For years, organizations have been focused on the concept of “Big Data,” which is having access to a large volume of customer, operational, and financial data derived from a variety of sources. By cross-analyzing these different data sets, we can extract insights that help us make more meaningful and measurable decisions.
In other words, “Big Data” provides a more accurate picture of what’s happening across the organization.
Recently, the focus has shifted from “Big Data” to “fast data.” We still need accurate business intelligence to make better operational, strategic, and tactical decisions. But we also need to make those decisions more quickly across the organization than ever before, and that includes our educational programs.
The Rising Trend of Fast Data in Associations
In a May 2019 article by ASAE, Fast Data—or the ability to apply data insights immediately to make real-time decisions—was identified as, “one of 46 drivers of change that are likely to have a significant impact on associations in the future.” The rate of change in our world has increased exponentially—from industry and technological innovation to consumer behaviors and preferences. Organizations must be nimble and responsive to keep up with these changes. Fast data is one way to achieve agility.
Applied to educational programs, fast data might look something like this: a training professional monitors member conversations and questions to identify opportunities for professional development and creates new courses or programs accordingly. Instead of planning everything a year or more in advance, these organizations are now leaving room to deliver the education their members need at the exact time they need it.
Fast Data is a Must-Have for Education Professionals Today
In mid-2019 when ASAE published their article, the concept of fast data and its application for associations was just starting to gain traction. One year later, fast data has become an absolute necessity. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change our priorities and in short order.
The Coronavirus has affected how every industry operates, which means at least some of our existing educational content may no longer be as relevant. We’ve had to pivot quickly to develop and implement new curricula that reflect ever-changing research, policies, procedures, and standards. Given how important it is that our learners understand, retain, and apply this knowledge quickly, we need to use real-time data, such as program and learner performance, to address any gaps immediately.
Fast data not only tells us what content to develop but how to deliver it. We have all gone virtual for the time being, but “virtual learning” is a fairly broad concept that can be executed in several different ways—from on-demand viewing of instructor-led videos to self-guided lessons and exercises. Exactly how do your participants learn best, and how do they want to engage with the content? Fast data can help you choose the tools and technologies that work best for both the subject matter and your learners.
Getting Started Down the Path to Fast Data
Creating a more agile decision-making process using real-time data should ideally be a strategy that is enabled and embraced across the organization. But for some, this will require significant organizational transformation to achieve. Regardless of where your organization is with your data access and intelligence initiatives, you can begin to adopt a fast data mindset within your own team or department.
Start by making a list of what data points you already have access to and those you could easily gain access to through collaboration from other teams, such as marketing. Some examples may include:
- LMS or video platform user data, including participation rates and quiz or test question answer stats
- Google analytics/website user data
- Email performance
- Member forums and chat topics
- Social media conversations
- Webinar data
- Virtual conference chats and discussions
Determine which data sets will help you quickly assess whether your current priorities are performing as planned, and if not, which immediate levers you can pull to affect change.
Whether or not organizations are pursuing fast data as a strategic initiative, we still have an opportunity to make real-time decisions that positively impact our current programs. In most cases, we already have the necessary data. We just have to apply it in smaller, more manageable pieces to better serve our members, learners, and stakeholders.