In recent years, the deep integration of information technology and education, in particular the massive rise of online education, has led to the widespread application of big data in the education field. Big data has caused the target of education research to shift from the macro group to individuals, capable of providing targeted and personalised education. This reflects data driven "individualised teaching".

Big data-driven education reform becomes a trend

Big data is of great value to the education field, as it collects, processes, and analyses a large amount of education data to change the application pattern of traditional education data. By building a model for the education field and exploring the relationship between education variables, big data provides effective support for decision-making, realising personalised learner development, diversified teaching evaluation, and scientific education decision-making.

With the rapid development of big data technology, more and more data-based education applications have appeared both in China and abroad. Knewton, an education technology company based in the United States, creates a personalised learning experience for students through data science, machine learning technology, a knowledge map, and the creation of an adaptive learning engine. Purdue University's course signal system makes use of smart business analysis technology to judge potential learning risks and achieve success based on students' learning conditions and their performance in the learning management system.

Big data has broad market prospects for education. Many education technology companies have entered the big data learning analysis market and have formed an education data industry chain, including IT infrastructure, cloud computing services, data analysis, data management, data visualisation, and high level education applications. According to a report published in October 2015 by Research and Markets, education occupies 8% of the global market for big data and will develop rapidly with a compound annual growth rate of 10%. It is predicted that by 2020, big data in the education industry will represent the eight largest big data industry.

“Use data to drive school development and analysis to change education" has become a common aim for education reform and development. In order to improve education quality and promote education reform, we have no choice but to grasp education data, explore the potential value of education data, and promote big data.

Personalised education is a future development trend

In an era of big data characterised by mature technology (such as the internet of things and cloud computing) and increasingly diversified staffing demand, there is a need for a brand-new education concept. It is necessary to cultivate personnel with personality and innovative ideas that can adapt to changes and developments to informatisation and the knowledge-based society. Traditional education adopts a standard and unified model for class teaching, which is unable to stimulate students' enthusiasm for autonomous learning or foster a culture of innovation. Personalised education caters to individual development and emphasises the exploration and development of personality and potential. It aims to cultivate students with well-balanced, all-round skills.

No matter which country around the world it takes place in, education reform advocates personalised teaching based on the specific local conditions in that country, and has become a pervasive ideology. In 2006, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued a report entitled Schooling for Tomorrow: Personalised Education, which put forward personalised education as an important agenda in addressing education reform. According to the report, a unified teaching model with no differentiation is not only unsuitable for individuals, but also fails to keep pace with the development of the knowledge society. According to the National Outline for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020), we should focus on the unique characteristics of each individual and give full play to their advantages and potential; encourage personalised development; and impart proper education concepts that meet their needs.

Personalised education is a future trend in education oriented towards the knowledge economy era. The implementation of personalised education is the key task in promoting education reform and innovation. It is one of the best methods of carrying out quality education and the embodiment of a scientific outlook on educational development.

Big data supports the realisation of personalised education

The key to personalised education lies in identifying a learner's personality and then creating a personalised education environment that supports their personal development. In the time of traditional data, due to a lack of information acquisition and analysis methods, data was acquired through regular and periodic evaluations, highlighting the characteristics of the group. This reflects the macro education environment and does not engender greater understanding of the learners' characteristics and individual differences, and thus is unable to provide supportive learning services. Big data can reflect all types of behaviour throughout the education process. Thus, the data reflects each individual student’s performance at the micro level. Compared with traditional data, education data is large, fast, and diversified.

Through the acquisition, processing, and analysis of big data of education, it is possible for us to build a model of each learner’s learning behaviour, analyse their existing learning behaviours, and make scientific predictions for their study behaviour in future. It is also possible to monitor self-study and provide sophisticated services to aid teachers and education institutions in their teaching and education decision-making.

Big data also helps learners to discover and develop their potential and improve their academic performance. Learners can improve their initiative, make independent study plans, monitor their progress, and find out their results. They can choose a personalised learning path and create customised earning contents according to their own needs.

Big data help tutors to determine the most effective teaching method. They can fully track and grasp the students' characteristics, learning behaviour, and learning process to analyse and assess each student's needs, style, attitude, and method. Based on this, we can develop learning content and provide learning guidance for students with different learning characteristics in order to promote personalised development.

Big data helps education managers comprehensively consider on educational requirements and make scientific decisions. Education managers can fully understand the characteristics of the education system. Their decision-making behaviours are based on acquiring and analysing data obtained through assessing the process of education development, design of the education environment, and changes to education time and space. They can thus identify courses, classrooms, teachers, and campuses that are truly suitable for learners.

With the support of big data, in the future education will be more and more personalised. Schools will gradually get rid of the large schools, big classes, and unified standards and procedures that are deeply rooted in the industrial era. Student’s personalised development will play a more important role. Classes will be a place where tutors and students interact and jointly explore knowledge. The role of tutors will gradually shift from that of teacher to assistant. Teacher-centric and cramming teaching models will be transformed into a student-centric, personalised teaching model that places students at the core.

Overall, big data will have a revolutionary impact on traditional education. Promoting the development of big data is an absolutely indispensable part of modern education. The development of big data in China is still in the preliminary, exploratory stages and lacks specific applications. In the future, we need to draw lessons from advanced foreign concepts and research experience to further expand the breadth and depth of the application of educational data. During the critical timing of formulating the 13th Five-Year Plan, we must accurately grasp the opportunities and challenges for innovation and development presented by big data, strengthen our overall strategic plan, use the demand for education as the direction to develop big data planning research, and apply scientific guidance and implementation to the application of big data. Lead by the national talent strategy, we should cultivate multi-talented professionals with a big data mindset and the ability to innovate through multidisciplinary integration. Based on data integration and sharing, we should build a management platform for education big data to provide omni-directional, themed, multi-dimensional, dynamic analytics. We should make research applications the core of promoting collaborative innovation in policy, production, study, and research. We should also speed up the innovation of key technologies and the application of big data within them, in order to create a safe and reliable technology system for big data. Ultimately, our efforts should give full play to the advantages of big data and its role in the innovation of education reform.

By China Education Daily