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Ask Providers What They Measure

It’s time to leave “training for training’s sake” behind.
By John Higgins

Before we launch headlong into this month’s innovation topic—the measurement of learning—I want to report to you on Elliot Masie’s Learning 2010 conference, which I just attended. Based on the trends discussed at the conference, I see a level of emerging innovation consistency in the learning industry. This sense of consistency is valuable, as it affords us the opportunity to understand where we need to focus.

In recent months we’ve discussed social networking and mobility. No surprise that these two topics were prominent at the conference. So if I were you, these are at least two innovation trends I’d seek to integrate into my learning strategy and LSO arrangements. The third topic of significance I noted is digital storytelling. This is a fascinating trend away from slides laden with text and boring graphics, moving towards rich images and a greater use of pictures and video to relate the points one wishes to convey. Simple—yet, fascinating. In a future column we’ll take a closer look at digital storytelling.

Behind every learning innovation trend is first and foremost a business, technology, or social trend that is driving that trend. For example, social learning is being driven by the growth in popularity of networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. These tools are used by many of your employees to support their personal communication preferences.
From a mobility perspective, greater bandwidth and more powerful devices, two technology trends, position us to deploy learning via smart phones and tablet computers. Business trends such as globalization, the economic crises, and the increasing demands on our time are all interacting to drive a number of learning innovations. These include user-generated content, learning chunked into smaller pieces (or learning nuggets as I prefer to call them), and a more effective use of blended learning approaches.

Turning back to measurement, I often hear people debate whether or not learning impact can be measured. “How do I really know,” they often ask, “that learning made the difference?” This question makes my head explode, and apologies in advance to those who have uttered that phrase. But what a ridiculous question! If learning doesn’t make a difference, why then are we spending billions of dollars on learning each year? It’s akin to asking “how do we know instilling a safety first mindset helps to reduce industrial accidents on our manufacturing lines?”

I will concede that the measurement of the business impact of learning can be challenging, thus the need for innovation in measurement. To be sure, in addition to technical innovation in learning measurement, a degree of process innovation is required to achieve effective learning measurement. Working in concert with their LSO buyers, LSO suppliers are making great strides in proving the value and business impact of learning. Leveraging processes and technology from companies such as KnowledgeAdvisors, a leader in learning metrics, LSO providers are integrating a higher level of statistical rigor into the analysis of learning results. As you assess your provider’s capabilities you’ll want to understand what capabilities they’ve created to capture empirical data to support the analysis of business impact. You’ll also want to understand the process model your provider uses to isolate the effects of learning on business outcomes. Indeed, I respectfully suggest you want to demand that your providers demonstrate a tangible return from the various learning services they provide.

And to my friends in the LSO supplier community, with the measurement of learning impact, you are sitting on a significant point of competitive differentiation. The competitive landscape in LSO for learning measurement still needs thought and market leadership. It’s time to help lead the industry toward that holy grail of running learning like a business. Through the measurement of learning’s impact on business results, there is an opportunity to ensure that the learning budget is optimized for efficiency and effectiveness. As learning services providers, you have the value of expertise garnered from the many clients you serve. You are able to identify measurement best practices and use cases that will help your clients migrate to a return on investment (ROI) model within their learning operations.

It’s time to leave “training for training’s sake” in the past. Working together as LSO buyers and suppliers, we are positioned to demonstrate that we are indeed focused on driving business results through learning. Innovative measurement technology and processes provide the tools necessary to ensure that our learning strategy is aligned with business strategy, goals, and objectives. As an industry, we can join our other functional peers in research & development, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and sales in running our business unit with sound financial investment decisions. In doing so, you’ll reduce the volatility in your annual budgeting process, and you’ll gain credibility in your organization as a business leader. Now, go show your organization just how much value learning is providing to your company.
John Higgins is founder of Higgins Learning Group and was previously global senior director for Accenture HR & Learning BPO Services. He can be reached at

Tags: Consultants & Advisors, Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Global, Learning, Professional Contribution

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