What Do They Want to Learn? The Business Case for L&D Search Analytics

In the age of the search engine, we’re used to “Googling” topics we want to learn more about—and the same applies when it comes to your learners. But how can you be sure your content matches what people are looking for, and how quickly can you respond to changes in demand?

In this post, we explore the business case for search analytics. Specifically, we’ll show you how these analytics help you tailor L&D content to your learners and respond quickly to a sudden demand for new topics. And we’ll outline why ensuring learners can find what they need is also good for the bottom line.

If you’re new to our blog series on Building a Business Case for Learning Analytics, check out the introduction for an overview and recommendations for getting the most out of this series.

What Is Search Analytics?

When people search for learning opportunities in a learning experience platform (LXP) or another tool in your learning ecosystem, they tell you what they want to learn. In other words, search history is unique and valuable data because the majority of your L&D data relates to what people have been learning but not necessarily what they want or need to learn.

Search analytics means applying search data to get insights into:

  • What people want to learn based on the terms and topics they’ve searched.
  • How often search functionality is used. You can also break down reports into search data by organizational units, departments, or job roles to see what different groups of employees want to learn about.
  • How successful search is across the organization. For instance, find the average number of items returned in searches or the proportion of searches that lead to people completing training.

You can use search analytics to inform the learning opportunities L&D offers and empower you to rapidly respond to topics that people want to learn, but you do not have the content to address.

Don’t Leave Your Search Data on the Table

If you have a searchable content library and are not using search data, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Search analytics helps improve your current L&D content offering and become more responsive in creating and curating new content. Our Measuring the Business Impact of Learning in 2022 report shows a fantastic example of how PwC used search analytics to respond to shifting employee needs during COVID-19.

Without these analytics, your available training content won’t be as relevant as possible, and you risk learners not finding what they need to improve their skills.

And if learners can’t find what they are looking for, they’ll do one of two things:

  • Give up and miss out on a learning opportunity. As a result, they may not be as up to date and effective in their work.
  • Search the internet. In this case, they may find helpful resources. However, you can’t ensure this content is accurate, is up to date, or matches your organization’s views and situation.
You maintain a catalog of learning opportunities for a reason. Make sure learners can use it to learn about the topics and skills they need—even as new skills and topics emerge or become more relevant.

What Does Search Analytics Look Like in Practice?

One of our customers (a large global organization) uses search analytics to ensure the learning opportunities provided to its people are always up to date. They combine data relating to search terms, the number of items returned in search results, and which content items are launched from search results. This information paints a picture of what topics are in demand and which topics lack needed content.

Using search analytics to monitor that people continue to find relevant learning opportunities is particularly important when you have clients who expect your people to be continually up to date with the latest topics, trends, and skills. By monitoring search trends and results in Watershed, you can respond to changes and quickly provide content to address new topics as they emerge.

This example Watershed dashboard shows changes in search trends over time and lists the top five search terms for the last three months. You can click on a Watershed dashboard report to expand and view it in full detail and apply Quick Filters.

How Does Watershed Support Search Analytics?

Once your search data is in Watershed, you can configure reports and dashboards to analyze your data. This might include:

  • Listing the most popular search terms in the last day/week/month so you can make sure you have content to address both short-term popular topics of the moment, as well as longer term high-search volume topics.
  • Tracking the trends of the top terms in a line chart so you can predict future top search terms based on trajectory.
  • Comparing search trends between territories or evaluating search data for a single organizational unit so you can tailor the content you provide to demand in specific parts of the organization.

And because we set up regular automated data feeds for your search data, these reports are always up to date. That means you can keep up with the latest trends and changes to ensure learners have access to the necessary content and resources.

Watershed’s reports and dashboards are designed to be easy to use for a broad audience. For instance, this line chart has been set up by an admin with a specific set of terms, and then  the report user can adjust the view to choose which of those search terms appear on the chart.

Why Search Analytics is Just What the Business is Looking For

In a rapidly changing world, it’s increasingly important for your workforce to be able to react and adapt. Doing so enables you to stay ahead of the competition, survive the storms, and take advantage of new opportunities.

This means having timely access to learning content that covers the latest issues, technologies, and best practices. Keeping your people up to date with skills and knowledge means keeping your organization relevant and competitive.

Watershed’s analytics tools keep you informed as search trends change so you can adapt L&D’s offering to match. By helping your people find the learning opportunities they need, when they need them, you’re helping your learners and your organization remain relevant and efficient.

How Can I Convince Stakeholders of the Value?

Having relevant, up-to-date content offerings as a result of good search analytics can significantly benefit your organization. Ensuring your people are better supported to improve themselves helps everyone perform better in their jobs. The value of an up-to-date content offering is hard to measure in terms of cost because specific benefits are hard to pin down. For example, timely training content might help one learner impress a client, which leads to additional work. It might also help another learner improve a production process to reduce cost or improve quality.

That’s why we recommend making a general case for search analytics that covers a range of benefits as we’ve done in this post. You should also use the Brinkerhoff Success Case Method to find stories in your organization that show how people:

  • have searched for and found content they need and the resulting positive impacts, and
  • have not been able to find the content they need and the resulting impacts.

Following this method helps show your stakeholders the benefits of implementing search analytics and the costs of not doing so.

Understand your stakeholders and how they will benefit from search analytics.

StakeholdersPain PointsBenefits
Human ResourcesFuture planning in relation to the skills of the workforce.Search analytics can inform HR about what their workforce wants to learn, which can be used as an early indicator of skills development.
Learning LeadersUnderstanding the topics and skills that learners want to learn.Search analytics can inform learning leaders about what topics and skills learners are searching for.
Instructional Designers & Content CuratorsKnowing what topics and skills to develop and curate content for.Search analytics can be used to keep content curators and instructional designers up to date with shifts in learner demand for topics and skills so that these can be quickly addressed.
Line ManagersUnderstanding what topics and skills their team wants to develop.Line managers can use their team’s search data to understand the topics and skills team members want to learn to best support them.
LearnersHaving access to learning opportunities relating to the topics and skills they want to focus on.Good search analytics means that the L&D team can improve the relevance of learning opportunities provided to learners.

Next Course: Why the Business Needs Learning Program Analytics

The last five posts in this series have explored business cases for learning content analytics—which focuses on content, rather than the learner. Before that, we looked at learner analytics, which focuses more on the learner than the content.

The rest of this series will explore the business case for learning program analytics. That is, analytics that combines those two areas—looking at the learner’s activity, progress, and success within a program of learning.

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