Big Data

Peak of Inflated Expectations
UMN Assessment
Time Frame
5 to 10 Years
Last Updated on Sep 12, 2014

Inexpensive storage technologies now make it possible to collect massive amounts of data on the actions and traces of people utilizing services on the internet. "Big Data" is a term used to describe collecting and analyzing such data. Institutions such as Google and the NSA are already proficient at using the huge volumes of granular data they collect.  As higher education uses electronic learning management systems and as significant portions of teaching and assessment are done online it becomes easier to collect this fine-grained data for students. Analyzing and utilizing the data has the promise of significant benefits to higher education (measuring learning gains, graduation rates, etc.).

There are several steps to using this "big data."  Since much of the fine-grained data may not be saved currently, the first step is to ensure its retention.  The next step is to put the data that may come in diverse formats and sources, into a form that can be analyzed more easily. The raw data needs to be interpreted either guided by a theoretical framework, predictive models, or via exploratory data analysis.  Finally, the information obtained by this big-data mining must be used to help in teaching and learning, and perhaps guide future institutional policy.


  • Freeing siloed data
  • Cost of technology framework for saving the data
  • Data quality problems
  • Data privacy problems
  • Extraction of useful or prediction information from big data
  • New skills needed to organize and interpret data
  • Lack of faith that big data can really yield practical improvements

Potential benefits

  • Measuring mastery of a discipline by a student
  • Personalize learning
  • Higher course completion rates (timely interventions)
  • Optimized course enrollment
  • Optimized student services
  • Higher graduation rates
  • Build better online courses

The promise of big data is in higher education being able see an integrated overview of the workings of the entire institution to better meet the individual needs of students and facilitate deeper learning.