Posted by Caveo Learning ● February 23, 2017

Learning Analytics and the Value of Understanding L&D Metrics

shutterstock_583203676-1.jpgWhen learning & development organizations successfully prove that they aren’t merely cost centers—that they reliably and verifiably deliver positive results to the bottom line of the enterprise—they inevitably gain stature and influence with business leaders. By establishing a solid metrics and measurement program, underpinned by a learning analytics process, learning leaders gain access to the evidence that illustrate their team's everyday impact.

Analytics turns learning metrics and measurement into insights that enable informed decisions and actions. Learning insights may include process efficiency, alignment of employee skills to business needs, and the impact of learning on key organizational metrics like staff turnover and leadership development capabilities. When analytics are leveraged effectively, they can influence not just how courses are designed or how the L&D function is staffed, but also larger decisions such as hiring and competency development.

The benefits of structured and consistent development and communication of learning analytics may extend to all levels of the organization.

When learning experiences are constantly being reevaluated for effectiveness via analytics, a few things tend to happen. Learners are more likely to be engaged when they receive the right level of training, which in turn spikes knowledge transfer and application. Learners are also more likely to enjoy a supportive and motivating work environment, as learning analytics can help diagnose non-learning issues that impact performance.

L&D organizations have much to gain from investing in L&D analytics, including identifying and addressing obstacles to learning effectiveness. Basing recommendations and budget requests on learning analytics adds a degree of professionalism and credibility to a business unit that is often at a loss for hard numbers. It also enables learning leaders to prioritize effort and make changes to better align with business goals and optimize the organization’s function.

Business stakeholders benefit from analyzing L&D metrics by being able to see where their investment of time and budget goes. They can see how the learning organization is addressing and impacting operational efficiency, learning effectiveness, employee performance, and ultimately business results.

Choosing the Metrics to Analyze

When we talk about metrics and measurement, we’re typically referring to gathering data on three areas: efficiency, effectiveness, and outcome.

The Business Case for Learning Metrics & Measurement Efficiency is generally thought of as learning-centric metrics—number of learners, hours of training, cost to produce content, etc. Efficiency measures can be useful as supplemental data and are of interest to internal L&D staff. Their value to business stakeholders is limited, though.

Effectiveness metrics are evaluations-focused—Levels 1–3 on the Kirkpatrick scale—and include things like learner satisfaction, quality of deliverables, knowledge acquisition, and performance impact. Some of these things are more valuable than others when it comes to proving business impact, but effectiveness measurement is the area where both L&D and business stakeholders share common ground. Unfortunately, too many metrics and measurement initiatives don’t go beyond effectiveness to the third category…

Outcome metrics are ultimately what really matter. Outcome looks at bottom-line results, such as revenue and cost reductions generated by the learning initiative. To the extent that efficiency and effectiveness metrics matter, they provide validation and explanation for the outcome.

Potential Pushback to Analytics

Some learning professionals are hesitant to initiate a learning analytics practice for two reasons: the perception that they must address everything at once, and concern that leadership will use the insights in a penalizing way.

Systems thinking and optimizing ongoing operations are two keys to success. Systems thinking helps escape the L&D-only mindset and into the perspective of the business. Systems thinking informs the questions to ask, your stakeholders, data to gather, accountability to provide and use data, the technology platform, standards, definitions, and reporting that drives use.

One of the first steps should be to review the current state. What metrics are you gathering, if any, and are you using them to inform decisions? If a metric is not informing a decision, there’s no need to keep gathering it. If it is, optimize the specific data and learn how to turn it into insights that inform decisions that matter to L&D and the larger organization. Over time, add more metrics, always keeping in mind the decisions they inform.

There will be metrics that you actively manage and metrics that you monitor. What’s the difference? You manage metrics that need optimization and other adjustments. There are other metrics that may already be optimized, so they just need monitoring. Further, determine target thresholds for the monitored metrics that will trigger an “alarm” for active management.

For learning professionals who lack experience with L&D analytics, there are many resources available, starting with the Center for Talent Reporting. Critical thinking, the ability to think like a stakeholder, and the ability to ask good questions are key when proving the business value of learning.

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Topics: Metrics & Measurement