Why Measuring Learning Matters - The Institute for Public-Private Partnerships® a Tetra Tech Company

Why Measuring Learning Matters

Former IP3 Director Lee U'Ren has more than 20 years of experience in adult education. He started his career teaching technology courses in a corporate learning and development organization; however, most of his career has been spent designing and delivering commercial learning programs that are engineered to provide measurable results to internal and external clients.

Lee shared a few lessons he has learned in his time as a training and development executive through a question and answer interview.

Why should organizations focus on measuring their learning programs' success?

Two things stand out to me: return-on-investment and the realization of intended goals. All learning programs—from one-on-one peer mentoring to large-scale workforce education initiatives—require some level of investment.

Peer mentoring is a resource allocation expense because time is diverted to the training and not other essential tasks. It is hard to determine if the mentorship achieves sufficient levels of up-skilling without measurement. Measurement helps determine if a more formal program could reduce the time the receiving employee takes to become self-sufficient.  

On the other hand, large-scale workforce education might require millions of dollars to to achieve strategic goals. Training performance indicators should be identified early in the course design process to ensure return on investment. This helps ascertain who should receive the training, how they should be trained, how the training's impact on the overall strategic goals will be assessed, and if the training requires a redesign to meet the intended target performance metrics.

Although it is always good to learn new skills, the economist concept of opportunity cost remains true. Sometimes, there are better ways to spend time and money than on a training 'bridge to nowhere.' Measurement is the only way to validate learning initiatives are a worthwhile endeavor for an organization.

What are some common misconceptions around learning measurement?

The misconception I see most often is that learning measurement can be an afterthought tacked onto the end of a class. Organizations often use the post-course evaluation as the sole measurement plan. While they may provide valuable information, they often fail to gauge the training program's actual effectiveness.

What is measured and why it is measured are the defining elements of how the course is designed. What is often missing is tying measurement into the design process at the planning stage. Understanding what needs to be measured may reveal that training alone cannot achieve the necessary results. Sometimes culture, systems, tools, procedures, and staff need to be modified, as well, to reach the target outcomes.

Training is about people, and people are more than an accumulation of numbers.

Measurement is a critical element in embracing learning to improve business performance. Without a thoughtful plan, it is difficult to know why or how training impacts your business.

How can an organization get started?

Two words come to mind: sponsorship and specialists.

To implement a measurement methodology, a specialist such as an instructional designer will help you ensure results. Not all training requires in-depth analysis. But when your business objectives and investment require it, a skilled practitioner at the helm is the best way to ensure your return on investment.

Sponsorship is also essential. Building training that effectively delivers results requires time and capital. It is critical to have a sponsor that is committed to measuring training to make improvements. Unfortunately, training is often seen as a burden or cost. When a sponsor sees it as an investment that can improve the business, the business outcomes can be spectacular. 

There are multiple methodologies around measuring learning effectiveness and business impact. The most widely used is the Kirkpatrick model (and if you are unfamiliar, I recommend spending some time familiarizing yourself with it).

What are some pitfalls?

Measurement is essential. However, focusing solely on numbers can be a trap. Training is about people, and people are more than an accumulation of numbers. Remember to allow for failure and encourage risk-taking. Innovation is needed in training as much as it is in other business functions—too much focus on the numbers may discourage risk-taking and stifle advancements. Not all of the measured results will be positive, but if done well, there will always be actionable information. Use the outcome to learn and evolve—it can be an invaluable tool to grow and develop your team.

What are the most important aspects on which to focus?

Before anything else, incorporate your measurement into the course's design. Establish what key performance indicators need to be impacted by the training, design the course content to those goals and metrics, and use the information received to optimize the program. Make it part of a continuous improvement process in the training design and commit to training measurement in your company.

IP3 puts considerable effort into measuring results and adapting the delivery of all of our learning programs. We not only do this as part of the IACET accreditation process but hold it as a core feature of our ongoing learning design procedures. This attention to actual learning outcomes is the only way we can continue to work toward our ultimate goal—success for each and every IP3 learner.

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