3 Tips for Implementing a Learning Analytics Practice

A few years ago, we explored why L&D should use data and analytics in data storytelling. Since then, we've seen practitioners go from concept and ideas to storytelling in practice.

Over the next several posts, we’ll dive into how real organizations view learning analytics and how they are using their data narratives to gain buy-in, effect change, and showcase improvement across L&D initiatives.

TL;DR: Learning Analytics = Storytelling

This past June, we hosted an Insights Summit that brought 40 L&D professionals together in Nashville for two days of knowledge sharing, feedback sessions, and strategy development regarding their corporate learning analytics programs.

Attendees created a true sense of collaboration, innovation, and community. And I had the advantage of being a “fly on the wall” as real practitioners shared real stories (and challenges) in using learning analytics to change the business.

A key takeaway from practitioner stories at this year’s Insights Summit is the fact that learning analytics is fundamentally about engaging an audience. Prior to this realization, I had a narrower definition that was focused on the techniques and technology of a learning analytics practice.

Had I been asked about the key to a good practice, I’d have immediately jumped to answers around the availability and quality of data, and the tools to collect, process, and observe that data.

How wrong I was! Sure, learning analytics absolutely requires these technical elements, but it’s incomplete without a commensurate focus on winning an audience with the results, and connecting the mechanics of learning analytics to a greater story or vision.

And it’s this line of effort that’s really quite different from understanding and applying technology, evaluating vendors, and creating dashboards of reports. Rather, developing this vision and its audience provides the “why” to all these other technical efforts.

Tip 1: Report out loud

We saw this aspect of learning analytics practice during David Rosenfeld’s aptly titled presentation “Reporting Out Loud.” In it, he detailed some very clever ways he has captured an audience at his organization, athenahealth.

Using an internal newsletter as a platform, he not only makes his own program reporting results more visible, but also makes his audience more visible to each other.

This approach has helped create a network effect within the organization, wherein stakeholders and those interested in the results:

  • become aware of each other’s interest and efforts to learn more,
  • adopt new learning initiatives with measurement and Watershed reports in mind, and ultimately
  • share their discoveries and knowledge as those initiatives and interests unfold.

To read more about how athenahealth implemented reporting out loud, check out their client spotlight. David will also be featured as a guest writer later on in this series to demonstrate the best practices to reporting out loud.

Tip 2: Drive action through vision

We also saw the power of a long-term vision during Tim Collins’ presentation titled “Prove it.” He shared how he’s qualifying vendors’ xAPI adoption, as he builds T-Mobile’s new learning ecosystem.

Having won his own audience internally to support his vision of what a data-driven learning architecture can enable, he’s taken that vision and used it to anchor some very direct conversations and tough questions with his vendors.

After all, it’s one thing to say:

I’m interested in your xAPI implementation because I need to check a box, or I think it’s interesting.

And a much different thing to say:

I need to know you have the level of fidelity and quality we require from your xAPI data because it’s paramount to the way we’re going to be conducting learning across the organization.

That’s a very powerful difference.

Tip 3: Use gateway data

And, finally, a third aspect of storytelling came in the simple phrase from Alex Crispin at PwC, “Start small, then grow.” It’s a small, but mighty mantra that can get overlooked—but absolutely shouldn’t.

In PwC’s enterprise-wide, global deployment, this mantra has been a crucial part of expanding their learning analytics practice to hundreds of Watershed users and other stakeholders. In fact, Verizon talked about their focus to “start small, then scale” when discussing their analytics approach last year.

Ultimately, creating engagement is all about building interest, and you have to pique a little curiosity before you can generate widespread interest. David Rosenfeld’s presentation talked about this concept as gateway data—or early, curated glimpses of data that would inspire his audience to start asking questions and find out more.

We heard a similar lesson in Will Philbrick’s story of how he’s helped Travelers insurance enable xAPI in more than 75% of all their internal content.

He started with just a few courses and used those early results from the captured learning data to engage stakeholders and forge conversations that “created commitment” by shifting stakeholders’ mindsets from skepticism to collaborative problem-solving.

The balance of technology & storytelling

On a personal note...
My response to these lessons is to continue emphasizing Watershed not only as a technology platform that enables modern learning ecosystems, but also as a trusted guide for our clients to help build their visions of the future, tell meaningful stories from the data, and engage the audiences that matter most to them. (For more on that, check out Watershed's Direction in our product blog channel.)

In a broader sense...
It’s this dual effort between technology and storytelling that will ultimately inspire investments in learning and drive the changes that are happening in the world of learning. In fact, we continue to see an increase in executive pressure to measure L&D’s impact on the business—which we’ll explore in our next post.

Stay Tuned: Tips from L&D practitioners

Over the next several weeks, we’ll explore how L&D practitioners are marrying data with storytelling, and share their best practices so you can do the same.

Next week, we’ll first dive into the key takeaways from our annual global survey, Measuring the Business Impact of Learning. Specifically, you’ll see a growing shift in the way both L&D professionals and the organization as a whole view learning analytics.

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