Digital Learner Intelligence

How to make value-based decisions.

Mark Ward Co-Founder

Digital Learner Intelligence

Those of you that read our blog regularly will know that I am a bit of a self-confessed data nerd and truly believe it is a critical component in the future of learning. It is intrinsic to us better understanding the role that learning plays in an organisation; extending beyond the barriers of the LMS or indeed L&D. The data and insights we have about our employees needs to become much broader and much, much smarter. Enter digital learner intelligence.

Firstly – before we go any further: moving forward I am going to call your learners consumers at times. Because we need to stop behaving like their wants and needs magically transform when they start work for the day. They are consumers and they are your consumers. Embrace that. Moving on…

The growing experience gap

You all know that technology has changed the landscape for consumers over the past two decades. We now have an unfathomable amount of choice. We can buy and consume anytime we want, from anywhere we want in the globe. Social media and review and rating sites like TripAdvisor and Glassdoor have also tapped into a huge world of relevant, qualitative feedback which allows everyone to be more informed, discerning and able to make more considered choices. As a consumer, this has been, well…..bloody brilliant.

For employers, not so much.

Staying relevant and keeping pace with the outside world is a quarrelsome little mite for most organisations. Outdated tech stacks. Digitalisation. Skills gaps. The list goes on. The gap between the experiences grows, the disparity continues and staff become less connected and more apathetic as a result. If you don’t believe me, go have a read of our Learner Engagement Report. It’s difficult times for us all.

Trying to understand employees’ thoughts, behaviours and identifying trends is an intimidating task. Quantifying sentiment, telling relevant stories and driving meaningful interaction in the age of consumerism really isn’t that easy either. Not to be trite, but our understanding of the employee is limited, to say the least. Our understanding of how to understand them is even more paltry..

Using digital learning intelligence to make value-based decisions

Of course, as an analytical human my thoughts to approach these challenges turn directly to data. What are our employees doing and feeling? What is the data saying? And that appears to be a problem for many of us – because in many cases, we just don’t have it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get it. I’ve talked a lot about how to get and use more data as L&D professionals in previous webinars and blog posts, so I won’t go into it too much here. But the dirty data is there for the taking if we are really willing to get out of our comfort zones and capture it.

The digital learner intelligence we require to really understand the nuances and foibles of our people is much broader than logins on a system, likes and shares or indeed the deeply uninsightful ‘completion.’ We need to think outside of the LMS box for this and search in less common places. Here are some other areas to get new data insights:

  • Comms teams: Your comms team should have a lot of data into preferences, what people engage with best and their general behaviours, especially if they are in charge of an intranet and well, hopefully comms.
  • Marketing team: Marketing love to test and examine the behaviour of their audiences. Perhaps you can have them help you build personas, or indeed put some simple test strategies together to start to get better data on people. They are a resource we could all make use of more.
  • HR: Your HR department knows loads of stuff about your people that you don’t. Without breaking any GDPR regs, see what other data points they have that could give you better insights.
  • Your people: Do we really ask our employees enough about what they want, need and expect from learning at work? I don’t think we do. Get some qualitative data. I really like Typeform for free, beautiful surveys (or there are loads of templates available and ready to go if you pay.) Questions you could ask include:
    • How do you feel you learn best?
    • What is your preferred way of learning?
    • What do you think of the learning you receive at work at the moment?
    • What would you like to help you learn better?

N.B. Gathering this type of data is great – but I would also highly recommend substantiating some of this with quantitative data too; in my experience, people are inherently bad at predicting their own behaviours.

Using digital learner intelligence to move away from must-have

But collecting that data is just the first step, and in order to really glean proper insights into our employees, we need to analyse that data too. And that analysis is how we can better direct our learning strategies away from the ‘must-have’ to the land of ‘nice-to-have’.

The reason I think L&D needs to move away from the compliance model of ‘must-have’ and towards the self-driven approach of ‘nice-to-have’ is three-fold.

  1. Psychologically, the experience becomes more engaging, in a holistic way. Your people ‘opt’ into learning, getting them much more bought into the entire experience because they’ve arrived there on their own volition. Just be careful to not give them too much choice…
  2. You can become even more useful to your people because you start focusing on WIIFM, benefits and how to truly add value to learners beyond structured learning, programmes, the LMS and more.
  3. It matches the consumer experience they are having outside of work.

Changing the way we see ourselves

I know the idea of making ourselves less ‘needed’ will have made some of you anxious – moving learning to a ‘non-essential’ place will eventually nullify our purpose as L&D professionals, right? I don’t personally think so. Here’s why:

  • Mandatory experiences are typically a lot less emotionally engaging (see bullet two)
  • Grown adults don’t really like being told what to do, when to learn and how to approach it. Regardless of age, people would prefer to do this their own way
  • Relinquishing control doesn’t mean losing purpose, often it delivers more

Connecting with our people starts with us. We know the old ways of doing things aren’t working anymore. We know we need to evolve and adapt and I personally think that comes from a mindset shift WITHIN THE L&D department first (digital learner intelligence comes second). We need to look at ourselves a bit differently.

Nice-to-have is still, well…nice

Let’s be honest – learning at work is still a luxury still not afforded by many. In fact, according to our Learner Engagement Report, 16% of people do not receive any education from their employer. The reason I am highlighting this is that we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of an identity crisis – we think we’re essential but we’re not (and actually that is also OK).

I know we all want to feel like we are vital and necessary to our employees (and also to validate our jobs, which is normal and human behaviour), but the reality is in most cases learning and development in an organisational context always was a nice to have. We just didn’t want it to be. We have always been trying to position it as a necessary thing to our learners and that’s where it’s all going wrong.

As I said earlier, telling humans they MUST learn is a completely alien concept to an adult who, in all other areas of their lives, make their own choices. For learning to work, at work, it has to be a choice. It has to be a ‘nice to have’.

For me, moving to this mindset (and the subsequent strategy) starts with digital learner intelligence. What do your people want? Who are they? What grinds their gears and gets the engine raring? What choices do they need to do their jobs well? You have to know these things if you ever want to elevate and evolve your L&D function to a self-driven place of options, openness and opportunity. More importantly, we all need to get a lot more comfortable with being desirable rather than mandatory.

Next time I’ll be discussing how we can strategise our approaches to position L&D as a nice to have. Well worth a read when it’s ready!

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