Data Analysis is the New Must-have L&D Skill

man working on a laptopLearning and development professionals have always needed an impressive array of skills in order to do their jobs. They’ve needed to be good communicators, proficient curators and creators of content, and of course, excellent educators.

Now they need to add another skill to their toolbox, however. As more and more L&D relies on technology, learning professionals now need to become proficient in data and analysis. According to LinkedIn’s research, 14% of learning professionals are likely to add analytical skills to their LinkedIn profiles this year.

Why is data a big deal now?

Technology in L&D is nothing new. Online and digital tools have been a part of training since personal computers joined the workplace technology stack decades ago. L&D professionals are familiar with dashboards and learning management systems (LMS). That said, in-person training was, until recently, a big part of many companies’ L&D strategy. According to research from Brandon Hall Group, about 96% of organizations used live instructor-led training to deliver at least some of their workplace training.

The pandemic forced a shift in the way workers learn. During the COVID-19 lockdown, companies that had not yet converted their in-person training to online learning made the switch. With so many workers working remotely since the pandemic, online learning is being used much more than it was pre-pandemic in blended and entirely remote training programs. According to research from the Ken Blanchard Companies, just 17% of companies are considering returning to a fully in-person training model.

More remote learning means more learning technology, and that means much more data for L&D professionals to analyze. While learning professionals have always used data in their work (e.g., attendance numbers, learner surveys, completion scores, etc.) learning management systems generate a ton of information: who has logged in, which modules have been completed, and how much time has been spent on each lesson, for example. The data generated by an LMS goes far beyond what a manager can see on a dashboard, and can become overwhelming when there are large numbers of learners.

To deal with this firehose of information and improve their learning programs, learning professionals need to be able to understand data and analytics.

Data and L&D have a rocky relationship

Data isn’t necessarily L&D’s strong suit. A 2019 report from the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI) found that L&D professionals tend to have low confidence in their ability to interpret data.

This year, data and decision making were listed as an area in which L&D professionals say they need to grow, according to LinkedIn’s reporting. Learning professionals are mostly interested in data analysis. In high-performing industries, learning professionals are particularly interested in data and decision-making.

According to experts, some of this interest in data may be a result of this year’s increased pressure on L&D. Thanks to their performance during the pandemic, learning leaders are being tasked with more budget and more responsibility. LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report shows that leadership is expecting L&D to help with more initiatives than in previous years, ranging from recruiting to upskilling to leadership training to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs.

This long to-do list has caused its fair share of nerves. LinkedIn quoted analyst Dani Johnson in its report, who said L&D was having “bit of an ‘oh @#&%’ moment.”

Our data indicates that L&D pros may feel underprepared, and they’re actively seeking leadership, business, and data skills as much as, if not more than, traditional L&D skills,” said Johnson.

How can L&D get comfortable with data quickly?

Like the proverbial shoeless children of the cobbler, L&D professionals may put themselves last when it comes to learning. LinkedIn found that L&D learners spent 23% less time learning in 2021 than other learners did. It’s important that learning leaders take the time to make their own learning a priority by signing up for courses and modules that will familiarize them with learning data and analysis.

That said, L&D leaders in large enterprises may be able to get a crash course from their peers. LinkedIn found that 32% of L&D professionals are working more closely with their peers in People Analytics, which gives them a leg up when it comes to processing data about what learners need.

No matter which path learning leaders take, data is an important part of L&D’s future. To deliver programs that truly meet their organizations’ needs, learning pros will need to make sure they’re proficient in reading and understanding data.