How Needs Analysis Can Help Solve The Learning Analytics Challenge

How Needs Analysis Can Help Solve The Learning Analytics Challenge (Plus 3 Tips To Get You Started)
Manuel Hidalgo/SweetRush
Summary: Measurement and analytics continue to be a struggle for L&D. In this article, Emma Klosson, Senior Instructional Design and Learning Evangelist at SweetRush, discusses why she thinks this is a challenge and shares her top three tips for those who are just getting started with analytics.

39% of L&D Pros Agree: Learning Analytics Is Challenging. It Doesn’t Need to Be.

Every aspect of business is becoming more data-driven, and L&D is no exception. Yet some L&D leaders and teams are struggling to put efficient measurement, evaluation, and learning analytics programs into practice.

In our latest report, Current Trends In Learning And Development & Learning Experience Design, we asked leaders and practitioners to share the challenges that need the most love in their learning organizations (see page 16 of the report). Among the top answers, with 39% of the vote, was using data to improve learning or prove learning effectiveness. When we asked, What will your learning organization be doing more of in 2022? (page 37), learning analytics and evaluation was a top answer.

Which begs the question, if we know that data and analytics are important to L&D, why are we still finding it a struggle to do?

I sat down with Danielle Hart, SweetRush Director of Marketing and author of the Trends Report, to share my thoughts on what I think is driving this trend and why organizations might be struggling with data and analytics. I also share my top three tips for getting started with data and analytics.

Emma, throughout the report, we’re seeing several themes emerging around business needs alignment, analytics, and evaluation. Does this surprise you at all?

No, I’m not at all surprised to see these themes emerge. Needs analysis and particularly evaluation frequently pop up in these types of surveys either as skill gaps or needs. What’s interesting about this survey is that there appears to be more focus and urgency around these topics than I’ve seen in the past.

Why do you think that is?

L&D is having a bit of a moment right now! We’ve got our seat at the table, and we want to keep it!

The workplace is evolving at breakneck speed, and businesses are attempting to prepare themselves for yet-to-be-determined future states. For some companies, that means upskilling their workforce as technology and processes evolve. For others, it means anticipating the needs of roles that don’t even exist yet. Regardless of the strategy, business leaders need a partner to help them get there. L&D should be that partner.

The trouble is, until very recently, L&D was seen by most companies and business leaders as an on-demand resource that takes orders. Would you invite an order taker to consult on the future of your company? I wouldn’t.

To keep our seat at the table and be invited into more of these conversations, we need to prove we are a trusted partner who adds value. We must be more consultative and speak the language of business, which is results-oriented. And to do that, we need to get better at having conversations about measurement and building evaluation strategies into our learning solutions.

If I had my way, every learning solution would include a robust evaluation strategy. Better yet, every learning solution would begin with a robust evaluation strategy!

This all makes sense. But it makes me wonder, how did we get here? Why isn’t L&D developing evaluation strategies as part of their overall learning solutions?

That’s a great question! In my experience, there are several reasons.

First, there is a common misconception that evaluation, specifically anything above Level 2 (Knowledge), is difficult. I’m here to tell you, it’s not. In fact, it can be extremely easy to do. You can’t build an evaluation strategy, however, without a clear understanding of the performance gaps and desired business outcomes.

This leads me to the second reason, which, incidentally, our Trends Report also illuminated (see pages 28–29): L&D professionals are also really struggling with needs analysis. In my opinion, this is a much bigger problem. Why? Needs analysis and evaluation both form the bookends of learning solution design. If needs analysis doesn’t happen—and it frequently doesn’t—it’s impossible to develop an evaluation strategy. After all, how can you measure the effectiveness of a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist or hasn’t been defined yet?

The third reason goes back to the order-taker mindset shift that needs to be made. Stakeholders frequently come to L&D with solutions already in mind, e.g., “my team needs change management training.” Without that consultative mindset, it can be difficult for L&D to challenge the stakeholder and ask those difficult questions to find out why. But we must do it!

With all that in mind, what advice would you give to L&D leaders who are dipping their toes into evaluation waters for the first time? What might you say to convince them to give it a try?

My first piece of advice would be to not put it off for a moment longer. You simply can’t afford to skip this step if you want to be seen as a trusted partner to the business. I also want to reiterate that it really doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, once you begin to understand needs analysis and evaluation, it will start to feel more like common sense than a big scary thing! Trust me.

My next tip is to educate yourself, first on needs analysis and then on evaluation. There are so many great resources to help you get started. In my Needs Analysis Playbook, I walk through the process of uncovering those all-important performance gaps and business outcomes—I also help you identify an evaluation strategy. For a deeper dive into evaluation, there’s no better place to start than The Kirkpatrick Partners. Here, you’ll find wonderful resources as well as classes and certification programs to help you develop and then master your evaluation skills.

(Don’t forget to share what you learn with your team and create an action plan to implement best practices!)

Along the same lines, I recommend networking with evaluation enthusiasts. Join a group. Better yet, start a group! Many minds are better than one, and there are lots of great forums out there with people who can answer your questions or give you feedback on your evaluation strategies. You can always reach out to me with questions, too!

Finally, never, ever, ever skip needs analysis. Ever! It really is the key to designing successful and impactful learning experiences. Start by focusing on the desired business outcomes and corresponding Level 4 evaluation strategy (Results) and work backward from there.

To find out what other challenges L&D professionals are facing and to get tips and advice from our team of experts for tackling these challenges head-on, download your copy of Current Trends In Learning And Development & Learning Experience Design today!

eBook Release: SweetRush
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