Tag Archives: Big data

MOOC meets Big Data in Education

Big Data in Education

Big Data in Education

Two of the hottest developments in education at the moment are the MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) and Big Data.

Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Hype Cycle

Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Hype Cycle

Some have argued that both are currently at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in the Hype Cycle. Expectations are indeed high, maybe rightly so. Imagine my pleasure this weekend when I discovered the course about “Big Data in Education” at the MOOC Coursera by Ryan Baker from Columbia University. I registered immediately. What a great way to kill two birds with one stone!  I can experience one of the leading MOOCs first hand and learn more about big data in education at the same time.


MOOCs emerged from the Open Educational Resources movement in the second half of the noughties. Leading players include edX, Coursera and Udacity, which are all well-funded and have excellent connections to world-class institutions. Two things in particular excite me about them: opening up access and improving quality in education.

Access to world-class education has historically been restricted to the happy few. However, anyone (with access to the internet) can take a course on a MOOC, unrestricted by price, the requirement to commit to several years of full time study, geography, or capped class-sizes. As Time put it. ”MOOCs open the door to the Ivy League for the Masses.”  Imagine the possibilities that his will give to improve the life chances of individuals across the globe.  And also the benefits to society as a whole of broad access to exceptionally good education.

The quality of education can also be boosted by the success of the MOOCs. Competition should play its part in raising teaching standards and spurring innovation.  Everyone should get access to the most talented professors with the highest quality content and best teaching methods, leading to a focus on excellent teaching and the weeding out of mediocrity. And the ability to mine the data created through participation in the MOOCs should bring new insights in teaching and learning that can drive further improvements in quality and efficiency.

Big Data

In my opinion, insights derived from big data will eventually transform education through personalisation.  By this I mean the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to the needs and aspirations of the individual.  I believe this will help learners to achieve better outcomes, in more efficient ways. And about subjects that both play to their strengths and support the development of their core life skills. Big data will be a core ingredient in that transformation.

Sanoma Learning (I am employed by Sanoma Group) is predominantly active in K-12 markets in Europe at this time. The amount of data available in K-12 education today is limited, and the insights offered rather poor. One reason for this is the still low availability of technology in schools (typically of the order of one device per 5-10 pupils) and the lack of any platform with real scale in collecting, analysing and providing insights from data. This will probably improve significantly in the coming years as schools take further strides in adopting technology.

Three sorts of data particularly interest me in this coming transformation journey: inferred student data, inferred content data and system-wide data. Put another way: how do students, content and education systems perform, why is that so, and what can we do to improve that performance?  I believe the next generation of Learning will be engineered from the insights derived from the interplay between these three datasets.  The promise is significant, although given the sometimes slow pace of change in education, I think it will be a long journey.

Passion for learning

I consider myself lucky to have been born with a passion for learning. I think technology will enable teachers (who are central to achieving success in learning) to transform education for the better. I’m excited about participating in this program on Big Data in Education at Coursera. Typically about 90% those who start a course on a MOOC drop out along the way. I hope I won’t be one of them. I’m curious to try it. Anyone care to join me?

Sexiest Job at Sanoma: Data Scientist

During a recent webinar I gave about our strategy, Lassi Kurkijärvi (Director of Innovation & Development) was voted to have the sexiest job at Sanoma. This victory was by a comfortable margin, getting about twice as many votes as the second placed “my own job”. I agree that our Mobile Superhero has got a hot job. However, in my view, the sexiest jobs at Sanoma in the next few years will be those of the Data Scientists.

I realize not everybody will share my view and I am arguably biased due to my background (a lot of Bioinformatics in my PhD). Yet I believe there’s a big opportunity for us to be even more relevant to our customers (and make more money) by providing them more accurately with the right content and functionality at the right time, on the right medium and device and for the right price. (By customers, I mean consumers of media, advertisers, learners and teachers).

To do this, we have to make a quantum leap forward in our insights and analytics capabilities. This week I caught up with our Queen of the Quants – Ulla Kruhse-Lehtonen (VP, Customer Insight and Analytics) about insights and big data at Sanoma. She’s a brilliant addition to my team, fun to work with, fast, determined and has the brain the size of a planet. She’s building our new team and co-developing the cases with the business owners.

Ulla Kruhse-Lehtonen, VP Customer Insight & Analytics and Queen of the Quants at Sanoma

Ulla Kruhse-Lehtonen, VP Customer Insight & Analytics and Queen of the Quants at Sanoma

Ulla, why did you decide to join Sanoma?

I was immediately intrigued when I heard about the opportunity. Having always been an avid reader and a magazine buff, I was fascinated by the chance to work for a company whose business is storytelling. At Sanoma, I can combine my love for stories with data science, which is my other passion.

I’m excited by Sanoma’s wealth of consumer data and the business opportunities it provides. The media industry is currently undergoing a fundamental transformation from print and broadcasting to digital. Consumer analytics is at the centre of the transformation. Modern data mining, visualization, and machine-learning techniques provide us with strategic and operational insights as well as targeting and personalization capabilities for our current and future products and businesses. Data science helps us create unique, relevant and exciting experiences for our customers.

How is Sanoma rolling out the new data science capabilities?

The new capabilities are used to optimize consumer sales, target digital advertising, personalize services, and create strategic consumer metrics and other data-driven insights. The data science team develops the capabilities in close collaboration with the respective business and IT functions. Roll-out happens in stages. Only after verifying the performance of the new analytics capability through a pilot, will it be rolled out further. This helps us ensure the success of the new capability before making large-scale investments into technology and training people. 

We also aim at creating a culture of sharing and communicating of successes and failures in order to share best practices and learnings across units.

What is the most critical factor for making a Big Data initiative successful?

The most critical factor is to closely align data, insights and analytics activities with the company’s business strategy. It’s easy for an analytics team to keep itself busy with interesting and challenging, yet irrelevant matters. Once Data Scientists thoroughly understand the business goals and logic, they will be able to translate them into data and analytics questions and come up with unexpected, sometimes unintuitive outcomes, which may have tremendous business opportunities.

At Sanoma, the executive-level support for analytics is extremely strong, which is one of the most pivotal matters for a successful analytics transformation of a company.

What are typical challenges in Big Data initiatives?

The technical effort related to the gathering, management and utilization of data should not be underestimated. The more silo’s there are, the longer it takes to gather and utilize data across the organization. It takes successful analytics companies several years to get it right. At Sanoma, our approach is to prioritize consumer and advertiser use cases and build up the technical enablers in a clear order. It is important to constantly deliver short-term business wins while building up the long-term infrastructure to support the company’s vision.

However, in the end, technology is money and hard work, but analytics is about people’s mindset and the willingness to do things differently. Unless analytics capabilities are taken into use and the results are acted upon, there is little point to build them in the first place.

You’re building a team of Data Scientists and other data experts. How’s it going?

First group of new recruits.  In the lift at Sanoma House.

First group of new recruits. In the lift at Sanoma House.

The recruitments are going quite well. We have signed on thirteen people in Helsinki and Amsterdam. Finding the right talent is critical for the successful execution of the analytics strategy. We need skilled people to create value out of data. In addition to Data Scientists, we have established the position of the Consumer Privacy Officer and the Head of Data Asset. We have also hired Big Data Developers and Database Administrators. The openings are no longer visible on our website as we are working through the applications, but if readers of this blog are interested in hearing more, feel free to drop me an email (ulla.kruhse-lehtonen@sanoma.com).

In September you will have been with Sanoma for a year. Still excited about the job?

Absolutely! It’s great to work with talented and skilled people and to develop the data science competency here. Data, analytics, and privacy are at the core of Sanoma’s transformation and reflect the consumers’ changing behavior. Data science is cool!

Looking forward >>

I’m with Ulla on that!  I love the creativity of a media and learning company. Putting insights to work is the next generation. This is what makes these jobs so sexy.

Looking further than Sanoma – the opportunity for societies to use insights derived from big data to improve quality of life (for example through better healthcare and education) and economic performance (for example through better allocation and targeting of resources and higher productivity) is substantial; the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates a potential for $ 300 bn of value creation per year in US healthcare alone.

USA is educating data scientists for the future

USA is educating data scientists for the future

However, the rate limiting factor in capturing this potential is in my view the availability of skilled Data Scientists. MGI estimates a shortage of 190,000 skilled data scientists and 1.5 m managers with sufficient analytics know-how in the USA by 2018. Probably the European challenge is of a similar magnitude.  In the USA we see Seattle (see e.g. the eScience Institute at the University of Washington and PhD program in Big Data) and New York (see e.g. the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering at Columbia and Center for Data Science at NYU) contending with Silicon Valley to become the next hotbed for educating the data scientists of the future. 

We need more initiatives like this in Europe too. With a substantial opportunity gap on the one hand and European unemployment now estimated to be more than 26 m (with youth unemployment over 50% in some countries) data science is an area that should be prioritized for education and training. 

My advice to anyone considering education or training in data science as one of their options: go for it!  Not only will it be good for your chances of getting a job, it might even be a sexy one at a cool company like Sanoma!