Impact of big data on education: history, benefits and examples

8 min readApr 29, 2020

by Yaryna Stefanyshyn
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Big data is a field in which data scientists and engineers analyze, structure, use and learn massive data that traditional software can not cope with. Extracting necessary information from large data sets helps industries to predict tendencies, learn people’s behavior, make better business decisions and create new solutions to satisfy the demands of the modern world.
The origins of the term “big data” leave space for doubts and investigation. John Mashey, a computer scientist from Pennsylvania, is considered to be the father of the term “big data”, who in the mid-1990s talked about it at Silicon Graphics, an American company producing hardware and software up to 2009.

How to measure data in the world?
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Nowadays any type of information can be kept in cloud storages and the amount of digital information is growing at unbelievable speed. It is estimated that by the year 2025, there will be 163 zettabytes of data. To note, one zettabyte equals 1 billion terabytes or 1 trillion gigabytes.

The rule of 3V: Volume, Velocity, Variety

Big data analytics takes specially designed methods and software to examine the constantly growing data. To analyze it, data scientists take into account its 3 basic properties: Volume — refers to the amount of data; Velocity — the speed at which data moves and is processed; Variety — refers to types and attributes of data.

History and evolution of Big Data in education

The disturbance around growing data and its structuring have begun at the beginning of the 21st century. It is difficult to announce an exact day when it was firstly used in Education. However, the exponential growth of online learning in the 2010s drew attention of researchers to how learning analytics is used in education. International research conferences in 2000–2007 invoked interest in Educational Data Mining. Already in 2008, there was a separate conference dedicated to EDM in Canada. In 2011, there was established the International Educational Data Mining Society.

The definition of learning analytics was questioned, because it had to reflect the current educational researches and deliver the promise to optimize and improve learning. Thus, the first graduate programme at learning analytics was launched in 2015 at Columbia University. The programme ideally matched with EDM researches and offered graduates to learn analytics, big data and education to drive more improvements with the help of technology.

How the current situation in the world influences education and what it has to do with Big Data?

Big Data seems to be an abstract concept for the majority of people, so how we apply its merits and advantages in real life? The world is affected by coronavirus. Education goes remotely. The traffic of online courses is growing exponentially. People google eLearning programs, pupils install software to do their homework and have it checked online. Video streaming software is practiced by schools to conduct lessons remotely. The power of a myriad of eLearning tools is transforming education right now. Later, data scientists will examine all the information on how this software was used, what problems users faced, what their preferences were, how often or rare their attendance was, what tests they passed successfully and what information typed in could tell about them. Big data scientists will learn our behavior. Results will go to universities and companies to make a larger impact on education.

Big Data in Education for measuring students achievements and not only
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Demand for data scientists is estimated by IBM to be 28% in 2020. Big Data analytics remains on the wish list of the Education sphere as an advanced way to accumulate large amounts of structured and unstructured data.
Big data in the education sector, first and foremost, helps with analyzing students’ achievements. Large amounts of data coming every day from eLearning resources gives meaningful insights on students’ performance, attention and habits. It is much easier to review the efficiency of software or online courses nowadays with analytics at hand. Educators, universities, research institutions and software engineers are becoming equipped with real-time results and statistical information. Big data makes them feel much more confident in personalizing education, developing blended learning, transforming assessment systems and promoting life-long learning.

What is behavior detection and predicting modeling

In data mining, behavior detectors are especially automated models that define students behavior based on interaction logs. It means, we could know when a student subverts the properties of the learning system to succeed without learning while playing an educational game, for instance. We could conduct text mining and analyze students’ writing and self-reflection, emotions via words and expressions.

Examining online learning behaviors of LMS or MOOCs leads educators to design better ways of learning. The mission of big data in education is to find out when entertainment captures attention more than task execution. It’s one of the reasons why gamification software has to be thoroughly investigated and analyzed so that it could match learning purposes correctly and accelerate learning but not disrupt it.

Students’ behavior detecting: how it works in practice?

Imagine data engineers working at collecting and withdrawing necessary data with the help of special software. The next level of data analysis is under the responsibility of data scientists. They aim to solve the problem of decreased effectiveness and popularity of some eLearning applications. Big data scientists use certain methods, apply mathematics and technology to define off-task behavior. What does it mean in terms of Big data and Education? They identify time and conditions when students sidetrack from the system. It can happen because of students’:

  • carelessness — paying no enough attention to choosing the right answer, even if they know it
  • “Without Thinking Fastidiously” behavior when interacting with software, learners miss intended learning tasks
  • help acceptance or avoidance behavior. When students face challenges, software points at possible solutions, but students either accept and do necessary actions or not
  • various “curriculum planning” behaviors that show when students are paused either because of the task or because of teacher’s interventions

Thus, big data and behavior detecting assist teachers in analyzing reasons of ineffectiveness and finding new ways for students to help them struggle with their learning goals.

Big Data accompanying teachers in driving improvements

Big data lends a helping hand to create better education management systems. It creates conditions for developing digital literacy of teachers who could provide better assessment, collect data, evaluate the behaviors, skills, and performance of their students. Having the right tools and metrics in their hands, they could evaluate their work, improve the classroom environment and significantly increase learning opportunities.

Big data and Education: defining professional skills and career direction
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Today the companies use technology to make recruitment more efficient. However, the problem is that data is preserved at different levels, and locally at different places. Companies, universities have their own private data sets on candidates’ skills, students’ performance, reviews, feedback on tests and more.
Making access to big data centralized would help cooperate universities with employers and decrease the shortage of specialists in many fields, provide better employment opportunities for students and assist them in choosing a better career path.

Big data analytics in education have all the power to define students’ skills, match them to the professional direction. Analytics will also help to allocate resources of companies and universities to those departments, faculties, and domains that need improvements the most.

Developing personalized learning

With Big data, it becomes possible to define what technique is the most effective for each pupil. That’s wonderful when personalization in education helps upgrade students writing skills, communicative abilities, or cope with tests in different subjects faster. Big data helps to design intelligent and interactive tutoring systems, adapted to learners’ personal needs and weaknesses. Creating enjoyable learning experiences via tailor-made digital solutions is now a reality and worth great attention from educators.

Transforming our knowledge in narrow domains

Big Data in Education is not only about analyzing how people interact with software to improve ways of learning. Research materials, millions of media and text files about certain topics are moving to cloud storage every day as well. Humanity replenishes Big Data with domain-specific information with the help of top-notch software solutions. Let’s take Astronomy as an example. Software solutions, like the solution for remote observation of space for the US astronomers, allow exploring space, saving unique data on space investigation. It is designed for sharing observations and learning from professionals. Gamification is another additional detail that makes the solution for the remote observation of space much more useful and interactive.
In the future, astronomers and astrophysicists could analyze the gathered and saved data to understand the nature of sky phenomena and make discoveries in the field. While educators can estimate how people treat gamification during space exploration and what can be improved to make astronomy studies special and captivating for people around the world.

The future of Big data and Education

In the near future transformation in education will be tremendously different from today’s. The educational system will revolutionize in the way it could tell students and schoolchildren which profession to choose, directing them to develop skills in Science or Humanities. Built on collected data and analytics, educational software will satisfy both learners’ and professors’ needs. The emergence of facial recognition and voice-based learning in the classroom will change the approach and speed of learning. Companies will hire a candidate for the position and base their decision on previously received data from Universities on the success and performance of the students.
Pupils will have all the chances to know things inside out without attending school lessons. It has already started today and a bright example is how people are earning their Master or Bachelor Degrees via eLearning and how universities actively promote departments of digital learning on their websites.

Benefits of Big Data in education together with Artificial Intelligence, gamification and simulation will maximize the effectiveness of learning. Technology progress will transform our efforts to educate ourselves sufficiently and comprehensively to unimaginable new experience.

Originally published at on April 29, 2020.




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