Learning Analytics: Asking the Right Questions

By on August 9th, 2017 in Managed Learning Services

In the first blog on learning analytics, I shared that learning analytics are the practices to prove and improve the impact of learning programs on outcomes. You want to show that your learning programs are making a difference.

Now you wonder, where do I start?

Learning analytics begins with aligning your learning program and business goals. And then from there you can determine the outcomes your program is going to impact.

The best way to start is to meet with your business partner or client. This would be a person who knows the goals of the business unit and wants to know if the learning is making a difference. You have to find the right person and then ask the right questions at the start of an engagement.

The key to remember is that, through the questions, we are trying to determine what success is, and then find the best way to discover that success through practices and processes you already have established.

You can be proactive and reach out to your business partner to ask about their strategy, or you can ask questions when they come to you with a request.

Let’s say the business partner would like to meet with you to propose a 5-day, instructor-led training for his team. Before going, ask about the subject of the training and when they training should be ready. You need to get a high-level view of the purpose of the program. So start with the question, “What are the goals of this program?”

The business partner will often say they want things like work, people, or the team to be better. You will need to ask additional questions to determine what “better” would look like. Better is a great goal, but without metrics, you will never know if things are better. So the next question to ask would be, “What would be taking place if people were better?”

You are trying to have the business partner describe behaviors or outputs that would change. The key to remember is that these behaviors and outputs can be counted and can be your metrics. For example, if the answer is, “We want the salespeople to give more product demonstrations to the customer,” then we can count the number of demonstrations before and after the training.

The final part of learning analytics is to determine who to follow up with to determine the current state. So we need to ask, “Who can we contact on your team to get more information on this metric?”

After this conversation, you should have a high-level view of things that the business partner wants to improve. Answers will be topics such as production, quality, sales, customer satisfaction, and learner engagement. And you have identified behaviors and outputs that can be counted and measured.

What if you want to prove and improve a corporate learning program, but you can’t get the business partner to meet with you? Then you can start with learning analytics by choosing a visible, strategic, and costly learning program to determine if it is making a difference. Gather your team together and determine the metrics on your own, and then be resourceful to find metrics you have to show the impact. You probably have enough data sources on your own to prove and improve the impact of the learning program.

In the next blog, we will talk about matching the evaluation practice with the metrics you want to prove and improve.

Scott Weersing

Scott Weersing

What is learning analytics and why am I passionate about it?

Way back when I was a newspaper photographer, I really wanted to know the who, what, when, where, and why about the story I was assigned to. I loved to find out more information so I could be in the right place at the right time in order to get the best photograph. The more information I had, along with personal experience, prepared me to take an impactful photograph. My journey to learning analytics follows the same path of asking questions and finding the right tools.

When I started working in Learning and Development as an instructional designer, I always was curious about what the learners were going to do with the training on the job. Oftentimes, I would get a response from the SME that the new knowledge would just change behavior on the job. I guess I am a little cynical about the magic of training. Just wave the magic wand, attend the training, view the WBT, and your problems will be solved. I did not know the questions to ask to ensure that the training would be applied on the job, but my leaders noticed that I was curious and liked to ask questions. They asked me whether I would you like to be a performance consultant. After telling me what a performance consultant does, I said that it sounded great. Who wouldn’t want to solve business and performance problems with a series of interventions?

It was my time as a performance consultant that I learned about the right questions to ask to get to outcomes and, in turn, I became fascinated with metrics. My favorite questions are still as follows: Can you tell me more about the problem? What have you have already tried to solve the problem? What would it look like after this problem is solved? What metrics or data do you have that show there is a problem?

I became data driven to find the causes of problems and then track the solutions to see if we were moving the needle. The tools to find the root cause of a problem are the same tools to see whether the training is being applied on the job. I use interviews, focus groups, observations, checklists, and surveys to find out what is causing a problem, and then I use the same tools to find out what is happening after training and, in turn, making an impact on business outcomes.

I would say that learning analytics and photography are similar in that you need to plan with the end in mind to collect the right information in order to tell a story and make an impact.
Scott Weersing

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