How to Create a Data-Driven Learning Strategy

Learner data can help you create a course that better matches your organization’s needs.

You’ve build an online course, but is it doing what you need it to do? This is one of the biggest challenges of online learning. With little-to-no face-to-face contact with learners, it can be difficult to know if your lessons are sinking in or doing any good. Fortunately, there is where a data-driven learning strategy can help.

A “learning strategy” can mean many things to many people, depending on whether you’re an instructor or a student, an independent educator or someone designing a training course for a large corporation. For the purposes of this post, we’re interested in exploring ways that you, the educator, can use data strategically to help your students learn from your online course. In other words, a learning strategy is “a strategy to help students learn.”

Here’s how you get that done.

1. Identify measurable goals.

If you’re just starting out, your goal is probably pretty simple: teach your students X. But let’s say you’ve been teaching for a while, and you’re noticing that despite your best efforts, your learners aren’t learning as well as you would like. It’s time to identify some more measurable goals that are correlated with the overall aim of helping your learners learn.

Your goals might include:

  • Improve your course completion rate.
  • Improve learner satisfaction with your course.
  • Improve learner assessment scores.

Notice how each of these is specific and measurable. But just because a goal is capable of being measured doesn’t mean you actually have to tools in place to do so. That’s what the next step is about.

2. Decide what data you need to gather to understand if you’re achieving those goals.

With a measurable goal in mind, it’s time to decide how you’re going to collect the data you need to adjust your strategy. Working with the above goals, you should be able to measure the following using various data-gathering methods:

  • Course completion rate:
    • When are your learners dropping out of the course? Look for learner metrics in your LMS.
    • What reasons do they give for dropping out? Use an automated email to engage learners after a certain period goes by without a sign-in. Ask what happened.
  • Learner satisfaction:
    • How well do your learners rate your course? Look for reviews online or ask directly via an automated email.
    • What are your course strengths and weaknesses? Run an automated email poll when learners complete a course or after a period of non-engagement.
    • What feature would learners most want to see in your course? Run a regular poll and put a feedback section on your website.
  • Learner assessment scores:
    • How are learners scoring on test throughout the course? Look for metrics tools in your LMS.
    • What type of tests questions do you use, and how do they affect test outcomes? Look for metrics tools in your LMS.
    • What are some of the common stumbling blocks for your learners? Look for metrics tools in your LMS and ask your learners directly via an automated email poll.

Read our post: The Minimum E-Learning Metrics You Should Capture

3. Collect your data and measure against your outcomes.

Generally speaking, the data you are able to gather about your course comes in two forms: structured and unstructured.

Structured data includes a lot of the metrics you can track through your LMS—things like completion rate, the time learners spend on a lesson, and their test results. The data is already formatted and easy to compare across learners.

Unstructured data is what you might receive through student feedback, forum activity, or social media comments. These are information rich sources, but they aren’t organized into statistics or charts for easy review. Instead, you will have to read through them and analyze them for yourself.

In a lot of cases, you will already have mechanisms in place to collect this data. But if there’s a piece of data missing, you will need to find another way of collecting it. For instance, if you know your learners are dropping out of a course, sending out a survey to ask why is a way of collecting more information, as we suggested above. However, it will be up to you to interpret the results.

4. Take action based on your data.

You can collect all the data in the world but it won’t do you any good if you never act on it. Once you start to have a clear answer from your data about why your course isn’t working the way you intended, it’s time to make a plan for how to resolve that issue.

Based on your findings and your goals you might:

  • Improve your course completion rate by adding more supplementary materials, offering private tutoring lessons, or creating a mentorship program.
  • Improve learner satisfaction with your course by adding gamification elements and working to build a more dynamic and supportive forum.
  • Improve learner assessment scores by offering short, frequent tests that they can repeat as many times as they need before the final exam.

Read our post: Taking Action Based on Learner Metrics

Focusing on the data can give your learners a better experience.

For some of us, an emphasis on big data can sound cold and alienating, but it shouldn’t. We’re not talking about snooping on someone’s Facebook activity in order to hijack their attention. Instead, we’re talking about looking at internal data—both from learner feedback and the usage data you can gather from your own LMS—and leveraging that in a way that improves outcomes for everyone.

A data-driven learning strategy takes opinions and personal prejudices off the table and puts the focus on what’s best for both your learners and your organization by focusing on user behavior and revealed preferences.

Most importantly, data is what lets you know if what you’re doing works. If your learners aren’t learning, then your course isn’t doing its job. The beauty of data is that it can show you where you’re going wrong so that you can do something about it.

Author

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

2 Responses

  1. Insightful article, thanks!

    And, could you shed some more light on “offering private tutoring lessons, or creating a mentorship program” thing? How do you suggest to implement these supports? technically & strategically.

  2. “Structured data includes a lot of the metrics you can track through your LMS—things like completion rate, the time learners spend on a lesson, and their test results. The data is already formatted and easy to compare across learners.”

    Is this data available in LearnDash? How does an administrator get the data out?

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