In the continuing series we catch up with Kevin M.Yates who has extensive learning and development experience and uses measurement, data and analytics to answer the question, “Did training work?”.

In your opinion what is the biggest anxiety within the world of learning and development at the moment?

The biggest source of anxiety is figuring out how to merge the worlds of data science with learning and development.  Learning and development is increasingly being held to the same standards of accountability as other parts of the business.  We’ve historically provided data for how many people were trained, how many classes were offered, how many hours of training were completed and which modality has the highest utilization.  Senior leaders are now asking, “What is the impact of learning and development on our goals and employee performance?” and they expect data as evidence for the answer.

Most L&D organizations don’t have the capability on their teams for using measurement, data and analytics as fact-based evidence to answer senior leaders’ question about L&D’s impact.  As L&D is increasingly asked to show evidence for results, not activity, L&D leaders are scrambling to find the talent with experience and expertise in data and analytics for L&D and the technology to support data acquisition.  Senior L&D leaders are shifting their focus to not only deliver learning solutions but also find ways in which to tell learning and development’s story in a way that explains the return on investment for the time and cash invested in employee development.

Who or what is informing your thinking around L&D?

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have close and personal relationships with industry leaders who are doing incredible, meaningful, game-changing work for measurement, data and analytics for learning and development.  And while I consider myself agnostic with no strict allegiance to any specific person, method or technology, there are a few that influence my work and ideas.  I like to take a little bit from the best of best, stitch it together and leverage the good work so many are doing.

Jack and Patti Phillips with the ROI Institute are leading the way with using measurement and data to show the return on investment for cash invested in employee learning and development.  David Vance with the Center for Talent Reporting has game-changing ideas for creating measurement standards for L&D.  LEO Learning is providing inspirational thought leadership on strategy for data and analytics for learning and development.  Mike Rustici is doing amazing work with xAPI and learning record stores (LRS).  These are just a few who are inspiring my thoughts and my work.

What is the most exciting innovation on the horizon for learning?

I am most excited about xAPI and learning record stores (LRS).  When it comes to data, we’ve limited our insights to metrics and data that comes from surveys and our LMS.  The exciting thing about xAPI is that it looks at our learning ecosystem holistically.

Learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom or the LMS.  Employees are interacting with videos, white papers, podcasts, blogs, social media, etc. to support their learning and development needs.  xAPI captures the movements and engagement of employees across modalities and stores that data in a learning record store.  We’re able to tell stories about L&D’s impact in ways we’ve not been able to before now.

With xAPI, we’re able to predict outcomes like, “What happens to employee performance when you combine learning experience X with learning experience Y?” or answer questions like, “What kinds of learning and performance support resources are our top performers using?”.  With xAPI and learning record stores (LRS), we’re able to use data to inform decisions for learning solutions design, deployment and strategy.  I believe this technology will revolutionize the role of data and analytics in learning and development.

What “game changers” would you like to see and why?

The game-changer I’d like to see, and one which might strike an element of fear for some of my L&D colleagues, is a change in the way executives hold learning and development accountable for impact and results.  We’ve been able to hide behind the idea that learning and development is “different” and a unique function where because of the nature of our work, you can’t show impact or results.  To that, I say, nonsense!

Do we need to measure everything to the same degree?  Absolutely not but for those learning solutions that are expensive, purposefully tied to a business goal, highly visible and supporting a large target audience, we should be held accountable for measurable impact and results.  Accountability comes from the top.  I believe the biggest game changer for L&D will come from executives asking and demanding an answer to, “What’s the impact of your learning and development efforts on our business goals and employee performance?”.

What do you think the world of L&D will look like by 2030?

In the future, I believe learning and development will be data-driven for strategy, design and delivery of learning solutions.  A great deal of how L&D operates today is driven by wishes, hopes and dreams.  We “believe” by doing “x” the outcome will be “y” or we “hope” that by using a strategy of “a” the impact will result in “b”.

Just as other parts of the business are already using data to inform decisions and forecast outcomes, so will learning and development in the future.  I see in our future where data science, predictive analytics and learning and  development are working in harmony for the good of the business.  By 2030, I see data science and predictive analytics as drivers for everything we do.

What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

What a great question.  I think I’d tell my 21 year old self to appreciate your hair while you still have it.  Just kidding, I would tell my 21 year old self to keep a journal of your failures and your successes.  Failure is inevitable but there’s so much to learn from it.  Keeping a diary of these experiences serves as a reference to which you can use to not repeat the same mistake twice and reflect on the powerful learning that comes from it.

Journaling your successes balances your journal entries for failures but most important, acknowledges the triumphs, victories and wins in your life.  In the midst of living, we don’t always see the power or impact of failures and successes and we often miss the wholeness of the experience.  We’re in the midst of our immediate reactions and emotions.

Journaling is therapeutic and empowering.  When we journal, we reflect, we learn, we discover and have the potential for an emotional release through the power of pen and paper.  In fact, if I could go back in time, I’d give my 21 year old self pen and paper for journaling!

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