Claire Schooley of Forrester authored a report this month, Learning Director: Are You Ready for your New Role?, that merits attention by everyone interested in how to manage the learning experience in any organization, but especially in corporate organizations selling products and services. Schooley’s major point leverages a key issue in the measurement of the learning experience’s effectiveness in organizations. She contends that the most significant challenge to current learning leadership in organizations is for the learning executive to take a holistic approach to employee training, rather than a course-centric approach. In doing so, Schooley contends, the following question is of key importance:
What are the critical areas of investment in people? Answering this question requires opening direct communication channels with top company executives to understand the business strategy and road map and then to align and create appropriate formal and informal employee learning experiences that support the road map.
Ever since Kirkpatrick formulated the four levels of measurement for gauging the effectiveness of training, the Holy Grail for the overall approach is Level 4 measurement. Measuring satisfaction with the learning experience, or reaction (Level 1), measuring knowledge gain, or learning (Level 2), and measuring increased performance, or behavior change (Level 3), though certainly challenging, were never considered as daunting as gauging the impact on the objectives of the organization (Level 4), or demonstrating a return on investment. For example, a 2007 e-Learning Guild survey on measurement practices reported that only 20% of the 900 respondents were able to do the type of learning measurement they want to do. Moreover, only 10.9% of Guild members reported collecting data that showed their measurement approach provides very high value to their organizations.
It is not a stretch to contend that Level 4 measurement is as much about organizational learning and change management as it is about individual learning. In the e-Learning Guild survey on measurement practices, Roy Pollock characterizes this situation as the “Catch-22” for training and development. He notes that, “assessment of on-the-job application and results is as much or more an assessment of the transfer climate…as it is of the quality of the instruction” (p. 167).
At least part of this basic and fundamental challenge lies in the failure of learning leadership to make business acumen an integral part of its management focus, and a component of all employees’ career development. Consider that the e-Learning Guild measurement survey showed that only 68.7% of respondents reported meeting with business line managers/stakeholders to define success criteria for learning projects.
Schooley’s report offers a set of guidelines for learning leaders to use in aligning their resources with organizational strategy, even though she doesn’t mention the Level 4 measurement challenge. Schooley’s report offers insight into this quandary and outlines the leadership functions within the learning experience that require a deep understanding of the business supported.
- Focus on change management to partner with business leaders and understand enterprise initiatives
- Identify skill gaps and design/develop learning experiences that close them
- Innovate by looking for new approaches to learning
- Stay current with technologies to better understand the resources needed to support the learning process
- Strive to Integrate learning with performance
- Continuously develop knowledge of the business
- Actively manage learning and knowledge experiences
- Serve as a change agent within your organization
In other words, it is just not sufficient for leaders who manage the learning process in organizations to focus on measuring learning outcomes that remain course-centered. Meaningful learning outcomes are business-centered and require that level of measurement to remain relevant to the organization’s objectives.
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