Using Your Data Effectively

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If you read our earlier blog post on data analysis, you’re (hopefully!) aware of the importance of analyzing your training at every step of the process. It’s one thing to ask learners for their feedback, and quite another to put what you learn to good use. Happily, you don’t need to be a statistician or analyst in order to start moving your training program forward in an effective way. Let’s look at what you can do to ensure you’re getting the most out of your data.

Using Your Data Effectively

Before You Begin

Let’s talk about performing a training needs analysis. In his article on the subject, Peter Exner looked at what this analysis involves from a big picture perspective, noting that “it establishes the difference between “what is” to work towards “what should be”. As Peter points out, a training needs analysis helps identify:

  • Background about the material that must be covered
  • Information about learners
  • Instructional priorities and critical needs
  • Baseline data
  • Specific goals that must be met

You want to complete a training needs analysis with a good idea of what skill gaps you want your training to address. But to really use this data effectively, you will also want to drill down to the nuts and bolts of what you’re discovering about your learners, and take a granular look at the specific ways they want to learn the information you are trying to convey.

Is your audience:

  • Self-motivated? You will likely want to provide learning opportunities, such as online learning that they can tackle on their own terms (but remember, even the most self-motivated learners can benefit from things like gamification to make learning more fun).
  • Hands-on? Think about providing more deliberate on-the-job training where skills can be demonstrated, and include downloadable job aids that can be utilised at the point of need.
  • Computer-literate? There are no hard and fast rules, and you should be careful about stereotyping your audience, but if you are preparing training for an older demographic, remember they may not be as comfortable getting all their learning online, and you may want to incorporate a blended approach.

Use the data you gather in your analysis and look not only at what your audience needs to learn, but how they prefer to get that information.

During the Training

Researching for skills gaps, developing a program that will provide the training your learners need, and delivering it using the appropriate method can feel a lot like sending your kid off to college. Your job’s pretty much done, right? Well, like your college-bound child, your training program is going to keep growing and evolving long after they have left you. Unlike your venturing offspring, you have a lot of control in how, when and why these changes happen.

You will want to continuously poll your training participants for feedback on what is and, perhaps more importantly, what isn’t working with the training. Try to make the feedback process as easy to participate in as possible – remember, you’re asking for a favour, and even if it is in the learners’ best interests to provide feedback, nobody will want to do so if it is an onerous task. Consider providing incentives or offering small rewards for people who do provide their feedback.

Make sure you can also pull reports that will give you more data, though to effectively use this data you will need to figure out what it is trying to tell you:

  • Are your completion rates low? This could mean that you didn’t adequately look at what your training skills analysis was telling you, and your training isn’t filling a needed gap. But if you were mindful about developing your training program it’s probably something that can be adjusted. Remember we talked about the need to determine the best training delivery method? You may have decided that online learning is the way to go, since you have a dynamic, self-motivated workforce. So what’s the problem? Maybe your program involves sitting down for an hour-long online tutorial. Even the most interactive, engaging learning can be tough for a busy, on-the-go audience to make time for – this is where you may want to look into options like microlearning.
  • Are exam results below standard? Again, this could mean that your training isn’t doing what you need it to, but the more likely case is that some of your questions are unclear, or not covered in your material. Take a look for patterns – if learners are consistently stumbling on the same question, chances are a small tweak is all it will take to get things back on track.

Whatever data you collect during this stage, the key thing to remember is to really think about what the results are telling you.

Conclusion

We’ve talked about what you can do to effectively analyze the data you collect both before and during your training program. After your training? Well, that’s where you will use the baseline data you collected during the training needs analysis in order to measure how effective your training program was. In a perfect world, if you analyzed your data well at every other step of the process, your results here should be positive – check out our eBook, Measuring Training Effectiveness to learn more.

And good luck! Data analysis is important, but you don’t need to be a numbers genius to get the information you need. The most important thing to remember is to give careful consideration not only to the specific numbers and feedback, but also what they are trying to tell you.

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Shauna Carson

Shauna graduated from the University of Toronto in 2002 with a Master of Arts in English before moving home to Calgary to work in the fast-paced, detail-oriented oil and gas industry. Now certified as a technical writer, Shauna is comfortable writing in a variety of styles, and for a variety of audiences.

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