Ask Better Questions: How L&D Professionals Harness Data Effectively

L&D professionals are keen to utilise data and analytics, but how can they realistically achieve this? The answer lies in asking better questions.

While HR and L&D professionals are keen to become more data-driven, in Towards Maturity’s L&D’s Relationship with Data professionals name a lack of data knowledge and skills as one of their biggest barriers.

Many are aspiring to utilise data much more effectively, but only a few are succeeding. Nearly all (99%) want to shift compliance behaviour using data but less than half (38%) have done so, and 58% want to use machine learning to adapt their learning programmes, but have yet to implement it.  

So in order to help our customers make the best use of the data that’s available in L&D, we hosted our first ever Learning Lab. An intimate group of top L&D professionals and decision-makers came together at AVADO HQ on 25th September to hear from industry-leading speakers and discuss with other L&D professionals how they’re getting to grips with data. We were joined by AVADO facilitator Simon McCaskill and the #1 Mover and Shaker in corporate L&D, Laura Overton. 

The key takeaways:

Thinking differently to reveal the truth

As humans, we’ve evolved to believe the information that suits our view. It’s our brain’s way of creating shortcuts in order to process huge amounts of information. After all, making fast decisions is essential for survival. But while it may be practical in fight-or-flight scenarios, it’s not great for data analysis.

This decision-making approach means we can have survivorship bias – a focus on successful data points while overlooking the negative ones, or availability bias which means relying on the data that’s easiest to obtain.

As data-driven L&D professionals, the first step to avoiding these biases is being actively aware of them. Using data from multiple sources and applying critical thinking when analysing is key. 

“The basic idea of evidence-based practice is that good-quality decisions should be based on a combination of critical thinking and the best available evidence.”

 – Center for Evidence-Based Management

The importance of asking better questions

In the LPI Capability Map, data analysis was ranked as L&D’s weakest skill. And this was echoed in the findings from the Learning Labs pre-event survey, where L&Ds named high-level tech skills like modelling and visualisation as the areas they wanted to improve. But at the event we asked: is this where L&D should be focusing their up-skilling efforts?

During their sessions, both Laura and Simon emphasised that it’s the skill of ‘asking better questions’ that L&D should be honing. There are many benefits of good data literacy, including having the ability to do basic data analysis yourself and knowing what questions to ask your data team. 

L&D can speed up the process of getting simple statistics by sourcing them personally, and this will develop their data literacy which will, in turn, mean that they can communicate more effectively with their analytics team.

The key to asking better questions is to be clear what problem you are trying to solve, and what your existing assumption – or hypothesis – is, then challenge yourself.


The question: Why don’t people engage with one of our courses?

The hypothesis: Managers don’t value the course.

Questions you could ask:

  • Do managers talk to their team about it, to help them apply their learning?
  • Do managers reward people who have completed and passed the training?
  • Have managers been involved in the process of rolling out the training?
  • Is there evidence to show people on this training perform better?

You’re not alone in your data journey

Early in July, AVADO co-hosted an event with Tableau. Laura attended and was surprised to discover that a room of data experts had the same issues L&D were facing. L&D isn’t the only department struggling with processing and utilising the amount of data available to them. 

In truth, there are very few organisations who can claim to have become truly data-driven. Tech companies naturally have the advantage, having a digital mindset across their workforce from their inception, while industries that aren’t traditionally digital have more work to do to catch-up. But we can all look to and learn from the trailblazers leading the way. 

Data in L&D isn’t as scary as you think

When they think of data, people often go straight to the image of a highly complex spreadsheet which they can’t navigate their way around. However, qualitative data is still data – and it’s highly valuable. L&D professionals don’t need to be overwhelmed by images of complex sums and pivots and they don’t need to become a data scientist in order to truly get what they need out of their data. Asking the right questions, reviewing data critically and getting the support of colleagues is the first step in any good data journey. L&D professionals can spearhead the movement towards being a data-driven organisation by cultivating a mini data culture within their own L&D team.


AVADO are a leading education provider, specialising in data, HR, finance and apprenticeships. In partnership with Tableau, we’ve built a Data Academy that builds data literacy and capability across all levels of your organisation. 

Our Learning Labs are workshops exclusively for our customers, featuring industry speakers where attendees are left with tangible actions to take back to their team and business.

Find out more about our Data Academy.

Stephanie Khan

Posted October 7, 2019