural communications. In FY 2013, USDA provided $305 million in loans for broadband infrastructure. These loans will result in new or upgraded broadband service for about 120,000 rural households, businesses and community institutions once the projects are completed. High-speed broadband access is as vital to the educational and economic fortunes of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s and 1940s.

View the full list of recipients for distance learning; each award is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.

The Global E-Learning Market

Where’s is the global elearning market going? At the Global E-Learning Marketing Infographic you will find out data, trends and previsions about the global e-learning market.  See more at http://elearninginfographics.com/global-e-learning-market-infographic/#sthash.92c3qkYZ.dpuf.

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics Twitter Announces Grant Program

Twitter has introduced a pilot project called “Twitter Data Grants,” through which it will give a handful of research institutions access to its public and historical data. 

With more than 500 million Tweets a day, Twitter has an expansive set of data from which researchers can glean insights and learn about a variety of topics. To date, it has been challenging for researchers outside the company who are tackling big questions to collaborate with us to access our public, historical data. The Twitter Data Grants program aims to change that by connecting research institutions and academics with the data they need.

If you’d like to participate, submit a proposal here no later than March 15th. For this initial pilot, Twitter will select a small number of proposals to receive free datasets. To get updates and stay in touch with the program: visit research.twitter.com, make sure to follow @TwitterEng, or email data-grants@twitter.com with questions. 

Over 7.1 Million Higher Ed Students Learning Online

The 2013 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group reveals the number of higher education students taking at least one online course has now surpassed 7.1 million. The 6.1 percent growth rate, although the lowest for a decade, still represents over 400,000 additional students taking at least one online course.

"While the rate of growth in online enrollments has moderated over the past several years, it still greatly exceeds the growth in overall higher education enrollments," said study co-author I. Elaine Allen, Co-Director of the Babson Survey Research Group. "Institutions with online offerings remain as positive as ever about online learning, but there has been a retreat among leaders at institutions that do not have any online offerings," added co-author Jeff Seaman.

"Core to growing our nation's economy is the need to provide relevant educational opportunities that will help students meet their career goals," said Todd Hitchcock, SVP, Pearson Online Learning Services. "Institutions are identifying new degree offerings and delivering these programs online due to the fact that they can be delivered more affordably and with greater flexibility. Our goal is to equip our partners with the services and solutions they need to help more students graduate and become workforce ready."

"The 2013 survey findings reinforce the first-hand experience of our members, who continue to demonstrate that online learning has become a fundamental component of today's higher education environment," said Joel Hartman, Sloan-C Board President and Vice Provost and CIO, of the University of Central Florida. "Sloan-C is privileged to continue our 11-year partnership with the Babson Survey Research Group, and with Pearson, in bringing this important research to our members and the higher education community. These surveys have become recognized as a primary resource for tracking and understanding the growth of online learning and its impact on higher education."

Key report findings include:

  • Over 7.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2012 term, an increase of 411,000 students over the previous year.
  • The online enrollment growth rate of 6.1 percent is the lowest recorded for this report series.
  • Thirty-three percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • The percent of academic leaders rating the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face grew from 57.2 in 2003 to 77.0 percent last year, but fell back to 74.1 percent this year.
  • The proportion of chief academic leaders that say online learning is critical to their long-term strategy dropped from 69.1 percent to 65.9 percent.
  • Ninety (90) percent of academic leaders believe that it is likely or very likely that a majority of all higher education students will be taking at least one online course in five year's time.
  • Only 5 percent of higher education institutions currently offer a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), another 9.3 percent report MOOCs are in the planning stages.
  • Less than one-quarter of academic leaders believe that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses.

The eleventh annual survey, a collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, is the leading barometer of online learning in the United States.  Based on responses from over 2,800 academic leaders, the complete survey report, "Grade Change" is available at http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/grade-change-2013.

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About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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