How Important Is Data In Learning?

It is a word every “innovation-driven” executive is afraid to drop – DATA. In our metric-obsessed culture today, data drives decisions, influences strategies, and commands what we see on social media. Is data the be all and end all? When it comes to promoting learning within our organizations, is data a boon or a bane? 

By Deborah Tan 

Coming up: 5 seconds of sentimentalism.

When I first started in publishing 16 years ago, “data” came in the form of a report that told us how many copies of the month’s issue we had sold. The data did not tell us which story had resonated the best with our readers. It did not shed any light regarding which coverline caught people’s eyes at the newsstands. It most certainly couldn’t share how much time readers spent on each page before casting the magazine aside. We could only guess which story could have helped with sales based on the number of fan mails we received.

To be honest, sometimes I miss that.

Data may help us make better decisions, but I think we should never forget that, as humans, we should always strive to think outside the box and, to not be afraid to exercise our common-sense and professional judgment.

Depending on data to help us make decisions, while efficient, suffocates the willingness to experiment and innovate.

When you think about how learning today is inextricably tied to data, it makes you wonder if we are missing the forest for the trees.

Are You Guilty Of Teaching To The Test?

The growing fixation on metrics in learning means many things. The first is the phenomenon of teaching to the test.

In their quest to improve scores and rankings, some trainers have resorted to designing curriculums that are heavily focused on helping students pass tests, instead of well, you know, learn.

Going down this route means that while short-term data goals are reached, we distort what learning actually means in the long term.

Are You Incentivizing Learners For The Wrong Reasons?

Second, by measuring people’s performance on just a few metrics, we could end up incentivizing learning for the wrong reasons. Instead of driving learning, we end up encouraging gaming.

In order to maximize results, leaders attach rewards, such as bonuses and fancy swag, for completing courses or simply just hitting the “Yes, I have read this document” button. But more than just making learning “a game”, leaders who consistently resort to such tactics risk promoting job dissatisfaction. Instead of being assessed by the quality of their work and commitment to organizational goals, employees may feel they would end up getting penalized for “not playing a game”.

Are You Ultimately Driving Out Innovation?

Perhaps the most contradictory effect of being “data-driven” is the likelihood of snuffing out innovation.

Your most creative, innovative employees are not going to settle for being measured by a narrow set of metrics. If they believe they are not given the space and opportunity to do things differently, they are going to move out of the organization to somewhere where work is more than just being part of a numbers game.

Let Data Be The Lamps That Illuminate The Tunnel, Not The Light At The End Of It

Don’t craft your learning strategy for the purpose of creating a breathtaking case study of statistics.

As Deadpool’s girlfriend Vanessa keeps saying in Deadpool 2, “Your heart is not in the right place.”

Why should you deploy learning on a microlearning platform? Because you want the learning material to be accessible whenever and wherever, in just the right sizes so people can get the information they need easily.

Why should you gamify your learning? Because you want to reinforce the lessons and pace the learner for better information retention. By creating highly engaging content, you are also hoping to make learning less of a “chore” and more of a “habit”.

How do you help employees see they are part of a bigger organizational picture? How should you motivate your most innovative employees to embrace a data-driven learning strategy? By encouraging peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, by opening up the opportunity for everyone to be a mentor, and by incentivizing content creation just as much as you would reward content completion.

Conclusion

Data is – as you can see – a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives us visibility on how our people are learning. On the other, being overly obsessed with data blinds us to the fact that learning is, after all, a human activity.

At the core of every effective learning initiative is the ability to make a connection with the student.

Your campaign and strategy must ultimately reflect that.

 

Shameless promotion: While SmartUp provides features such as gamification and data generation, our platform has the unique functionality of peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and collaborative content creation. We strongly believe that the future of learning is in building up communities and breaking down silos. Want to know how SmartUp makes it possible for your people to share knowledge with one another? Hit us up for a quick chat! 

Start team corporate learning the right way with these tips