I am interested in data, and you should be to. According to HBR back in 2012, a Data Scientist was going to be the sexiest role of the 21st century!

What’s a Data Scientist?

If you ask Google, you get a simple dictionary definition which is as follows:

a person employed to analyse and interpret complex digital data, such as the usage statistics of a website, especially in order to assist a business in its decision-making.”

Data is everywhere (and in some places, it shouldn’t be), something that Mark Zuckerberg knows only too well right now. With GDPR around the corner, data is in the spot light and a rather hot topic. There are of course different types of data and the GDPR legislation will serve to protect our privacy and ensure organisations are treating our data with respect and integrity. Those who don’t will be fined heavily. GDPR is a hugely positive thing, if not the latest ‘snake-oil’ product under the banner of ‘let us make you GDPR compliant’.

Data for L&D and HR is nothing new. Whether you are collecting data from happy sheets to knowledge checks to engagement surveys to exit interviews to trying to demonstrate the unicorn that is Return on Investment and everything else in-between. Data is important, or rather data in this context is important.

Data that can:

  • Help us understand how people are interacting with something (system/content/survey)
  • Help us measure a specific metric that could be linked to a L&D initiative e.g. increase in sales conversion, decrease in complaints or completion of a compliance module etc
  • Help us understand and interpret what’s happening or the general feeling in our organisations e.g. pulse surveys
  • Help us understand qualitative and quantative feedback to spot trends and patterns
  • Help us make better and more informed decisions based on the evidence all the above data provides

Evidence based L&D and HR is something I’ve heard a lot about in recent months. I had the pleasure of listening to Rob Briner speak on the topic earlier this year. It got me thinking a lot about data and where do I go to get the data that helps me in my digitally focused role.

I have been fascinated by the LMS debate for years; “they are useless”, “it’s not where learning happens”, “they don’t support work-learning-work”, “the LMS is dead”. These are statements you may have heard from various sources over the years, the link points to a post from Donald Clark that’s worth a read.  Attend the Learning Technologies Conference and you will see the LMS is not dead and in fact very much alive and kicking and generating (according to Statista – $5.2 billion 2016-2017, growing to $16 billion in the next 4 years). As another Donald might say, “those are really big numbers, the biggest numbers in fact”.

It’s true they are big numbers and the LMS market has grown massively with older legacy systems re-writing their code to be mobile responsive, to LMS & social plug-ins on larger HR systems, open source systems being continually improved by the developer community, new content management systems or digital portals which are xAPI complaint and tonnes of features being driven by ‘consumerisation’, anyone not heard of ‘Netflix for learning’ or ‘let’s gamify learning’?

It is a fascinating space. I’m learning about the role of artificial intelligence and chatbots and their numerous applications, understanding how machine learning has come on leaps and bounds since Hal in Space Odyssey (1968) and War Games (1983) and it feels like we’re heading down algorithm avenue at frightening speed.

Whatever portal, system and digital channels you are using and whether you are on the LMS bus or not; let’s park the LMS doesn’t support learning debate for a moment. Instead focus on data and how we can get our hands on the data that systems can provide. Now more than ever we should be more demanding of what analytics (trendy word for data apparently) are available from the systems we use.

Our colleagues in marketing have been doing this for years. Organisations sell products and services from websites and have teams who are employed to market and promote these products and services; often with decent budgets. Some pay for Google Ads, some rely on SEO and others from referrals or generally a mix of all three.  The purpose of getting customers to a website is to get them to convert. In other words, to see something, to interact with something, to build a connection, to develop an understanding and ultimately buy something. Marketing teams use metrics to measure their campaigns, from open rates on emails, to click through rates, they split test their messages, they track times of day and devices used, they analyse everything they can to improve the customer journey / experience and make it as EASY as possible for a customer to purchase and get access to what they offer.

Let’s pretend that L&D are in marketing for a second. The website / portal we use is our LMS but instead of having to generate leads we have a captured audience. The employees within our organisation! Wow the hard work is done, we already have a database of customers who could potentially buy our products – whatever they may be. Putting products (content) to one side for a minute and how we are marketing that content, what are the sorts of things you’d want to know about your website and how your customers are using it?

  • What time of day is it being used the most?
  • What day is most popular?
  • What browsers are people using?
  • What device and operating system are people using?
  • What pages / content is getting the most views?
  • How many people are new vs returning?
  • What do your user journey’s look like?
  • Where are drop offs happening?
  • Where are people coming from – direct traffic, referral etc
  • Can we measure a campaign or promotion and see an increase in traffic on the system?

By asking these questions you are seeking to better understand how people are interacting with your system and the data that this provides helps us make better and more informed decisions about what we do and how we do it. This in turn should lead to improvements in what we do and how we do it.

The good news is this data should be available from your LMS provider and if it’s not it can be gathered from Google Analytics (GA) – a free to use tool that can be easily added to any system that allows HTML code to be added. I’ve been using GA for a few years and I’m no expert. I’m self-taught and have learned from others who know what they are doing, but I see tremendous value in learning more about this great tool and having this data and insight. I’ve used GA to build the DPG Community over 5 years, just added GA to the Moodle LMS I’m now working with, and also experimenting with the Learning Locker from HT2 Labs to capture xAPI statements. All the data is there, we just need to be curious and be asking the right questions and seek to understand what the data is telling us to help us improve what we do based on the evidence, not the hearsay or subjective opinion. It’s only one part of the puzzle but it’s an important part of the puzzle.

I read recently that every L&D team needs a data scientist or a data analyst. I think it’s true but I think EVERYONE in L&D needs to be a bit more scientific and get better at understanding what tools are available and what data we have access to, asking better questions, interpreting that data to gain better insights and then making better decisions because of what we know and improving iteratively as we go.

You’re not a data scientist…. but you should see the value in better understanding what data you have and what you can do with it.  Data is not for nerds, geeks (with or without pompoms) and the socially awkward. In an increasingly connected, digital and system driven world it’s one of the key tools L&D professionals have to being as effective as they can be.

I’m going to keep sharing this data journey I’m on, I’m keen to understand what you’re doing around data and analytics, specifically around the systems in your organisation.

Image Source: negativespace.co