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Learn, data, action: how to make your learning data actionable

To get the most from your learning data, it needs to be easy to interpret and empower everyone in the organisation to take action. Here are some ways to achieve this. 

26th Feb 2020
Head of EMEA Degreed
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woman studying a see through computer screen & contemplating.
iStock/Laurence Dutton

Learning is now a board-level imperative. Business and HR leaders are increasingly looking at learning (and learning cultures) that can help them future-proof operations and take advantage of incoming technological changes. Unfortunately, they have a significant blind spot, as you cannot build an effective learning culture without the right data insights.

Like learning itself, data must empower every individual and ideally it will be tailored to their level of understanding. 

Note that I didn’t just say ‘data’, because data on its own is just a mass of digits taking up storage space. Every business has a glut of data at its fingertips – the real power is in making that data actionable. That is, to uncover the insights that really add value to your bottom line and then to act on those findings.

Understandable to all

Finding and using actionable data is much easier said than done. Many companies lack the ability to turn data into something meaningful for everyone, including senior management, learning leaders, and the wider team. Data is only as good as its user, so in making data actionable, your focus must always be on those using it.

Conversely, every stakeholder should have the opportunity to understand and use the insights that data generates. It’s not just up to your data team.

Get visual

Like learning itself, data must empower every individual and ideally it will be tailored to their level of understanding. A data scientist will require a different format from the head of learning, for example. Dashboards are useful tools to spread data literacy across your organisation, and different dashboards can be tailored to each business area and seniority level. This way, people will only see the information that’s relevant to them and access to sensitive data can be limited to an as-needed basis.

To show tangible value to your board, your learning data and outcomes must always link back to your business objectives.

Displaying your data insights in engaging visuals can also encourage others to utilise them. Nobody wants to spend their Monday morning interpreting a table of zeros and ones. Highlighting the key takeaways in a chart gives them the information they need at a glance so they can continue with their underlying goal: making data-driven decisions and acting on them.  

I’d also recommend that you carefully consider the type of chart used. A good rule of thumb is to avoid those that are open to interpretation or difficult to understand, such as pie charts, doughnut charts, bubble graphs, and word clouds.

Tell tales

Think about the story behind the data. Humans are intrinsically programmed to favour stories over statistics. In fact, stories are 22 times more memorable than facts presented on their own, so it’s good practice to weave your data insights into a gripping narrative. For instance, if you want to drive uptake of a particular online course, share stories of those who have participated in the course and how it consequently impacted their lives.

Collect the right data

As for the kind of data to collect, well, you cannot build or sustain a learning culture if you don’t understand how your workforce behaves and what they value. So it’s a good idea to begin by collecting data on your people’s daily work, future business developments, ambitions, fears, current skills, and what they want to learn. This gives you a strong foundation for a learning programme that meets your current workforce’s needs and helps to meet future business demands.

You may already have some of this data available to you. Spend some time on a comprehensive data audit to understand what data you have already, whether it’s useable (the right format and accuracy-level, for instance) and what missing data you should start collecting.

Become one with the business goals

To show tangible value to your board, your learning data and outcomes must always link back to your business objectives. Learning and work are becoming more intertwined and your data should reflect this. If your organisation’s five-year strategy involves entering a new geographical market, then it’s a good idea to track and build crucial skills, such as foreign languages.

Work backward

With learning data, you should always work backward from an action. As life coach Rob Liano once said, “if you don’t know what you want, you’ll never find it”.

Equipping your learning team, senior management, and wider organisation with the right tools and insights is the first step towards a more data-driven culture.

Although other data functions may do data exploration to find the ‘unknown unknowns’ in learning this isn’t practical. Namely, because dedicated analysts and data scientists will have the time, resources, and tools at their disposal to achieve this.

In learning, time is of the essence and you’ll want any learning analytics to prove ROI quickly. Therefore, start your data analysis by defining an insight you want to draw or a hypothesis for what you’ll find. Then set out on the most direct path to find those insights or prove or disprove that hypothesis.

Share success

Communicating successes is a frequently overlooked step in data analysis. If a data insight has led to a positive change and strong results, then communicate this far and wide. Make sure your board and senior management know about it, tell your wider organisation, and if appropriate, use it in your marketing, recruitment, and PR efforts.

Showing people the value of data will increase their engagement with it. Tell them about a colleague who used their learning and skills data to improve or move into a new role. Explain to the board how data on popular courses has informed your next-quarter workforce strategy. Remember the earlier lesson of weaving data into a narrative to make it more impactful.

Empowering everyone

Equipping your learning team, senior management, and wider organisation with the right tools and insights is the first step towards a more data-driven culture. Then, make sure they’re on board and eager to continue this approach on their own. To be effective, learning insights must empower everyone.

Interested in this topic? Read Learning analytics: how to be more strategic in your use of data.

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