Turning Learning Analytics Into Talent Development Gold
Tuesday, February 9, 2016

As any CEO will tell you, simply having wheels in motion doesn’t always lead to progress. So how can a business ensure that performance translates to action toward business goals? Enter learning analytics. 

Learning professionals are still working out how to use data analytics to measure success and impress the C-suite with results. When implemented properly and integrated with other internal and external information sources, learning analytics can transform how organizations deploy and measure their L&D strategies—and how they come together to impact the bottom line. But how can senior talent leaders turn their mountain of data into progress metrics for their organizations?

Raytheon’s most recent research on the topic reveals a gap between implementing learning analytics and driving performance results that achieve business goals. We conducted a survey of more than 450 large, medium, and small organizations on the topic of learning analytics, and determined that a majority of organizations surveyed (74 percent) are using internal reports and analytics generated by their learning management systems (LMSs). 

While these internal reports are valuable (and have helped move the needle in terms of tracking learning), they aren’t enough to establish a clear line between learning and business performance. Making the connection between the value of a learning program, performance, and the business is where HR and learning leaders can find gold in analytics. 

Know the Obstacles 

According to Raytheon’s research, 22 percent of survey respondents claim that they are unsuccessful in using analytics. The most common obstacle is a lack of skills. In fact, half of the organizations surveyed report an analytics skills gap within their learning function, and over a third indicate management lacks experience in effectively using data analytics. Clearly, analytics is a sought after area of expertise in the L&D and HR field—and likely one that will continue to be a priority for recruitment efforts in the foreseeable future. 

Other roadblocks identified in the struggle to implement analytics include: 

  • difficulty integrating data from various data systems 
  • budget limitations 
  • lack of buy-in from senior leadership 
  • don’t know where to start 
  • concerns about data security. 

After examining these obstacles more closely, it is easy to see where the breakdown occurs: right at the start. Hiring the best talent and better partnering can help put the ball in motion—and help organizations overcome this challenge significantly. 
Here’s the good news: nearly a third (32 percent) of respondents say that they have been highly or moderately successful in implementing learning analytics programs. These respondents are considered the leading (or vanguard) organizations in the field. They are unique in that they have moved beyond simply reporting on learning analytics to tracking performance analytics and the impact they have on overall business success. 

Here are some of the key differentiators that set the vanguard apart: 

  • They are more likely to have a formal analytics function. 
  • They have analytics structured as part of the corporate strategy.  
  • They are likely to have help either through co-sourcing or outsourcing learning analytics. 
  • They take advantage of more data sources, including LMS, HR, talent management, performance, and other key performance indicators (KPIs). 

Bottom line: Analytics leaders are more likely to focus on the end result of their reporting. In addition, they have implemented integrated systems, in which data from different functions are aggregated for performance analysis. This is vital for success because once all the information is in one place, it is more easily pulled into dashboards and built into reports that elevate the most important findings for management. 
These reports help L&D professionals promote the results of their efforts with more impact. More importantly, because they have the right data at their fingertips, they problem solve more effectively and implement strategic use cases, make data-driven decisions on learning investments, and leverage programs that increase productivity and support long-term learning strategy. 

Follow the Leaders 

The most successful learning analytics programs are likely to be found in organizations where management understands the value and potential of measuring learning program efficiency and the impact on the bottom line. A good first step on this path is implementing an LMS and measuring outcomes based on the automated reports it generates. 

But reports don’t turn data into solutions. Instead, L&D professionals who understand how to use analytics paired with other related data sets will experience a clear payoff for their efforts. When learning organizations dedicate the right resources to create more efficient processes, more strategic analysis, and more integrated approaches, they become the hub of ensuring workforce effectiveness in driving business results. 

According to our research some of the business benefits of properly implemented analytics programs include: 

  • increased skills and capabilities in the workforce 
  • more employee engagement 
  • increased productivity 
  • increased employee retention 
  • increased quality in products and services  
  • more efficiencies in business processes 
  • increased credibility of the learning function with business leaders 
  • increased revenues. 

Ultimately, those organizations that track learning analytics to KPIs and demonstrate their business value to the C-Suite will see more support from the ranks of upper management. The more L&D pros establish a correlation between workforce productivity, performance, and business results, there will be more requests for learning-based analytics reports to assist with improving strategic planning purposes. 

Plan for the Future 

What does all this mean for the future of learning analytics? 

There is significant value in being able to find meaning in the information stacks talent leaders have at their disposal. Fortunately, Raytheon research finds that over the next two years, 80 percent of HR and learning leaders plan to increase their analytics capabilities, and half report that they will be using learning analytics software. While there is more work to be done, this movement demonstrates that learning analytics is becoming a key asset—and making an impact on the way we understand and improve business performance. 

As you prepare your future learning analytics strategy, keep in mind that the outcome of your system is only as good as the data you feed into it. Examine your business needs, align the appropriate internal and external data, seek help from experts, and be sure to showcase your results in dashboards and frequent reports that best exhibit the business value of your efforts.

About the Author
Tracy Cox is director of performance consulting for Raytheon Professional Services. As director of performance consulting, Cox works with organizations to help them uncover their true worth through application of organizational network analysis, enhanced decision making techniques, innovation and Raytheon Six Sigma™.   Prior to his current responsibilities, Cox was the faculty lead for the Raytheon Leadership Institute responsible for the coordination and delivery of the Strategic Leadership Program to over 6000 Raytheon leaders. Cox was also a founding member of the Raytheon Six Sigma Institute, where he was the chief architect of the Raytheon Six Sigma curriculum for experts and specialists. He was also lead instructor for the initial roll-out of the curriculum within Raytheon. 
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