Lego Minifigs and Learning Analytics

Friday, April 3, 2020

Earlier this year, Jens Nygaard Knudsen passed away. Perhaps you’ve never heard of him, but odds are you’ve seen his most famous creation: the Lego minifigure (or “minifig”). While commonly bundled with Lego sets, minifigs are also sold individually. But there’s a catch: You don’t know which minifig you’re going to get until you open the bag.

I’m often reminded of the Lego minifig bag when talking to enterprise-training leaders because most of us are faced with the same “what’s inside” mystery when we look at the performance of our training programs. We don’t have access to data, can’t investigate our environment in a systematic way, and even if we did have the right tools, the information we need is siloed across the organization. We’re feeling our way through problems or attempting to read a series of unconnected dots to understand what’s happening within our domain.

How Did We Get Here?

As learning became more tech-enabled, a curious thing happened: The EdTech industry focused almost solely on learners and their experience. I’m hard-pressed to think of any other vertical that has abandoned the administrative or “back office” performance as L&D despite the significant investment organizations make in this vital business function.

At the same time, sales, customer success, finance, and other functions invested in systems that supported their internal teams, back-office functions, and day-to-day operations. L&D, however, remained stuck. Even today, most emerging LMS platforms are fixated on learner experience, promoting the next experience fad while training operations lag.

A downstream effect of this trend is the near-exclusive reliance upon manual, subjective measures of success driven by learner response. While important, these metrics often do not provide enough actionable data to lead the business. As a result, training remains in a react-respond mode instead of occupying the leadership voice it ought to provide.


It’s Our Turn to Evolve

When I observe the learning industry, I’m reminded of the marketing industry prior to the advent of marketing automation systems. Before platforms like HubSpot, Salesforce, and others, marketing teams were drowning in a sea of tools with limited integration, and, perhaps most importantly, an inability to architect and report against business objectives.

Today, all of that has changed. Most organizations leverage a central platform for marketing operations, and marketing has become one of the most data-driven teams in many companies. A business function that was previously characterized by soft measures, fads, and customers’ subjective feedback has evolved. Sound familiar?

Where to Start

First, as L&D professionals, we must stop accepting the false narrative that we can’t take a data-driven approach to our challenges. The way forward should look toward metrics for answers, supported by our experience, and analysis must cut across the organization for holistic business value.


Second, we need to invest in a technology infrastructure that empowers data-driven introspection. Metrics should be easy to access, easy to interrogate, and part of our daily language. Once we’ve gained access to real information about our programs, we’ll be able to draw actionable insight from our experiences.

Third, it is time for training to move into the sphere of business intelligence. Show me a business problem and I’ll show you an education problem. Show me an investment required to support a business initiative, and I’ll show you a commensurate training requirement. Most importantly, I’ll show you numbers that reveal training as a driver of the business. This will require more than anecdotal awareness. A systematic approach to learning analytics will be required.

It Can Be Done

Where we’ve witnessed a data-driven approach successfully incorporated we see training teams bursting with a sense of confidence in their purpose, companies improving their craft, and the ability to truly scale an L&D operation without the need for adding more staff. We also see a return to relevance for L&D. The ability to wield data determines whether training teams will help lead the evolution of business—and be granted the resources to do so—or merely respond to it. The Lego minifig mystery becomes a thing of the past.

About the Author

John Peebles is the CEO of Administrate, a training management platform that empowers leading enterprise learning and development operations around the globe. Prior to Administrate, Mr. Peebles helped found Fort Lauderdale based Sentry Data Systems, where he served as chief information officer and VP of Operations while it grew to more than $30 million in revenue within five years. He is passionate about education, teamwork, technology, and mental health in the workplace, and often speaks on these subjects around the world.

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