We live in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. Talent is our most important asset. These phrases are so widely accepted, they are almost cliché. So why do we let the group responsible for improving the value of our most important asset get by without any accountability for results? How do we let them get by without being able to demonstrate and quantify the impact of improving the knowledge and performance of our people?
This is not a sustainable situation. Corporate learning may be the last significant part of the organization that isn’t held accountable for using data to prove its effectiveness. Executives are starting to take notice. In a recent survey conducted by LEO Learning and Watershed, 60 percent of surveyed practitioners reported they feel more pressure from their executive teams to demonstrate L&D’s impact across the organization. That’s up 71 percent from the year prior.
Technologies like xAPI and learning record stores are making learning data easier to access than ever before. These technologies expose a wide variety of detailed data about all learning. They capture more than the fraction of learning that happens inside formal courses in an LMS. It’s time for our industry to start taking advantage of these tools.
Data and Corporate Learning
Data will enable corporate learning departments to make two significant shifts. First, data can create an agile culture of continuous improvement. It’s hard to get better not knowing if the changes are improving results. When we incorporate data and analytics into our work streams, trends and outliers become visible. The data show areas that need improvement and illustrate if the solutions put in place improve the situation. Little improvements that compound over time can make L&D practitioners drastically more effective at educating the workforce.
Data and analytics also enable L&D practitioners to better demonstrate and quantify the impact on the rest of the organization. When learning programs are well planned and aligned to organizational performance metrics, data show how learning impacts the bottom line. Until the impact of learning can be quantified, learning will always be a second-class citizen.
Data will enable learning to evolve in drastic ways, similarly to how marketing has evolved over the past 20 years. Back then, marketing wasn’t strategic; rather, it was something executives tolerated because they knew they needed it. Marketing was run by a creative individual and was often the first thing that got cut in a downturn. Marketing strategies were described with phrases like “spray and pray” and “I know half of my marketing is working, I just don’t know which half.” It was a lot like where learning is today.
But today, marketing is strategic. Marketers talk about segmentation, A-B testing and customer conversations. When marketing can show that spending $1 turns into $1.25 on the bottom line, it’s the last to get cut in a downturn. In fact, entire companies exist based on their innovative marketing strategies.
How Does Learning Follow Suit?
Marketers had new tools they could use. Innovations like pay-per-click, email marketing and social advertising reshaped what was possible in marketing. We’re seeing a similar explosion of new tools in the learning space. Learning experience platforms, microlearning, interactive video, virtual reality, augmented reality, mobile and more all provide new and exciting possibilities for creating engaging and effective learning experiences. xAPI is removing the constraints of SCORM-based legacy learning ecosystems and allowing incorporation of these new tools into organizations.
In marketing, all those new tools started producing data. It was difficult to measure the usage of a television or radio ad with precision, but new advertising modalities allowed marketers to analyze virtually every interaction with the customer. The same thing is happening in learning. xAPI and the general API-ificiation of the world is exposing richer sets of learning data to analyze. The continued shift to digital learning promises to unlock a wealth of learning data in the coming years.
Once data was available, new marketing automation platforms emerged. Tools like Hubspot, Marketo and Pardot allowed marketers to bring their marketing data together in one place, analyze it and take action to optimize their campaigns. These tools also captured sales data to demonstrate the effectiveness and ROI of each marketing campaign.
Learning record stores and learning analytics platforms can fill a similar role in learning. Tools like Watershed and Learning Locker aggregate data from training and learning systems and run powerful analytics. These new tools also bring in data about employee behavior and performance to demonstrate whether learning programs are achieving their intended objective.
Once those marketing tools were in routine use, the culture of marketing shifted. It became expected that every marketing decision would be backed by data and that marketing would become a process of continual refinement and optimization. Marketing became strategic and embraced.
Learning is on the same path and it all starts with data. Learning will be forced to undergo some big changes and transition to a quantitative data-driven approach. That doesn’t need to be scary.
This is the second of a three-part series on learning analytics. In the next article, Rustici will discuss the types and categories of learning analytics. Read the first article here.
Mike Rustici is founder and CEO of Watershed, a learning analytics platform that bridges the gap between training and performance. A 20-year veteran of the e-learning industry, he helped guide the first draft of Experience API, a learning interoperability standard. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.