If you’re gathering information about traditional higher education, online courses, the use of mobile technology, or nearly anything else, chances are that one term will keep coming up: big data.

Big data is a collection of information and data sets that is used to gather insights and find correlations in real-world situations. At present,  the sheer volume of data is so overwhelming that it’s not yet clear exactly how to analyze it—or what the analyses would actually mean. Still, the potential for vital information and ground-breaking statistics to come out of big data is what is getting IT employees, statistics professors, and administration staff excited. And just like corporations, financial institutions, and businesses, the world of higher education can greatly benefit from this up-and-coming information influx.

From analyzing speech to mapping smartphone photos, the ways in which to use big data are just starting to be discovered.  So how can it be used by colleges and universities around the world?

  • Educators can help students get a more personalized learning experience: With monitoring and analyzing, professors could see time spent on test questions, the success of group dynamics, and participation in class and projects.
  • Schools can analyze new student retention rates: Through grants and ongoing data-mining efforts, researchers have created a database measuring 33 variables, 3 million course-level records, and 640,000 students. Their findings are helping track student performance.
  • Big data can help faculty advisors recommend the best classes, study techniques, and even majors for their students: Listen to this interview with the chief technology officer and associate VP for technology services at the University of Puget Sound for his thoughts on how big data can revolutionize higher education management.

Because higher education institutions have access to so much data, companies such as Civitas Learning are stepping in to take advantage and analyze all that information. So far the company has raised nearly $9 million, which is being put into helping colleges and universities make data-driven decisions. While big data is just coming onto the scene with more figures than we know to process, preparations are in place to analyze and use the flood of information coming our way. From helping students study to helping institutions run smoothly, big data will be at the forefront of an information revolution.