Insightful reporting and analytics are beneficial because they can help inform your decisions and actions. But what if you didn’t have to take those actions yourself? What if the data could automatically do what’s needed?
In this post, we set out the business case for automation and explore the value of using Watershed to trigger notifications, reports sent via email, and actions across other platforms.
If you’re new to our Building a Business Case for Learning Analytics series, be sure to check out the introduction—which provides an overview and recommendations for making the most of this series.
What Is Automation?
Automation is an increasing part of our daily lives. My car will automatically turn on its lights or wipers when it’s dark or raining. My email client will automatically suggest helpful replies to messages. My children will automatically tidy their plates away after dinner (only joking, automation has its limits!). Simply put, we’re surrounded by systems that action particular responses when certain triggers occur.
When it comes to learning and development, what are the actions that somebody or a group of people routinely take due to a particular trigger? What actions involve limited decision-making, expertise, or human empathy, but are simply a response to a trigger following a clearly defined process? These are the kinds of actions that have the potential to be automated, including:
- Recommending learning content based on previously completed content and pushing that content to the learner
- Awarding digital credentials based on completion of criteria
- Alerting a manager to a direct report’s low performance
- Delivering reports via email when a KPI falls below a preset benchmark
- Adapting a piece of training content or an assessment based on the specific errors a learner made in an earlier assessment
What Does Automation Look Like in Practice?
When it comes to automation, the sky's the limit, as you can take many possible actions in response to triggers. Let's examine several examples of how Watershed clients are starting to explore automation.
- Report Automation. Automatically emailing reports is a simple automation that you might schedule regularly or configure to send when a report metric drops below or rises above a particular value. While Watershed reports include the latest data at login, some stakeholders may be accustomed to receiving reports once a week or once a month. With Watershed, it's easy to deliver on that expectation.
- Credential Automation. You can use Watershed to automatically trigger actions in other systems (e.g. awarding digital badges). For example, track data about learner achievements in Watershed and configure a trigger for when people meet the requirements for each badge. You can set up these triggers to make an API call to the system that awards badges, so it automatically awards badges once learners have fulfilled the criteria.
- Content Automation. Use integrations with external systems to assign or push learning content to learners based on assessment results. For example, Watershed can support follow-up learning that's triggered after someone incorrectly answers quiz questions. Watershed stores and processes data about question responses, which is then used to automatically recommend learning content that addresses gaps in the learners' knowledge.
How Does Watershed Support Automation?
Watershed's Workflows feature empowers you to configure automation from your learning data. For instance, you can set up Workflows to watch and compare the results of specific Watershed reports—monitoring if metrics move beyond certain thresholds or watching for particular learner actions or achievements.
Based on the outcome of those reports, Watershed can:
- Send an email. This can include data from and a link to the report that triggered the email. For example, you can schedule email reports for people who are used to regularly receiving them rather than asking them to log in to Watershed when they need data. You also can create a trigger to send an email after a significant event, such as alerting a learner when their compliance expires or notifying the L&D team if there's a drastic drop in LMS activity.
- Generate an API request to another platform. This is a flexible feature with endless possibilities for the actions triggered, depending on the systems it is attached to. You might assign content to learners, award a digital credential, or perform other actions your platform supports.
- Loop through the data. Workflows can send batch emails to all learners in a report (e.g. remind learners of their compliance status). Or use workflows to make multiple API requests for each row of data to trigger various actions in an external system.
Making the Case: How Automation Adds Business Value
At a simple level, automation saves you the time it would have taken to perform the tasks manually. This is easy to argue for as a worthwhile investment, since the cost of the automation in the long run is less than the cost of doing the task manually (and if it’s not, then you should keep doing the task manually!)
But most of the time, automation doesn't just replace existing manual processes, it also unlocks new possibilities that simply weren't feasible before. Depending on the specifics of the automation, the value might be improved or better-tailored learning experiences and faster report insights.
How can you convince stakeholders of the value?
The value of Watershed to convince stakeholders of is going to depend on how you are using automation. Which systems are you integrating with to automate which actions and for what purpose? It's essential to outline your objective, how you will achieve it, and the value of meeting it.
As a general principle, we encourage you to try to keep your feet on the ground and think about tangible benefits from automation. Avoid getting distracted by the cool things you can do to blow learners' minds but don't have clear business benefits.
Sure, you could use automation to trigger the office Alexa to play Kool and The Gang’s “Celebration” whenever somebody completes your new learning program (and honestly, if that’s your goal, we’re all in for that project). But how does that help the business? Innovative automation is great, but applications of automation that have a clear business impact are more likely to convince stakeholders and win budget approval.
You’re more likely to get the stakeholder buy-in you need by showing how you can use automated reminders to help ensure compliance across the organization. Or, show how you can use automation to push the right content to the right learners at the right time, which keeps them engaged and interested in their professional development.
Understand your stakeholders and how they will benefit from automation.
The pain points and benefits of automation depend on what the automation is, but generally the benefits boil down to either saving time on a time consuming task, or being able to do something that was previously too time consuming to be feasible. The table below lists some possible examples.
Meet Your Stakeholders
|Human Resources||Managing new hire onboarding is time consuming.||Automation can trigger certain parts of onboarding to occur automatically after other areas have been completed.|
|Learning Leaders||Reviewing criteria for awarding digital credentials considered too time consuming for the credentials to be worthwhile.||Automating some or all of the process of awarding digital credentials saves time and makes them much more feasible.|
|Instructional Designers||Manually assigning learners content is time consuming.||Use automation to assign to learners automatically based on completion of other content or other criteria.|
|Compliance & Line Managers||Chasing learners to complete compliance training is time consuming.||Automation means learners and their managers can receive automatic alerts when they have pending compliance requirements.|
|Learners||Learners want ideas of which learning opportunities are most relevant and beneficial.||Automation automatically recommends learning opportunities to learners based on various criteria.|
Next Course: How to Start Building a Business Case for Learning Analytics
We've covered nearly every area where you might apply learning analytics, but how do you select the most appropriate business case for your organization? In the final post in this series, we'll recap everything we've covered so far, help you identify a business case to get started, and explore methods to gain stakeholder buy-in for learning analytics.
About the author
As a co-author of xAPI, Andrew has been instrumental in revolutionizing the way we approach data-driven learning design. With his extensive background in instructional design and development, he’s an expert in crafting engaging learning experiences and a master at building robust learning platforms in both corporate and academic environments. Andrew’s journey began with a simple belief: learning should be meaningful, measurable, and, most importantly, enjoyable. This belief has led him to work with some of the industry’s most innovative organizations and thought leaders, helping them unlock the true potential of their learning strategies. Andrew has also shared his insights at conferences and workshops across the globe, empowering others to harness the power of data in their own learning initiatives.
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