What is a learning analytics strategy?
Developing and implementing a strong learning analytics strategy is critical for measuring the impact and importance of learning activities on your overall business. Doing so requires a solid understanding of items like your historical personnel data, learning histories or transcripts, performance measurements, overall business growth, and profitability measures over time. Just checking boxes on what your learning opportunities have offered and what courses were completed is not enough. Instead, tracking impact gives you the “so what” for investing in developing your employees, and it provides the basis for both organizational and individual accountability over time. That’s where the analytics component comes into play. It means supporting your learning and development decisions, their accountability regarding the goals you’ve set with those decisions, and the tracking of the change and how it (hopefully) leads to measurable success.
Simply put, a detailed, well-thought-out learning analytics strategy gives businesses the ability to gauge the real impact, historically and moving forward, that investments into development programs have on revenue and growth. Without that, any training or development becomes a shot in the dark, mere “activity” without purpose or understanding of impact that leaves you incapable of making clear decisions on which programs to expand and which to eliminate.
Unfortunately, adoption of learning analytics is often siloed, with individuals or specific departments making use of the strategy, rather than implementing it into the entire organization. When siloed, correlation to the impact that learning has on the overall business is very difficult to draw with any level of confidence. Because of that, there can often be a disconnect between the actual results of your strategy and the independent results that are being measured.
The best place to start to truly implement a learning analytics strategy across your organization is actually at the end; beginning with the end in mind allows you to purposefully target and track progress toward a specific goal or standard before your learning program rolls out. To do so, start with identifying where your business is now and outline where you’d like it to go. This strategy should be high level in its impact, focusing on the organization as a whole, while also being detailed and specific in its execution, narrowing its focus down to individuals and specific roles. What factors are driving the need for meaningful learning analytics and measurement that’s tied to business outcomes, and what do you hope to change or improve? From there, you can start to determine the key questions you’re looking to answer, the data points you need to track, and what accountability and measurement will look like for your business over time.
Before we get into more detail on these steps, we should first define what a learning analytics strategy entails, starting with the key differences between learning, training, and development. All have different impacts on, and therefore connotations for, your business. Understanding these impacts and connotations can help you determine which is best for your unique business needs and inform the steps you need to take moving forward.
Learning vs. Training vs. Development
Learning, training, and development are often used interchangeably throughout the business world; however, each has a separate meaning as it pertains to Learning and Development (L&D) within your organization.
Learning involves continuous improvement of your skills through the absorption, retention, and understanding of new concepts, skills, and knowledge. It serves to help employees become better at their jobs and empowers them to meet new challenges head on through a combination of experience, observation, and study, both formally and informally.
With learning, the ultimate goal is the ongoing attrition of new knowledge and skills that are necessary for performing specific job tasks or adapting to changes in the work environment.
Where learning centers on refinement of an individual’s overall skills and knowledge in an ongoing process, training has a more defined structure that’s concerned with teaching skills as part of a single event or course. Some examples of this might include classroom training, on-the-job training, e-learning, or workshops dedicated to topics like compliance, safety, or new software.
Another difference between training and learning is that training often focuses on teaching large groups of employees, whereas learning is more centered on the individual. Training’s aim is to increase an organization’s productivity and efficiency, but the application of the concepts is less guaranteed. It’s up to the employees to take what’s imparted to them during training, learn from it, and seek further development, and it’s up to the employer to implement systems that encourage their team to do so.
Whereas learning and training focus on helping employees succeed in their current roles, development is the process of enhancing an employee’s knowledge, skills, and abilities beyond what their current job requires. The goal, then, is to prepare employees for future roles or responsibilities and to enhance their long-term career growth within the organization. Development programs can include mentoring, coaching, job rotations, stretch assignments, and other growth opportunities.
How to develop a learning analytics strategy
Now that we’ve gone over what a learning analytics strategy is and the differences between training, learning, and development, the next step is to create one that fits your company’s unique needs and that addresses each of your company’s learning, training, and development plans and activities. Let’s get started.
Set your goals
As stated previously, you’ll want to begin with the end in mind and work backward. What goals do you want to achieve, and what would a successful learning and development strategy look like? Doing this will enable you to visualize your program and the steps you’ll need to reach that end. Start small and focus on a few key metrics initially, then use the experience and data you gain to identify areas for improvement before scaling up. Defining success for your learning and development strategy should be predicated on answering the following questions:
- What improvements would have the greatest impact to your business, its operations, its revenue, and its growth?
- Who in your company needs development to make those improvements happen, and what skills or experiences does that individual (or group of individuals) need to do so?
- How will they work differently after completing the necessary development, training, or learning?
- What types of learning, training, and development activities are needed to advance this individual or group’s skills, proficiency, knowledge, etc.?
- How will these improvements change day-to-day activities, decision making, and operations within your organization?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll know the change you need to make in your business and the role learning and development can have in actualizing that change. From there, it’s time to look into sourcing the right data, ensuring that it’s trustworthy and readily available for both decision making and results tracking.
Source Accurate Data
There are a number of data points you can track to ensure your learning analytics strategy is effective; however, availability does not always ensure accuracy. We recommend working with data owners on your team and the individuals who manage your L&D programs to improve data quality and ensure any time spent organizing and cleaning data isn’t wasted on information that isn’t useful or accurate for answering the questions above.
This data is likely to come from one or more of four places:
- Business Statistics – These statistics give you insights into the tangible benefits your L&D program has on your business. If you train sales representatives, track their improvement in sales. If you train customer service teams, check in with customers to gauge whether their happiness and satisfaction have improved. And if you train nurses, look at information such as patient care and satisfaction, readmittance rates, and whether those have improved as a result of the learning, training, or development an employee is engaging in.
- Engagement Statistics – These include frequency of logins to e-learning portals, sign-ins to in-person training sessions, and time spent training. It can also include information on employee engagement or other survey results, manager reviews and anecdotal comments, mentoring, and volunteering.
- Performance Statistics – To track this data, look at things like assessment scores, employee feedback, and even overall participation in discussions or training materials.
- Employee Statistics – These statistics include employee data such as job title, location, salary, promotion history, gender, and ethnicity. They’re typically found in your company’s HRIS system(s).
Although the exact benefits can vary, ultimately, the more accurate and comprehensive your data is, the better for your organization’s growth. Since much of the data you’ll be basing your L&D changes on will come from multiple sources, it must be brought together and transformed so everything’s cohesive, then normalized so it’s trustworthy and clear of errors and redundancies. Once done, this data can help personalize learning experiences for employees, reduce training costs, improve employee performance, manage talent effectively, and comply with regulatory requirements. This can lead to increased productivity, employee engagement, and sustained business growth.
Once you’ve set objectives and narrowed down which data is necessary to collect, it’s time to apply that data and determine how it will be used to track performance. The questions you answered above will lead straight into your KPIs, helping you determine the signs your L&D programs are making an impact, what the impact is, and what each stakeholder’s role will be in the process so you can identify where your existing programs are excelling and where they’re falling short of set expectations. Our post on drawing the line from learning to business impact outlines some of the most common KPIs that you can measure. In setting these KPIs, it’s also important to determine what resources you have available for implementation of your learning analytics strategy, and what resources are available for further development based on your strategy’s performance. If, for example, resources for both are limited, you’ll see the most benefits from starting slow and implementing changes over time, rather than all at once.
Keeping that in mind, it’s also important to note that each stakeholder you’ve identified needs to be apprised of their role and what’s expected of them. They’ll also need to be supported in understanding how they’ll be held accountable to this change over time. Let’s say, for example, one of your stakeholders is the manager of multiple teams. That manager will need to understand how to review newly provided data on the performance of their teams, provide feedback, and hold team members accountable BEFORE you’ve rolled out any changes. Doing so ensures that everyone’s on the same page with what’s coming, and they can anticipate potential problems before they crop up.
It’s Time to Implement Your Learning Analytics Strategy
A learning analytics strategy is a powerful tool that can help improve your L&D initiatives. By following a systematic approach and best practices, you’ll be better equipped to make data-driven decisions and optimize your training programs.
As your strategy grows and becomes more complicated, more data cleaning and interpretation will become necessary. It’s at that point we’d recommend utilizing a learning analytics dashboard, which can help you visualize your data more effectively and tie learning more closely to your business goals.
Think of creating your analytics strategy as you would designing a building. First step is to get your land, followed by understanding and matching the environment with your design, commissioning a blueprint, pouring the foundation, and building atop that foundation with the blueprints you designed. None of these steps can exist without the preceding ones, and it’s the same with your learning analytics strategy.
The land, in this case, is your business and the specific departments within your business that will be affected by the new strategy. The environment is your industry. Looking at retention in a retail business, for example, is worlds apart from the expectations and needs for retaining top talent in the manufacturing or medical industries. Pay close attention to these differences and use them to inform the blueprint, or strategy, you develop. As you begin pouring the foundation and bringing together trustworthy data points to inform the strategy, you’ll be better equipped to refine your blueprint and build upon it. You’ll move from a basic understanding of the issues your learning analytics strategy is addressing to how those issues are being affected, and, finally, to how they should be addressed in the future.
All of these data points can be managed internally, but there’s also the option to map your findings to a learning analytics dashboard. These dashboards make visualization of your data easier to draw conclusions from. With one, you can take a diagnostic approach to figure out what happened in the past with your L&D programs, a predictive approach to anticipate what will happen in the future, and a prescriptive approach to adjust your strategy accordingly.
Contact us to learn more about how a learning analytics dashboard can help your business.