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Big Data & Higher Education: How Are They Connected?

Over the past few years, big data has become a significant part of our lives. Its influence is continually rising. Big data plays a role in nearly everything we do, from our navigation systems, to our Netflix recommendations, to our healthcare systems. At this point, you could probably pick any aspect of your life and find a way that big data has influenced it.

For example, think about higher education. Big data is playing a much bigger role in our choices of colleges and our experiences while there than we probably even realize. Universities are using big data in all sorts of interesting ways that benefit both their profit margins and the students attending the school.

Although there are certainly some substantial costs associated with the use of big data in the classroom, many would argue the benefits far outweigh them. Here are just a few of the ways big data is regularly being incorporated to help students become more successful in their learning environments.

Accounting for Learning Styles

Psychologists are learning more every day about the important differences in personality and how each of us sees and interacts with the world around us. Small changes in how we react and respond to things can make a huge difference in our learning styles and ultimately in how much information and positivity we get out of our college experiences. Because of this, many people take well-known personality tests rather seriously.

To that end, big data can change the way personality tests are used. Nowadays, this personality test information, along with other social indicators and performance measures, can be used to identify learning environments that are going to improve success for individual students. Educators can use this information to customize educational plans or identify where some students will do better online versus in a traditional classroom setting.

Students can also use this information to determine which types of education and career paths are right for them. For instance, students who are considering a doctoral program can assess the requirements and compare those rigorous requirements to their personalities. With the help of big data, personality tests, and past academic achievements, information can be provided that can help students assess their likelihood of completing the program.

Targeting Specifics

Outside of helping both teachers and students understand the best environment to learn in, big data can also work its way into the students who are targeted for specific programs. For example, some university athletic programs are using big data trends to predict which students are likely to be stars on the court. Recruiting star players can give colleges a boost in enrollment the following year — apparently everybody wants to go to a school with a good sports team.

Likewise, colleges can use big data to promote their online programs. They can use this statistical information to determine where some students could be recruited online rather than in a traditional campus setting. With advances in technology, students are able to connect more effectively than ever from the comfort of their own homes. They can use new AI tools to improve their educational experience.

They are also using big data to target perspective on campus students. Once they know a student is potentially interested in attending, they can delve into their test scores, high school academic history, and other information to determine if a student is likely to succeed. They can also use algorithms to better understand how much information they should send students without overloading them. 

Increasing Retention

Finally, universities are capitalizing on big data to help them with one of their biggest problems — student retention. Student enrollments have been declining for some time, and actual graduation rates are not that great for many colleges. In order to improve the likelihood of students being successful and more tuition dollars being paid, colleges are working overtime to solve this issue.

By using predictive analytics, universities can track the progress of students within their given major and career goals and assess the likelihood of them being successful versus dropping out. If students are flagged early on in their educational career, advisors and professors can reach out and attempt to correct the course before it becomes a major problem. Sometimes this involves providing customized learning plans and other times a suggested change of major is in order.

Big data can also help universities identify non-academic factors that make students want to drop out. Some of these can include things like being homesick, missing a pet, or not feeling engaged in the culture of the campus. From there, administrators can work towards developing programs that work to improve identified problems on campus and make the entire environment better for everybody.

There are many ways that higher education is incorporating big data to make the educational experience better for students. Big data is helping to improve responses to learning style, benefit targeted enrollment, and increase retention rates. There are plenty of other ways big data is being used in education, what are some of them?

About the Author

Avery Phillips is a freelance human based out of the beautiful Treasure Valley. She loves all things in nature, especially humans. Leave a comment down below or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or comments.

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