Earlier this year, we ran the Digital Learning Blueprint MOOC to help learning leaders develop their plan for incorporating today’s digital options into their learning ecosystem. As you would expect, measuring the effectiveness of digital learning was a hot topic. The program included sage advice about business metrics from client- and partner-guest speakers and from participants sharing their data experiences and questions.
One learning from the MOOC: even in the 21st century, even after the dawn of big data, we still don’t always feel equipped to measure the business impact of our learning programs.
Some L&D colleagues think collecting business metrics is complicated and difficult. It doesn’t have to be. It can be complicated and difficult if you think you need to distinguish correlation from causation, isolate the impact of training from all other variables (like market forces, compensation, quality of leadership, etc.) and quantify the financial impact after backing out the fully loaded costs of your program. That is one way to approach business metrics, but it’s not the only way.
Data gathering is a habit, a practice, like exercising. You don’t have to start with a marathon. Start small, start reasonable, start with what’s possible and grow your practice over time. If you’re looking for an easier way to get started, here are a few suggestions from our Digital Learning Blueprint MOOC.
Before developing a training program, identify just 1 or 2 measurable ways the organization and/or people will benefit. Is there a monthly or quarterly report that tells your business partner we have a problem to solve, an area for improvement? What current data point is bothering them, like a rock in their shoe? For instance, is the program meant to:
- Decrease time to competence?
- Increase revenue associated with a particular product line?
- Improve a specific managerial or technical skill?
- Reduce error rates?
Once you have identified the measure, gather baseline data. What does the data say today that indicates the need for improvement? Document it with your business partner, before you implement training, so you can celebrate together as you move that needle. Chances are the data resides within the business function, not L&D, so develop a relationship with that data owner to make it easier to check in and measure progress over time.
Data gathered during a training program can be leading indicators of the desired business impact. Digital learning solutions generally have a wealth data available, so be selective. In fact, be wary of focusing too much data collection effort on what learners do IN training and not enough on what learners do AFTER training. You don’t need lots of data, just the right data. For example, in training:
- Should learners complete the training in 1 sitting or return to it over time? If they should return, how often, at what intervals and for what reasons? What’s your plan to motivate the desired behavior?
- What are the best predictors of business impact: the content learners complete, the insights they share, the tests they pass? At what points do you want to gather this data, particularly if you want to intervene to try to improve engagement during the program?
This is also an opportunity to gather data for continuous improvement of the program. For instance:
- What content and activities are valued most by learners, and why?
- Among those learners who have greatest success on the job after training, does the data suggest that they did something different or better in training?
Business metrics often involve quantitative data, but don’t forget the power of stories. We humans are drawn to and remember stories, even those humans in the C-suite. Here are a few ways to gather meaningful qualitative data about the impact of your program. By the way, make sure the team developing the program knows you plan to use these measures as a way of evaluating their work.
- As the very last thing in the program, ask learners if they found it relevant. Keep the survey incredibly short to improve your chances of getting a high response rate. For instance:
- Would you recommend this program to a colleague? Yes/No
- Why or why not? ______________
- Identify 1 observable behavior that should improve soon after training. At the beginning of the program, let both learners and their managers know you’re going to ask about it. After the program, send managers a message like this:
- Since your direct report(s) attended “Program Name” 3 weeks ago, have you noticed an improvement in _____? Yes/No
- Please share examples. _____________
- Get success stories straight from learners. Email them 30-60 days after the training to ask how they have applied or benefited from the program.
- Please take a moment to share how “Program Name” has helped you in your job.
If you’re curious to hear more specifics about how to begin your pursuit of business metrics, email us for access to the Digital Learning Blueprint MOOC.