Learning in the modern workplace: using measurement to inform your curriculum

Reading time: 5m

AuthorNick DaviesChief Commercial Officer (CCO)
Reading Time5 minutes

The value of learning analytics can’t be overstated. As the modern workplace becomes more technologically-advanced, new roles are emerging and additional skills are required for employees and practitioners to keep up with the pace. This, combined with increasing pressure to deliver more results for less, means it’s essential that you prove to your leaders that L&D in your organisation is really worth the investment.

Measurement, when used well, provides a tool for L&D managers to be able to demonstrate the true value of L&D to leadership. This is achieved by presenting all-important evidence of return on investment (ROI). In this case, the ROI is the measurable return on the financial investment made towards learning and training activities in your organisation.

And the greater the ROI, the higher the value of L&D to your organisation.

But the benefits do not end there. Measurement can also:

  • Help inform the curriculum by determining what it is that people need to learn
  • Help identify gaps in knowledge and/or skills in your organisation
  • Help determine the business impact of any skills gaps

So why are so few senior learning professionals measuring training against business KPIs? It's been revealed that the most common form of training evaluation is the simple learner evaluation form – or ‘happy sheet’ – and this, perhaps, is our clearest indication of where the problem lies. Most decisions are based on cost and learner feedback, as opposed to considering how to measure performance. The reason for this is that the ROI of the training isn’t worked out and there aren’t processes in place to include the measurement of effectiveness.

So how can we overcome the challenge and start proving results in way that’s clear and evidence-based? What data analytics tools do we need? And how do we measure the outcomes of learning in an organisation when the trends are moving towards a less structured and more informal approach to learning?

Which learning evaluation model you use will be entirely down to personal preference, but it’s worth doing your research to know what the choices are. There are several to choose from, though the most popular one is currently the Kirkpatrick-Phillips model. This is the model we recommend for Thinqi customers. (For more on learning evaluation models, check out our handy blog post ‘Made to Measure: A Customised Approach to Learning Evaluation‘.)

You might be familiar with the old ‘Kirkpatrick’ model. This was revolutionary when Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick originally defined it in the 1950s but, over time, it became noted for its limitations because it didn’t take ROI into account. The Kirkpatrick-Phillips model takes it that one step further – Kirkpatrick defined satisfaction up to results, then in the 1990s Dr. Jack Phillips added the ROI cherry on top.

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What are you measuring?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” – Peter Drucker

You need to determine exactly what it is that you want to prove to stakeholders to get them on board with your L&D. What goals matter to them? How can L&D help to achieve these goals?

Different stakeholders will have different priorities. Say you want to demonstrate to business leaders that the skills learned through the current training programme can help employees work more productively. To do this, you’ll need to investigate their current work output, collect evidence and feedback as your baseline, and then measure this again once the training programme has been completed. Perhaps you discover that employees who complete the training are now able to complete 30% more work in the same time. These are the figures you can present to your leaders as evidence of increased productivity (and, as a result, improved ROI).

An excellent example was made by Lee McDonald of Saïd Business School at the 2018 World of Learning conference. To measure ROI effectively, she had potential participants of training courses discuss with their managers what they were aiming to achieve through the training and outline what was being done to support it. She then put the participants on the relevant training course. At the end of each training session she would assign them to write an action plan (detailing exactly what actions they were going to do next) for their managers to sign off. An agreed time period was decided (for example, three months), with McDonald later following up to investigate which parts of the action plan had been put into practice and which had not. Any parts which had not been put into practice were flagged, and the cause fully investigated along with learner feedback questions. This in turn revealed the impact each training session had on the business school.

The beauty of this is that not only did it pinpoint exactly what was working, but it also prevented any irrelevant training taking place.

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Using learning analytics to drive your curriculum

How do you know what content to include in your curriculum? With so many topics and resources to consider, whittling down your choices to the ones that really matter can seem like an insurmountable task. Unless, of course, you’re able to pinpoint exactly what it is that people want from the learning. This is where measurement can help shape your L&D through data-driven learning design – in other words, examining data before you design your curriculum.

Take analytics tools, for example. These allow you to identify the content and resources that learners are engaging with the most, what times they are most accessed and on which devices. Are people responding better to videos, documents, e-learning or webinars? Additional features, such as the reviews and ratings used in Thinqi, can provide you with a useful indication of which resources learners find the most relevant and helpful. This is the content you need to take note of.

Without measurement, you are simply trying to predict what learners want, with no real way of knowing how they’ll respond to the learning content. Measurement can help you formulate a responsive strategy tailored to the specific wants and needs of the learners themselves. And it’s this that’s going to maximise engagement, make the best use of learning resources and, consequently, create positive results.

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Using measurement to target skills gaps

Earlier, we noted that measurement can be used to successfully target skills and knowledge gaps in your learning programme. This is vital for allowing L&D managers to fill these gaps in an agile and iterative way.

According to a study by the Open University, 90% of employers struggled to recruit workers with the right skills in 2017, with the skills gap costing the UK an estimated £2 billion a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing. These figures alone demonstrate the importance of a good L&D strategy and are the sorts of figures that should have your business leaders sitting up and listening.

To effectively target these gaps, you need to perform a skills gap analysis. This is a tool that measures the difference between an employee’s current skills and the required skill set.

Identifying and working on these gaps will benefit the employee by providing a clear path for personal development, increasing chances of promotion and making them more competent in their day-to-day tasks. For the organisation, having employees with the right skills increases productivity, improves employee retention and boosts ROI.

It’s a win-win situation all round.

In summary…

Measurement may have become something of a dirty word in some corporate cultures, but if you know how to do it effectively, with solid, relevant results, you can transform it from being an organisational headache to an essential tool for raising the business value of L&D. Want to drive engagement and contribute to overall business improvement? Then get measuring.

If your L&D is worth it, you can prove it.


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