Last reviewed 20 October 2021

How do successful organisations make decisions? They are successful because they base their decisions on data. Data analytics have become a hot concept over the last few years and one that shows no sign of abating. Unlike some learning and development (L&D) concepts, this one is here to stay and for all the right reasons. In this article Judith Christian-Carter takes a look at how data can be used as an essential part of achieving a continuous learning culture.

Just as decisions about various aspects of the current pandemic are based on data, so should those decisions about learning be made in the same way. Data analytics is an essential part of the role for all L&D professionals. L&D functions that stick to a rigid and unchanging strategy will not see the achievement of a continuous learning culture, as the latter requires both data-driven iteration and experimentation.

Whilst every L&D input should lead to learner growth, the enrichment of the organisation’s culture and encourage professional development, a healthy learning culture will not be achieved if the L&D function is not in touch with its learners. By using learning data the L&D function will gain a good insight into what’s working well and what isn’t.

The all-important LMS

At the centre of being able to make data-driven learning decisions lies a Learning Management System (LMS). The analytics provided by an LMS not only show what is working well and what isn’t, but they also show patterns in learners’ data, so that data-driven decisions can be made not only to improve an organisation’s learning strategy but also to provide quality learning experiences. It goes without saying that an organisation’s LMS must have the requisite built-in reporting capabilities in the first place.

What the data can show

An LMS that has pre-built reporting capabilities will be able to produce the following types of report:

  • details of individual learner activity, their progress and competence level, to provide information as to their current growth and where the L&D function can contribute to their development

  • details of how individual departments or teams in the organisation are performing, including learning gaps, areas where some are struggling and others where they are succeeding

  • details of how learning content is being used, including the take-up of modules and how quickly they are being completed

  • details of learning content evaluations, showing how effective various learning content is, and what has proved to be successful or where improvements are required

  • details of certificates and other achievements to provide at any given time an overview of who holds what and/or their credentials.

Reports as described above will provide actionable insight as well as informing future shifts to the learning and development strategy. To obtain maximum value and use from such reports, it is important that the learning insights obtained are shared across the organisation through the use of regular email updates and by sending relevant reports to specific groups.

Digging deeper

While the basic reports provided by an LMS will probably suffice for most organisations, there will be times when more specialised, organisation-specific reports are required. Therefore, it is important when looking for an LMS that one capable of producing in-depth reports is purchased. Even if customised reports are not a present requirement for the organisation, it makes sense to know that they are available should the time come when more in-depth data analytics are needed.

In-depth reporting can include the provision of: advanced data visualisations (such as charts and graphs); personalised reporting dashboards; API (application programming interface) access for data integration from a number of different computer hardware or software; and deep data analysis by using a wide range of data analysed across a number of different parameters.

Influencing the learning culture

Reports produced by an LMS contain a wealth of data and valuable information. However, L&D professionals then need to make use of this information in the organisation’s learning strategy if it is to be of any real value in influencing the learning culture for good and in the longer term. For example, a low up-take of compliance-based modules may indicate that these need to be updated or re-designed, or people showing interest in a particular topic could indicate an area for future content creation. While there are many, many ways of locating useful data, which in itself can prove to be problematic, there are also some key areas that those in the know make sure they look out for. Three of these areas are described below.

  1. Learner search data: looks at what people are searching for within an LMS. L&D professionals who understand what learners are searching for and clicking on are able to identify topic areas that interest learners as well as where content gaps exist. Conversely, if there is content on a topic that is searched for time and time again, this may indicate that the content is not easy to find.

  2. Content engagement rates: looks at the rate at which learners engage with different types of learning content. For example, comparing the engagement rates between typical eLearning modules (ie those consisting mainly of text and static graphics) with videos can provide useful insight into the content format(s) that learners prefer. If videos are engaged with at a much higher rate than typical eLearning modules then creating more video content, where applicable, is worthy of further consideration. Likewise, if there is a drop-off point when watching videos does this occur at a similar point at which most learners stop watching? If learners stop watching a video or videos at roughly the same point then the reasons why need to be explored and taken into account in the provision of both existing and future videos.

  3. Sign-in and completion rates: looks at how often learners are engaging with the organisation’s LMS. If the data show that adoption and engagement are low then a solution may be to focus on securing learner buy-in. A greater understanding can be provided by analysing the data showing how often learners are accessing the system and how many modules are being started and completed. If these data support the need for more buy-in then L&D professionals will need to start at the very top of their organisation and focus on generating the necessary level of excitement about learning. However, if the data show that the L&D function is providing the content learners need or want and in the formats they like best, then the chances of creating a strong learning culture will increase exponentially.

Knowing what’s what

In order to provide learners with the optimal learning provision and experience, L&D professionals need to pull data from the organisation’s learning management system on a consistent basis in order to keep a very close eye on engagement and performance, in addition to areas of opportunity or of optimisation.

An organisation’s LMS should be capable of providing a complete picture of each learner, generating reports on their progress, activity, competency and certificates. It should also be possible to get a broader insight into department or team performance, overall assessment and evaluation data. In this way the state of the organisation at any moment can be seen and understood.