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How L&D Can Use Data to Personalize Learning and Measure Impact

Be honest: would you really care how long your employees spent on a course if it solved a business challenge and had a measurable improvement on their performance? Probably not.

And that’s because solving business challenges is ultimately the only thing that matters.

The trouble is that too many learning and development (L&D) teams measure the wrong things, obsessing over metrics that don’t indicate impact. For example, tracking time spent learning or, even worse, using vanity metrics that are even more loosely linked to performance.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 36% of L&D teams evaluate impact based on employee satisfaction. Meanwhile, only 18% measure their influence based on a change in knowledge or skills.

But when 70% of L&D teams claim they’re feeling the heat to measure performance impact, why aren’t we seeing cooler heads questioning these tried and not so trusted approaches?

It’s time for a mindset shift when it comes to metrics, and there are two components to this: how L&D uses data to shape strategy and how they measure impact to understand influence.

Using data to personalize your learning experiences

When it comes to learning experiences, people often opt for that one-size approach, rolling out the same content and courses to everybody. Sure, it’s convenient and limits the problems of wrestling with which data to use to personalize learning. However, it doesn’t work.

L&D should think like a marketing department. Imagine you’re the owner of a high-protein smoothie company. You can either target everyone who buys drinks, or you could market to busy gym-goers who exercise before and after work. Those who are too busy to prepare food, and need a fast, nutritious alternative. Which approach do you think will work out?

Most L&D teams have access to company data that would allow them to segment in a similar way, they’re just not using it enough. So ask yourself right now, what data do I have access to? And how can I apply the same mindset to segment and send relevant learning to the right people?

You probably have access to career data, which tells you the roles people have performed before and to which level. If someone has five years’ experience using Salesforce, a beginner course would be a waste of their time.

And then you’ve got behavioural data, insights into how people act that will help you target the right audience. Let’s say you’re on a mission to prevent burnout. Each face you’re seeing on calls seems a little too stressed, and it’s time to act. Well, you can check out who’s sending Slack messages or emails after hours and get an understanding of who’s working too much.

Use that to segment relevant people and connect them to content on time management, productivity and building a work-life balance, rather than sending a blanket course to everyone.

Finally, to personalize learning experiences, you can also use skills and performance data.

Three steps to measure if you’ve had an impact

The second piece of the data puzzle is all about what you measure. And the pitfall too many L&D teams run into is tracking outputs rather than outcomes, choosing to measure things like completion rates and time spent learning.

The irony is that we’re all here to upskill and reskill our people, but we’re not measuring skills. So, the first step has to be measuring skills in your company, working out the ones you’re missing and then building your L&D efforts around closing those.

There are three types of proof that progressively help you understand how well you’re doing that, and we’ll go through those now.

1. Proof of knowledge

This would typically take the form of a test or quiz to gauge someone’s understanding of a topic or issue. An example would be giving your employee a cycling video and asking them questions about it. They’d probably be able to talk you through the theory, like putting your feet on the peddles and starting the motions, but they can’t necessarily ride a bike at this point.

2. Proof of skill

It’s time to dish out the helmets and hi-vis jackets: we’re getting on the bike to see if that knowledge can be put into action. Can they peddle and remain stable as they do it? In a workplace sense, 360 feedback would be a great example of measuring that proof of skill. People can tell you if you’re making progress by observing you, and the same applies to letting someone lead a project or handing them a stretch assignment.

3. Proof of performance

This is the biggest indicator of whether L&D has made an impact. Our trainee cyclist can get on a bike and peddle, the question is: can they get from A to B? That would indicate that their skills have improved and they’re able to perform at a higher level.

And when it comes to proof of performance, a combination of qualitative and quantitative data helps you do it effectively. You might dig into the data and see that the sales cycle has shortened from nine to six months while you’ve been rolling out learning and development opportunities to your reps.

But it’s too soon to start popping champagne. You need to speak with people in your team and ascertain which learning helped them specifically. By understanding which format, or formats, worked best, you’ll be able to deliver more effective L&D efforts in the future.

As an L&D professional, how effectively you use data can make or break your strategy and efforts. Unless you’re using it to deliver relevant and personalized experiences, you’re unlikely to make people better at their job. And if you’re not measuring the right things, you’ll never even know.

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