How to measure the impact of learning and development

"If you can't measure it, you can't improve it," is a quote attributed to Peter Drucker, the man who invented modern business management. For far too long, measuring the impact of learning has been an exception to this rule.

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How to measure the impact of learning and development

"If you can't measure it, you can't improve it," is a quote attributed to Peter Drucker, the man who invented modern business management. For far too long, measuring the impact of learning has been an exception to this rule.

Why? Because measuring the impact of learning is challenging. Learning and development programmes have evolved and improved significantly over the last few decades but real tangible shifts in behaviour and performance have been difficult to quantify. Until now.

If you don’t measure it, you can’t judge it

Before they choose a L&D provider, organisations usually want to know how they evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes. It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask but once the programme has been rolled out and delivered, a successful implementation of the programme is often seen as more important than the impact. It’s a ‘box ticked, what’s next,’ attitude.  

L&D managers have traditionally been satisfied with anecdotal evidence that is largely based on survey results with generic feedback from participants saying how much they enjoyed the programme, how great the facilitator was, and rating different aspects of it out of 10.

Impact matters

Recently however, there's been a big shift in the importance of measuring the impact. Senior management wants to know the impact of the L&D programmes the organisation is investing in. It’s no longer enough to tick the box and roll out a programme; organisations want learning tangibly linked to improved performance in different aspects of the business.  

“There's a recognition that there needs to be greater investment in learning but also executive teams, CFOs and GMs want to understand the impact of that investment,” says Drew McGuire of Capability Group. “They want to know what they get for the money they spend and the influence learning has on broader indicators such as individual and organisational performance, staff retention, or employee engagement.”

Rich data revolution

No longer are programme engagement or completion rates a sufficient indicator of programme performance, let alone value. Instead, there are now a multitude of data sources that not only provide rich insight into the capabilities of an organisation and impact of learning, but together, provide a more accurate predictor of future success.

Even before the pandemic, the implementation of new digital learning solutions was gathering pace. That has picked up over the past 18 months, giving organisations an opportunity to both enhance the delivery of learning programmes and capture high-quality data.  

Richer data can now tell us far more than whether or not people complete learning modules, how often they log in to an LMS, or how satisfied they are with the workshops they have completed. Now, the data can provide evidence of a capability lift and how that relates to the operational and financial performance of a business.  

Data can be collected at every stage of the learner’s journey, whether the interaction is digital or physical. And not only can data be collected, the programme can be designed to maximise the resulting insights. This is where the real value is; translating the data into actionable insights that positively affect the performance of your people and your organisation.

Insights on impact  

As technology enables better data collection, deep insights into the impact of learning at an individual and organisational level are more accessible than ever. We’ve identified five key categories for collecting learning data and interpreting the impact at various levels of the organisation. The five categories are:

> Knowledge

> Skills  

> Behaviours

> Talent

> Business impact

When viewed together, they can provide more holistic, accurate intelligence and insights into the multi-dimensional impact of learning. This can help establish direct correlations between knowledge development and culture, career development and retention, and crucially, investment in learning development and broader commercial outcomes.  

Many of the programmes we custom design for clients are blended solutions. They utilise one or several technology-enabled learning tools at various stages of the learning experience, whether that’s online talent assessment, gamified microlearning, immersive learning experiences or upskilling and reskilling tools. This is combined with a range of self-directed activities for each individual participant to immerse themselves in content and face-to-face sessions to leverage the benefits of social learning and learning from shared experiences with peers.  

We’ve developed dashboards that allow stakeholders to better quantify the value of its learning and development programmes and the impact of learning at a personal, team and organisational level.

Measurement, after all, is just one piece of the puzzle. The real benefit of learning and development and the core role of managers and business leaders according to Drucker is, “the relationship with people, the development of mutual confidence, the identification of people, the creation of a community.”

Want to learn more?

In our next article, we explore how to design learning experiences that have a positive business impact. And if you want to find out more about how the latest learning technology can enhance programme design and quantify business impact and read some of our client success stories, download the “Crystallising Impact” eBook here

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