Business leaders place Learning practitioners under tremendous pressure to demonstrate that their learning efforts and initiatives are worth the budget they allocate to it. This is probably one of the biggest challenges facing those involved with any aspect of workplace learning.
There are many reasons why learning practitioners are unable to connect their efforts with actual workplace applications. One that stands out is that learning practitioners tend to focus on the “learning” rather than on how learning results impact business performance. Workplace learning likes to talk about being ‘accountable’ but behind the talk is an unfortunate reality where, like the three monkeys, the belief still exists that it will go away if we do not speak, see, or hear it.
Many learning practitioners remain under the impression that if proper learning takes place then everything else will take care of itself. Intuitively, this makes some sense but this causal relationship is too weak to be effective. Following this logic is similar to saying that, if you eat ice cream you’ll be cold; possibly, but there are many other reasons that also apply.
If proper learning takes place everything will take care of itself is the same flawed logic that when you eat ice cream you’ll be cold; quite possibly…but other reasons also apply.
Those involved with learning discover early to integrate and apply Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation. Yes, your organization explicitly hires learning practitioners for their expertise with Level 1 (develop effective learning) and Level 2 (learning retention). Not one business leader expects anything different. What they expect, however, is that their Learning Practitioners ensure that the first two levels contribute to improving job performance (Level 3) that will lead to business improvement (Level 4). This is what your business leaders call ‘accountability’.
And here lies every Learning Practitioner’s challenge…getting employees to learn the right skills and, ultimately, apply these skills to the job, again, ‘accountability’. In an attempt to answer this need, there are those proposing what appears as relevant solutions to this dilemma including measuring learning’s “return on investment” (training ROI) and how well learning meets business expectations (ROE). Again, the shortsightedness of these methodologies is just like the “ice cream making you cold” analogy. The causal relationship is too weak to prove and too often inappropriate or irrelevant.
These solutions, along with many other ‘learning-based’ evaluative solutions, fall short to actually measure and evaluate how well learning contributes to on-the-job effectiveness and its role to achieving business objectives. But here’s a news flash…your business leaders have a growing need for innovation, creativity, and the capacity to manage continuous market changes. Your business leaders are under tremendous pressure to foster knowledge-driven business environments. Leaders are increasingly depending on organizational knowledge (by extension those responsible for it) to help them develop strategic and business advantages to maintain relevance, let alone survival, within their market space.
Rather than being viewed as a secondary role, workplace learning has risen to the top of many business leaders to-do list.
Rather than being viewed as a secondary role, workplace learning has quickly risen to the top of many business leaders’ to-do list. Even though this is just about every Learning Practitioners dream, it also comes at a price…the need for ‘accountability’. So, what should learning practitioners do? How can they prove that their learning efforts actually improve employee and business performance? Is there anything currently available that works?
From my perspective supported with my business background, however, I see that workplace learning is on thin ice with business leaders. The biggest impediment to conducting effective evaluations is the workplace learning community’s ‘Ivory tower’ mentality. There is an arrogance perpetuating throughout the field that looks down upon any suggestion that the role of learning tarnishes itself with any type of association to business. What Learning Practitioners fail to acknowledge is that their leaders view ‘learning’ as simply another business activity. This is not to undervalue workplace learning. It brings to realization that, like every other business activity, learning must prove value and account for how it contributes to helping achieve the organization’s objectives. And while leaders recognize its relevance they also recognize that if ‘learning’ does not deliver value, directly or indirectly, it will be marginalized and possibly eliminated all together.
Workplace learning is on thin ice…its biggest impediment to conducting effective evaluations is the community’s ‘Ivory tower’ mentality.
Your learning leader is not the only person responsible for effective learning evaluations. To effect complete learning accountability every learning practitioner, from instructional designers to the Chief Learning Officer, must design, develop, and deploy learning solutions that align with business objectives and contribute to tangible results.
So what is your solution to proving your learning initiatives are accountable? What have been your successes? What have been your failures? Please share your thoughts/comments below. Ultimately, this blog is about learning and delivering results for others…we do practice what we preach!
Great article Tom, as usual. Thank you for citing my work!