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Understanding The Role of Data in Learning

American management consultant Geofrey Moore once said, “Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.” Indeed, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has heralded a brave, new world. But also an exciting world where data is set to be the centrepiece of learning and development (L&D) efforts for most businesses.

Did you know that for the longest time, there has been a gap between the need for effective employee training programs and the amount of resources devoted to these learning programs? From 1979 to 1995, the average time corporations spent training their employees had plunged from 2.5 weeks to just 11 hours. It only gets worse from there: according to a 2011 Accenture study, only one-fifth of employees had received on-the-job training over the past five years.

But this is where things get really interesting: studies have shown that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. This is a group of employees with several years of experience under their belt, and who will require on-the-job training to continuously refresh their knowledge. By harnessing data, companies can design training programs at lower costs while providing employees with practical learning experience to help them to gain an edge in the workplace.

Sold? Here are three ways in which you can incorporate data into your company’s L&D policies:

1. Ongoing Needs Analysis

A needs assessment or analysis is a systematic process for determining or addressing needs, or pain points that your team faces. A needs analysis can be implemented in the form of individual interviews, focus group discussions, formal surveys or informal observations. Such assessments are largely effective: studies have found out that there exists a positive correlation between variables, such as training needs analysis, training transfer and employee efficiency.

Forget annual needs analysis exercises. Collect data on an ongoing basis. This is because needs analysis is inherently an ongoing part of training. It helps learners to continuously reflect on their learning, to identify their needs, and to gain an ownership and control of their learning. With ongoing needs analysis, you can also gain a better understanding of daily and weekly changes in your employees’ moods and feelings depending on the content that they consume.

2. Personalisation of L&D Programs

Personalisation is a process that creates a relevant, individualised interaction between two parties to enhance the experience of the recipient. Expectations for training programs have morphed from simple content recommendations to new advanced and adaptive learning experiences, customised for each employee. This requires the careful and deliberate curation of data. According to Charlie Johnson, founder and chief executive of BrighterBox, personalised tools in the workplace are vital because data-hungry millennials and Generation Zs, who account for 60 percent of the global workforce, are “wired differently” to previous generations.

Did you know that personalised tools can help to ramp up employee engagement, working life and organisational success, while enabling individualised learning and development? Oliver Muhr, chief executive at Starmind, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to leverage the collective human intelligence inside businesses (a real-time process known as hyper-personalisation), backs up this claim. “HR apps that use human plus AI can identify experts in the workplace, unlock rich intelligence and uncover upskilling opportunities for individual employees,” he says.

3. Impact Tracking

Impact tracking is a process whereby data is collected to measure the effectiveness of learning and training programs. From formal tools such as learning program reports to the use of ‘listening’ software to collect informal live engagement data on social media, there are plenty of tried-and-tested methodologies available for companies to assess performance mastery.

Unsurprisingly, more than 95% of Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) feel it is critical to demonstrate the value of learning. However, fewer than 5% are confident in their ability to do so. Indeed, many well-versed learning professionals are shying away from discussing the hard-measure Returns on Investment (ROIs) on their L&D programs. But to quote American psychologist Carol Dweck, becoming skilled in ROI is an investment in your own knowledge and career. Adopt a growth mindset when amassing data to see how learning drives business impact.

In conclusion, the role of data in learning is only set to become increasingly larger in the years to come. As the World Economic Forum’s definition of personal data as the new “oil” highlights, large-scale data processing to enrich employee learning will soon become an integral part of every well-oiled company’s operations in the brave, new world of data-mining. Time to embrace these exciting times with open arms.

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