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How data boosts your learners’ experience

A look into data from a marketer's perspective

Data and the Learner experience hero image

If you’re pursuing the mecca of relevant, personalised learner experiences, then using data should be a critical element of your strategy. Driving insights into learner behaviour, highlighting strengths and weaknesses and revealing unknown challenges, data allows those who use it effectively to improve, iterate and evolve and ultimately, improve the learner experience.

In a nutshell – data helps you to understand. Understand your learners better. Understand your impact and influence. And most importantly, understand how to continuously improve. It’s worth pursuing (even if it’s going to be a world you’ve never been to before), so let’s get started.

Delving into the depths of data

If you know me or follow me, you’ll know that I get a little bit weird and wild about data. I’m very analytically and pragmatically minded, which means I personally prefer to make decisions based on fact and bodies of information. That’s because in my experience my own gut instinct is highly inadequate when compared with data. 60% of the time, it works every time right?

And although there is value in gut instinct and trusting it, the low hanging fruit that data offers is not to be sniffed at. There are vast opportunities for new, unknown insights if we are willing to venture beyond our own ideas and instincts. After all, when it comes to trying to understand our learners and audience we have to accept we know very little. Plus, data proves value in a way nothing else can. I don’t know one C-suite out there who would revel in proving value or effectiveness based purely on ‘gut feels’.

Data does it better, in my opinion. And it seems that FINALLY, finally, L&D is catching up to this way of thinking, which is great. Hello spreadsheets!!

Questioning the quality of qualitative data

So, if gut instinct is reliably unreliable (a bit like Southern Rail really), I ask you, is the data we capture any better?

Steve Jobs would ask the same question, probably. Plenty of research suggests that people are inherently bad at understanding and predicting their own behaviours, wants and needs. So, if you ask learners what they like or need, they’re likely to answer with real authenticity. But chances are that the information they supply isn’t always actually correct or indeed reliable (but to them, it is. What a pickle).

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The subjective human condition makes capturing qualitative data a messy road, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it to get a well-rounded view of our learning landscape. But the reality is, we need to complement this softer, feedback-style data with something a bit err…firmer?

Capturing cold, hard facts

This is where quantitative data comes in, or what any good TV detective would call the cold, hard facts. The quantifiable stuff (it’s aptly named really). This sort of data is, in my opinion, where the real meat is. Because it can do things that the qualitative data can’t, which is kind of exciting. Told you I was a data nerd.

Of course I’d love to show you an example of what I mean. Kind of you to ask.

Imagine you conduct a learner survey. You know, to see how people are finding their learning, what they like and don’t. One of the main questions you ask is:

“What type of content do you prefer to learn from?” Your audience majority replies with videos. That seems obvious, modern learner expectations and all that. So far, so good. BUT. Here’s the kicker. If you have usage data of content consumed (platforms like our LXP can give you these sort of analytics) you can see what they actually favour, not what they think they do. Turns out the good old written PDF gets used a lot more.

So, which is the answer? I’d personally say the PDFs – because the behavioural data is much more indicative of what’s actually happening and is likely a precursor to future behaviour. But we need to use our experience as L&D professionals and trust our guts to ensure that we are pre-empting next moves and determining impact for our learners. At the end of the day, you should have more visibility around what’s coming for them beyond L&D (new tech stacks, new leadership directives etc) so you are able to better align your approaches. Their feedback is important but it is only one piece of the puzzle.

Are we asking the right questions?

Ultimately for me, data is about recognising and solving problems better. We may think we know some of our core learner problems, but bearing in mind that our thoughts and ideas aren’t really all that accurate, I believe we need to lean into data more. But in order to do that, we have to be asking questions. The right questions.

Typically the sort of questions we’ll ask include:

  • What do you want/need?
  • Are you happy with the learning and training you receive?
  • What did you learn (usually asked immediately after the intervention)?
  • Does learning help you do your job better?
  • Are you engaged? (or something to that degree)

The challenge with all these lines of enquiry is they are merely firefighting; seeking to allay problems in the short term. Instead, we need to be looking to identify problems and their root causes and then act accordingly.

So what questions should we be asking?

So what?

I am a huge fan of the ‘so what’ test. This is one of my favourite tools in my marketing kit, because it really helps me query the relevance and appropriateness of the marketing interventions (and indeed the data I get from it).

    • We have a new LMS! So what?
    • More people are engaging with your learning. So what?
    • New elearning content is available today! So what?
    • More people came to your LMS. So what?
    • Completions are up 10%. So what?

Taken from the linked article above:

“After you read some of these out loud, is it possible that your intended audience, or indeed stakeholders, could respond with… “So What?”… “Why should I care?”… or “What’s in it for me?” If your message doesn’t tell your intended audience what solutions you are providing to address their issues/problems/challenges, and how it relates to the benefits they’ll receive from your services, then a “So What?” response is exactly what you might expect.”

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Putting the learners’ problems first

You’re probably wondering what this all has to do with the learner experience. And my answer is, absolutely everything. Because unless we start better understanding the real problems our learners are facing, our learning is always going to fall flat. And the only way to do that is with data.

This is about expanding our understanding of our audiences, their behaviours, their wants and needs and predicting and forecasting behaviour in order to be more effective on an ongoing basis. And effective is an interesting word because what do we deem effective?

I wrote a blog a while back around engagement being learning (and talked about the ‘so what’ a little actually). But what does it mean to be effective? We always think about how to prove our learning ‘worked’ and that’s what makes it effective.

But what other problems is it solving? What about being available on-demand, at the point of need? What about user-generated content, peer to peer sharing and social interactions? L&D has the potential to be so much more influential: better employee cooperation, brand connection and even orchestrating better learning opportunities from smart people throughout the business. So no matter what we do, we have to start with the data.

Is the LMS enough for our data needs?

The problem is, we know that some of the tech we have is insufficient if this is what we are trying to achieve. The LMS is a foundational system for most L&D organisations, but unfortunately, while an LMS is fairly good at providing some metrics such as completions, few are able to capture data that is useful outside of the L&D function. And truthfully, the lack of analytics support in current L&D tools prevents organisations from being more efficient, developing stronger relationships with clients and business leaders, and proactively providing the business with better data for decision-making.

Isn’t it time we addressed modern problems with modern solutions, overall delivering a much more modern learner experience? I think so, and from here, data is the only way to do it!

Liked this article? Join me in my next article where I will explore a step-by-step approach for how to create and embark upon a data-driven L&D strategy.

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