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ATD Blog

Training Data Is the Best Kept Secret in Enterprise

Thursday, April 7, 2022

I help training teams evaluate and improve their learning tech. A common question is at the core of many of my conversations with training leaders: Why is it so difficult to show training’s impact? This question is positioned as struggles with reporting return on investment (ROI), but it takes a psychological toll on training teams. Despite being a critical function in business, training often feels pushed to the margins with strategy and budget. Training data is the key that unlocks these doors for the training function.

The Myth of Isolation

Training data remains sequestered, accessible only by the training function because of the persistent myth of data isolation. Training teams often think only they can find any use in their data, but training data is at the forefront of revealing the organization’s strengths and vulnerabilities when pitted against volatile business changes.

For example, I have worked with manufacturers who used course completion and follow-up data to pinpoint the causes of employee turnover. The training function corrected issues within their program to reverse turnover, but the story that data told proved valuable to the entire organization. Once HR, compliance, and finance understood how training data was telling a story that impacted objectives and key results (OKRs) in each of their areas, it opened a door for this training team to guide strategic decisions.

Decisions—rapid, repeatable, and sustainable decisions—are at the heart of dispelling the myth of isolation. As an enterprise moves toward scalable organizational intelligence, the ability to make data-driven decisions is critical. Because it reports on the immediate status of the current (and future) workforce, training data is a foundational driver of decision analysis.


Unleashing Training Data

In my experience, North American training teams face two primary challenges with unlocking training data. First is a deep lack of data literacy among North American personnel. A National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) report ranked the data literacy of professionals in several countries. America ranked 21st out of 23 countries participating. I suspect this is because we’ve focused on data acquisition rather than data interpretation. This is not a problem inherent to the training function but widespread throughout organizations. Data literacy can be remedied and starts with asking pointed, honest questions that help interrogate data.


The other barrier specific to training is a lack of data-centric technology. Even the most sophisticated rely on a web of spreadsheets to manage daily operations. The training function has never focused on using training data as organizational intelligence, and so premade, one-size-fits-all reports are common within the learning tech landscape. Short of replacing technology, a training team must prioritize questioning—ruthlessly questioning—the data they have on hand.

One way to get started is to consider how your daily training operations can help other teams make decisions. Here is a list of questions I pose to help teams start considering their training data as component of decision making:

  • How important is this decision?
  • Will this decision only serve the training function, or the organization as a whole?
  • What data do we have or can we acquire that supports or challenges this idea?
  • Have we tested this result/data? What is required to be confident in this data?
  • What further evidence do we need to act on this data?

Striving for Repeatable Data-Driven Decision Making

Unlocking training data begins with a mind shift within training: training data isn’t only useful for the training function. Teams as diverse as legal and marketing can make better decisions if they have training data. Data literacy will help you tell training-first stories to other teams, leading the organization on a path to repeatable, accurate, data-driven decisions.

About the Author

Wendy Sly is a training technology sales consultant who works with leading enterprise training teams across North America to solve complex training operations problems. She currently consults with clients for Administrate, a training operations platform provider.

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