Why you should be looking at your learner data

Feedback is the vital ingredient of any development cycle, and today’s e-Learning solutions, portals and platforms can interrogate and analyse your learner data better than ever before. David Connifey looks at the advantages of closing the feedback loop to inform e-Learning outputs, and how design thinking can improve behaviour change and productivity outcomes.

Find out how learner data contributes to the digital transformation process by downloading our Role of Digital report.

What’s the best way for a clothes shop to be successful? Listen to their customers, and pick next season’s fashions based on what they say? Or, ignore them and just hope for the best?

To say I’m a fashionista would be a lie, but even I know that if a clothes shop (or any business for that matter) ignores their customers, they’re going nowhere fast. They need to speak to their customers, listen to their feedback, and use this data to inform their future offerings.

But what on earth has this got to do with L&D? Well, swap ‘customer’ for ‘learner’, and ‘clothes shop’ for ‘e-learning provider’ and it’s pretty much the situation we’re in:

We have to listen to the learner, and begin treating them as a consumer.

At the end of the day, e-learning solutions are being designed for their consumption, with the intention of changing their behaviour toward overarching goals. Unless we allow the learners’ knowledge of their own role to inform what they learn next, then just like our clothes shop, we’re going to get nowhere fast.

Thankfully, there are many ways to measure the impact that any particular digital learning solution is having on learners. We can build these into the courseware itself for later feedback and study (for example, completion rates), or, more excitingly, they can be estimated from observed behaviour change in the workplace.

An iterative, feedback-based approach to learning design is the norm in gaming and consumer app production:

  • An iteration of the app is released to consumers
  • Player-consumers use it, learn from it,and feed back their experiences to the producers
  • Their information on the effectiveness and experience of the learning is fed into the production process, optimising and streamlining the ongoing development cycle

This delivers real benefits in terms of changing behaviour. That game you can’t put down, those rolling, falling fields of candy that command your attention so effortlessly? That addictive mechanism was developed in precisely the way described above.

So, how do we access this all-important learner information to build out the everyday improvements we need to see?

There are a lot of options. Before each iteration is released, the measures and mechanisms for tracking and interpreting the recent changes need to be established. The key is to use a great diversity of tactics and methods. A smart LMS will come with a range of options for analysing learner activity, and triangulating this data with info derived from one or two other sources can provide the context.

Some organisations build in a questionnaire once their solution is launched, allowing them to gather data on the experience of the user. Any negative experiences can then be easily identified and addressed. New public or open online platforms use analytics cleverly to measure engagement. They treat their e-learning solution as a product.

This tactic is used by consumer tech apps and customer service-focused organisations, whose L&D teams are leading the way when it comes to innovation and expertise in workplace learning too.

Once they have the real learner data, how are L&D teams currently using it to inform how solutions are developed? Some learning leaders have a standard approach for using data to inform design decisions; however, many don’t look at data for analysis.

“We have user-testing as a workstream. The insight we gain from this flows into product design and communication. This will be much easier when our eleven LMSs become one later in 2017. Our Management Academy is rich on data. We were able to identify where users were losing attention or dropping out, and changed learner experience to improve engagement.”

– interview extract from a Role of Digital participant.

In fact, few organisations have a sophisticated approach to collecting and analysing data. Allowing this precious opportunity for data collection to slip away is a glaring oversight and a common problem, but awareness around it is growing, as we see data analysis rapidly becoming a must-have skill for any L&D team.

Taking an evidence-led approach to learning will always be appreciated by L&D leaders. However, legacy systems make analysis hard. Meaningful insights are often difficult to extract and implement.

But that real learner feedback is the most important thing at our disposal. It’s vital to determining if our solutions are effective. It makes sense to listen to it, and feed this back into the design and production process for the next phase of the ongoing development.

Closing the feedback loop is an important step in the ongoing development of a solution. How often have you spent 30 minutes providing good quality feedback on a product or service, only to never hear anything about it again? A closed feedback loop lets e-learning designers continue the dialogue with the learner. Key stages throughout the learner journey can be identified, and feedback can be sought at these points.

But collecting feedback is only a part of it. Closing the loop also requires listening to, and acting on, this diverse and often divisive information. We need to develop the ears to hear, with the ultimate aim ito develop a continuous learning and improvement cycle – e-learning providers reach out to learners to inform their own experience of the next phase and ensure consistent, ongoing refinement-improvement.

This is all part of design thinking, which is quickly becoming the go-to methodology for much of L&D, and is set to grow exponentially. It provides a human-centric approach to problem solving, focused on generating deep consumer (read learner) insights, and hidden needs around consumers and non-consumers. This approach minimises risk and uncertainty by engaging learners through a series of iterations, allowing L&D professionals themselves to learn, test and refine during the solution development process.

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