What can Lego minifigs teach us about learning analytics?
- 6 Min Read
John Peebles, CEO, Administrate, reveals how HR professionals can take a lesson from Lego when it comes to measuring and improving the efficacy of learning initiatives with data.
Earlier this year, Jens Nygaard Knudsen passed away. Perhaps you have never heard of him, but odds are you’ve seen his most famous creation: the Lego Minifigure (or “minifig”).
More than 4 billion minifigs have been manufactured since their debut in 1978. While commonly bundled with Lego sets, minifigs are also sold individually, but there is 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 a similar “what’s inside” mystery when we look at the performance of our training programs. We don’t have access to data, can’t interrogate our environment in a systematic way and, even if we did have the right tools, the information we need is siloed across the organization, beyond our reach. We are feeling our way through problems or attempting to read a series of unconnected dots in order to understand what is happening within our domain.
How did we get here?
As learning became more tech-enabled, a curious thing happened: the entire EdTech industry focused solely on learners and their experience. I’m hard-pressed to think of any other vertical that has so completely abandoned the administrative or “back office” performance to the extent that has happened within L&D, despite the significant operational investment organisations make in this vital business function.
At the same time, Sales, Customer Success, Finance, and other functions all invested in systems that supported their internal teams, back-office functions, and day-to-day operations. L&D, however, remained stuck, continuing to implement traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS) fixated on learner creature comforts and serving up a limited variety of content types. Even today, most emerging LMS platforms are simply lurching toward the next student experience fad, with training operations still lagging behind.
A downstream impact of all of this is an over-reliance on learner-centric data collection and subjective measures of success driven by learner response. While important, these metrics often do not provide enough actionable data to lead the business, so training remains in a react/respond mode instead occupying the leadership role it should.
There is a better way
As educators, we are storytellers. Stories backed by data are infinitely more powerful, and constructing a metrics-supported narrative is crucial to the long-term success of any enterprise L&D function.
The ability to wield data as a powerful intelligence tool determines whether training teams will help to lead the evolution of business — and be granted the resources to do so — or merely respond to it. However, the stakes are higher than just the L&D team, their efficiency, and quality of life. The businesses we serve are being impacted and the cost of wrong decisions based on a lack of data can be massive.
When I observe the learning industry today, I’m reminded of the marketing industry prior to the advent of marketing automation platforms. Prior to platforms such as Hubspot, Salesforce and Eloqua, marketing teams were drowning in a sea of tools, with limited reporting, no system to live and work within, and perhaps most importantly, an inability to architect and report against business objective metrics. 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.
This is an industry that was previously characterized by an obsession over look and feel, fads, and an obsession with the customer’s subjective feedback. Sound familiar?
Where to start
Firstly, we need to transform our thinking as L&D professionals and stop accepting the false narrative that we cannot take a data-driven approach to our challenges. We should look toward metrics for answers to today’s problems, supported by our experience, and perhaps most importantly, we should not stop at the water’s edge of the L&D domain – our analysis, by definition, should cut across the organisation.
Secondly, we need to make the right investments in the right technology infrastructure to build a foundation that encourages data-driven introspection. Metrics should be easy to access, easy to interrogate, and should form part of our daily language.
Thirdly, we need to incorporate this new data-driven approach into how we engage with the problems facing our organisations. 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 support the belief we share as educators that what we do makes a difference, not just in supporting, but in driving the business.
What this looks like
Do not just ask how the sales team liked the course. Instead, ask how the course impacted their downstream sales success. Instead of focusing on activity metrics like attendance, explore whether the overall performance of the company improved after implementing that training initiative. Where are the strengths and weaknesses of my training team and how do I know were they are? How can I know that a certain modality of training is better than another? How can I know what modality is better for specific types of training, learners, or teams? All of these are questions that can and should be answered with data that L&D teams have casual and constant access to.
Where we have 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 needing to recruit more staff.
We also see a return to relevance for L&D. For those of us who love to learn and believe that learning is one of the primary missions of any endeavor, it is refreshing that we no longer need to treat our jobs like a Lego minifig mystery.