Ready for the Next One: A Business Case for Crisis Learning Analytics

Whether it’s a global pandemic, a sudden merger, or a new technology that revolutionizes how your industry works, crisis events—significant moments that change everything—can happen at any time. These are moments when a fast response is needed, and L&D is often required to be at the forefront of equipping people for the new reality.

In a crisis, good data is more critical than ever to stay current on what’s changing and how you should respond. Yet when a rapid response is needed, there’s just no time to launch a learning analytics project. So how can you ensure that you’re ready for a crisis ahead of time?

This post sets out the business case for implementing learning analytics in preparation for the next crisis. It includes examples from the Covid-19 global pandemic, as this significant global crisis impacted everybody.

But crises that significantly impact your business may not be global in scale, and having analytics in place and ready prepares you regardless of how broad the impact is. The L&D team needs to be able to respond quickly to support the rest of the organization so they can respond appropriately. People may require new skills, ways of working might change, people could change job roles, and new hires might need training.

If you’re new to our blog series Building a Business Case for Learning Analytics, be sure to read the introduction—which offers an overview and considerations for making the most of this series.

What is crisis learning analytics?

Crisis learning analytics keeps you informed about the status of organizational skills and learning during a crisis so you can make the best decisions in a time of uncertainty.

A crisis is anything that has a sudden and significant impact on the organization. This includes:

  • Global or national-level events, such as a pandemic, war, economic crash, trade dispute, or natural disaster
  • Industry-specific events, such as a supply or labor shortage, sudden technological breakthrough, or sudden drop in demand
  • Company-specific events, such as a merger, the unexpected departure of a critical staff member, a significant bad publicity incident, the discovery of criminal activity, or a building fire

What L&D learned from Covid-19

In spring 2020, a global pandemic turned the world upside down. For many organizations, the immediate impact included a sudden shift to remote work and learning for their staff as well as changes in how employees interact with their customers.

A whole new area of health and safety (i.e. infection control) suddenly jumped to the top of the agenda. Some organizations shut down and furloughed staff, while others (e.g. Zoom) were suddenly busier than ever. As the pandemic evolved, the changes kept coming; we all had to constantly adapt to changing circumstances and rules.

During a webinar we hosted in October 2020, experts from Caterpillar, CHRISTUS Health, and PwC explained how valuable they found having learning analytics in place when Covid-19 hit. They could see and quickly respond to sudden changes in trends, such as:

  • purchasing additional licenses for online content that became popular as in-person training stopped, or
  • identifying and addressing new topics learners searched for as they sought help in responding to the pandemic themselves.

Covid-19 is probably not the first crisis your organization has gone through, and it’s unlikely to be the last. But during times of confusion and uncertainty, having data and analytics already up and running can help you quickly offer support to learners.

The increased importance of data for Caterpillar’s learning team

Before the pandemic, Caterpillar delivered most of its technical training for machines and equipment via in-person instruction, which involved using the equipment. The pandemic meant moving that training online and redeploying classroom trainers to deliver virtual learning.

In-person training simply could not be conducted in the same way online. Instead, the L&D team needed to adapt it for virtual delivery to be effective. This required experimenting with various approaches and then using the resulting data to identify which approaches work best.

For example, in-person training allows instructors to watch learners interact with the equipment, see if anyone makes mistakes, and address any comments or questions. Caterpillar addressed this issue by embedding training videos in their service information system—which houses all their product information—and including assessments so the L&D team could identify where learners need to improve.

Learning data became increasingly vital during the pandemic because the global L&D team was unable to travel, talk to local teams, and easily gather their feedback. With one of their “senses” lost, they became even more reliant on using data in Watershed to keep track of how training was landing during the pandemic.

Caterpillar had been seeing a steady increase in learning system usage during the last few years, but the pandemic led to a sharp and significant rise in usage across multiple digital learning platforms.

How a global organization used data to enhance training content to address new learning needs

Like Caterpillar, another global organization moved all their classroom training online during the pandemic. To avoid a decline in effectiveness, instructors considered how they would deliver their sessions online rather than replicate their in-person training methods. This approach worked, and data showed NPS scores actually increased by 1% rather than dropping with the online migration.

Furthermore, the L&D team used data to inform their pandemic response, enabling them to monitor and analyze learners’ evolving needs in real-time. They also applied lessons learned about well-being and remote working from territories impacted earlier by the pandemic, such as China and Italy.

And in response to a 2500% increase in content usage tagged as pandemic-related topics (such as well-being and virtual teams), the team was able to rapidly curate training materials to fulfill the demand while doubling their digital content offerings. These content additions increased platform launches from 1.2 million in May 2000 to 2.1 million the following month. In other words, the organization used data to ensure their people had the content they wanted when they needed it.

The organization saw waves of interest in well-being content as the pandemic progressed and again as people began to understand the longer-term nature of the pandemic.

Having data before the pandemic was valuable in providing a benchmark to monitor what had changed and respond appropriately. Without benchmarks, it can be hard to know if metrics are increasing or decreasing—especially if your data is misleading. This is another strong argument for gathering data as early as possible so it’s in place when you need it.

How Does Watershed Support Crisis Learning Analytics?

It's impossible to anticipate your reporting needs without a crystal ball to tell you about the next crisis. Instead, you can lay the foundation by implementing a learning analytics platform like Watershed, which has automated data feeds and configurable reports. Having this platform already in place means when a crisis strikes, you’re prepared to quickly configure the reports you need, using data you already have flowing into the system.

For instance, organizations used Watershed to explore the following questions during the Covid-19 crisis:

  • What has changed?
  • What topics are trending in search data and utilization?
  • What lessons can be learned from parts of the organization affected by the crisis earlier?
  • What content do learners want to support them in this crisis?
  • If we've had to make changes, have they positively or negatively impacted training?
  • If we’ve had to try new things, are they working?

Search data is especially valuable in a crisis. It tells you what learners are looking for, which might differ from searches before the crisis and may change as things unfold.

Why the Business Needs Crisis Learning Analytics

We can’t predict the next crisis, but after Covid-19 we certainly know that crises do happen. Being prepared for them helps your organization be better prepared to survive and thrive during uncertainty. This means investing in learning analytics now—so when a crisis hits, you already have a learning analytics platform that’s connected to all your learning data sources and the experience to use it to inform decisions.

How can you convince stakeholders of the value?

If you haven’t done so already, take some time to reflect on and evaluate your L&D department’s immediate response to the pandemic. What didn’t you know that would have been useful to know? And what difference might it have made if you had access to those insights? Answering these questions will help you consider the real value of crisis learning analytics.

It might also be helpful to think about other significant moments in your organization's recent history where it would have been beneficial to have more data about learners' needs and learning activities. How might a learning analytics program have made a difference in these situations?

Understand your stakeholders and how they will benefit from crisis learning analytics.

Meet Your Stakeholders

StakeholdersPain PointsBenefits
C-Suite (CLO, CEO, CFO)Ensure the organization can continue to operate during a crisis.Lead with confidence. Crisis learning analytics gives the C-suite visibility into changes in learning activity during a crisis. This forms part of the overall picture of how the organization responds to the situation. It also offers insight into the challenges people in the organization face.
Human ResourcesEnsure people are equipped with new skills and knowledge required to do their work during a crisis.Learning analytics helps HR understand what skills and knowledge are required.
Learning LeadersUnderstanding sudden changes in training needs as a result of a crisis.Crisis learning analytics helps learning leaders keep on top of changes in demand for learning.
Instructional DesignersIt is harder to get feedback on training (specifically during lockdowns) because they do not see people in person.Learning analytics offer an additional feedback channel for instructional designers, which becomes increasingly valuable when direct feedback is harder to get due to lockdowns.
ComplianceEnsuring compliance requirements continue to be fulfilled during a crisis.Continued compliance reporting during a crisis helps the compliance team ensure that people complete compliance training.
Line ManagersEnsuring their people are properly supported and equipped to continue to do their jobs during a crisis.Crisis learning analytics can give line managers a view of what their people are learning and want to learn to support them during a crisis.
LearnersHaving the skills and knowledge to continue to work effectively during a crisis.Crisis learning analytics helps the l&D team ensure learners have access to the learning opportunities they need during a crisis.

Next Course: Learning Data Aggregation and Cleansing

You can think of Watershed's core functionality in two parts. First, we aggregate and organize all the learning data. Second, we provide customizable reports and dashboards.

All our clients find both of these capabilities quite valuable. But for some larger clients, a department or set of users already has reporting and dashboard software that they are comfortable using. These users find value in Watershed simply for its data aggregation and cleansing capabilities.

Our next blog post sets out the business case for using Watershed for data aggregation and cleansing and explains the value even if you don't use Watershed's reports and dashboards.

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