Capture Informal Learning Data

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Before we begin our dive into informal learning, it’s important to baseline that learning is happening everywhere. We’ll explore exactly what this means in a minute, but learning does not simply happen within an LMS or Sharepoint portal.

It is happening through Google searches, social media conversations, forums, shared documents, etc, etc. This is a very exciting time for the modern day learner as they now have access to an unlimited amount of knowledge at their fingertips. At the same time, this now brings a new challenge to the L&D professional to understand where their learners are actually going to learn, what content is effective, and which content maps to performance outcomes.

I recently returned from Elliott Masie’s Learning 2017 conference in Orlando. There were a variety of incredible speakers that covered many diverse topics. The sessions that interested me the most were on learning data and analytics. A question that continuously popped up in our round-table conversations was: “How do I capture the learning that is happening outside of my LMS, for example?”

What they were really asking was this: “How do I get all of my systems talking?” Until now, getting a complete view of the learning “ecosystem” has not been a simple feat.

You can only measure data that you can see. If you have analytics tracking with your LMS, but your learners are going to siloed systems such as Sharepoint, Youtube, Lynda, etc. how can you possibly prove that the learning happening within the LMS is actually the one working for your learners? Are your analytics deep enough to even understand what’s happening in your LMS? Completions, scores, and survey responses alone are not necessarily good indicators of performance.

We have no formal data meme

You can only measure data that you can see.

The Iceberg Effect in Learning

I like to think of informal and formal learning like an iceberg. Your formal learning is the top half of your iceberg that’s above the water. You can easily see it, monitor it, and measure it. This may take the form of the content you deliver through your LMS, instructor led training, assigned readings, quizzes, etc.

The Iceberg Effect in Learning

Credit: istock

What we don’t see though, is the other half of our story below the water. This is where informal learning lives and where we need to take a deeper dive. Informal learning happens through areas you may not be currently tracking, which usually have large self-directed and social components. Remember, you can only measure data that you can see. If you are only monitoring and looking at the top half of your learning iceberg, you aren’t getting the complete story of everything that’s happening.

Capturing the Informal Learning Data

Let’s rewind to the original question that was asked: “How do I get all of my systems talking?”

There is a way to get a holistic view of your entire learning ecosystem. Think of this as casting a digital fishing net over any business system in your organization that you would need to gather data from. The process involves asking for permission and connecting to these systems once. After the initial integration of the systems, you’ll be capturing data to a centralized location in a single data language automatically. So long are the days of data transformations! All of this is done through a learning record store (LRS) such as Storepoints and a team who can seamlessly integrate your systems.

Learn more about the learning record store here: What Is A Learning Record Store?

The secret-sauce of the LRS is that it captures contextual activity stream data of anything web-based. This is done through the Experience (xAPI) data specification. If you’re not familiar with xAPI, you don’t need to worry. We have a resource here where you can learn more about it if you’re interested (but us “techies” handle all of that).

I Have The Informal + Formal Learning Data, Now What?

Once you implement the above, you’ll have a beautiful, comprehensive look at your learner’s formal learning and informal learning activities. The possibilities of data stories and insights you can glean from having this paired insight into informal + formal learning data are endless. Here are a few examples of this:

  • You have a video on an e-learning course. You can now gain data on the exact time users are pausing the video, scrolling through the video, or watching the video consecutively. You might find that the majority of your users are skipping certain parts of the training video, yet performing well on the content covered in the skipped portion. The decision might be made to test removing that content from the video.
  • There are some training documents in Sharepoint. You’ll be able to track how long your users spent in Sharepoint, which documents they viewed, how they interacted with them, and for how long. You may make the decision to make the most popular documents more easily accessible.
  • You see that your users have been struggling with training assessments. You can now view what websites they are going to in order to learn more about the subject they’re having trouble with. This might be an opportunity for you to integrate the informal content that they prefer into your program.

As you can see, being able to have access to this data now lends a hand in being able to make decisions based on the data. Our LRS comes with a reporting tool, which allows you to create reports on whatever data stories you’d like to show off. This allows you to go to your organization with the facts.

You might say something like: “Based on the data, we see that 43% of our learners are actually not utilizing our LMS that’s teaching manufacturing safety. We find that these individuals are going to Youtube instead to search for “manufacturing safety regulations” and passing the assessments on this topic with an average score of 93%. Based on this, we recommend embedding the Youtube videos into our LMS training and providing an update to our learners that we are adding this functionality.” Imagine making important learning recommendations like this! There’s a big difference between saying, “We need to embed Youtube videos in the training,” and the response above.

This response is very learner-focused, so what about the business? As learning professionals, we have to find the balance between developing the learner, and developing the business through our learners. Always having your business’s established goals in mind when designing and evaluating your training and learner’s performance, will allow you to have a powerful conversation about business outcomes due to learning. Check out our webinar, “The L&D Measurement Journey: Creating a Chain of Evidence for Impact” to learn more about tying in your learning goals with the business goals.


All in all, getting your systems interconnected and reporting to a Learning Record Store is the first step to getting a comprehensive view of not only formal learning, but informal as well.

Once this is accomplished, you’ll have your boss saying:

xAPI Data Meme

Riptide has a team of extremely talented software engineers ready to help get your learning systems connecting and reporting to an xAPI-conformant LRS. Contact us to learn more, and discover if Riptide is a fit for your organization!


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