Learning 2015

Learning 2015: How technology and big data are changing L&D

Two of QA's business services team, Giles Smith and Jamie Thomas, are attending Learning 2015 in Orlando, a global forum for learning practitioners. Read Jamie's thoughts from the second session of day two.


Jamie Thomas | 3 November 2015

Learning 2015

Keynote speeches

I genuinely felt privileged to listen to the keynote speakers at Elliott Masie’s Learning 2015; Sal Khan and Jennifer Golbeck.

These two both have amazing stories to tell, one leading a non-profit educational organisation, the other as one of the world-leading experts on human-computer interaction. There is no way that I can do justice to how charismatic, insightful and funny that these two were. Both have major presences on TED talks, so if you want to get more familiar with them, have a look.

I learned so much, but below are some of the most enlightening points.


Sal Khan – founder of the Khan Academy

Learning2015 Sal Khan

Sal's goal is simple: to ensure a free, world-class education for everyone, wherever they are in the world.

For Sal, one of the main things about skills gaps is they accumulate. Get a C on a test and you move on. The C is never resolved. It's cumulative ignorance. If you get 80% on a test it's seen as a success, but what if your future achievement is based on the 20% you got wrong?! Unless you resolve the element that was incorrect before moving on, the skills issue can accumulate.

Sal is a big believer in self-driven learning. Improving skills is a process, not an event, and the learner has to be motivated to engage in this. Helping kids get up to speed on trigonometry can take half an hour a day, every day, for at least a month. It simply takes that long to get the mind to shift, but the kids have to be engaged to benefit.

The Khan Academy produces micro lectures in the form of YouTube videos. All the learning videos are short, but not too short. Originally YouTube’s 10min max was the limiting factor, but Sal acknowledges that the move towards “clips” was not helpful for the learner, as they can be startling. The videos need to be short, to-the-point and, at their best, intimate.

Khan Academy users range from school kids right up to people who are preparing to retire. All learning tools have to be adaptable, engaging and…fun! Exercises need to adapt and give instant feedback. Engagement is critical to learning success.


Jennifer Golbeck – founder of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab

Learning2015 Jennifer Golbeck

Jennifer lives not just in the world of big data, but massive data. Her intro story was scary, but brought the benefits and concerns that surround the amount of data that we all share on social media.

A dad came in to a Target store (think Boots) and confronted the manager “your store sent this through to my 15-year-old daughter” and he handed a marketing mailshot that contained special offers relating to baby milk, vitamins, nappies and other baby-related products. “Why would you do this, it is disgraceful”. The store manager had no input in the mailshot, so he did some digging around and, a couple of weeks later, telephoned the dad to apologise and explain. The dad answered the call sheepishly and apologised “I don’t know how you knew, but my daughter is pregnant”. The store knew earlier than the dad.

How? Big data.

Through their loyalty scheme, Target tracks every item that their customers purchase and they use that to predict future purchases. So what is the leading indicator of pregnancy? Not test kits, but vitamins, a large bag and brightly-coloured rugs. Why? Target don’t know and don’t really care – but big data allows them to understand and look out for this behaviour and then act upon it.

That story used customer data, but Jennifer operates in the world of social data and what can be predicted using information about us available to the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Through analysing your “likes” on Facebook (even with everything locked down, "likes" are still public domain) studies have been able to predict gender, sexual orientation, intelligence and earning. By analysing Twitter feeds Jennifer has been able to predict reoffending and post-natal depression.

And right there is the conundrum. We live in an age where services are streamlined and improved by data, but in the wrong hands this has huge implications. Think you are fairly secure? Go to www.takethislollipop.com and you might be shocked...


More information

QA is one of the leading providers of Big Data and Cyber Security training in the UK. Most people know that QA provides courses, but we also run some of the UK's largest Managed Learning Services where our team of learning consultants help clients think through the practical application of learning.

Feel free to email me for more information: jamie.thomas@qa.com


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QA Training | Jamie Thomas

Jamie Thomas

Business Services Account Director

As Account Director for our Business Services vertical, Jamie is tasked with working with QA’s largest clients, helping them deliver effective learning services which have a demonstrable impact on their organisation's capability.
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