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Outcomes Focused Learning Measurement Principles

Measuring the impact of the learning that occurs in their organisation continues to pose a significant challenge for learning practitioners.

The keys to simplifying these challenges and creating meaningful measurement solutions rest with working closely with stakeholders and aligning closely with their needs.

Use the following four principles to assist you in scoping an improved approach to measurement.

Principle 1

This principle is perhaps the most important as it gets to the heart of what we need to measure. Eric Kandel from Columbia University (and Nobel Laureate for his work on Learning & Memory) described learning as ‘the ability to acquire new ideas from experience and retain them as memories”. Kandel links experience, longer-term memory, and behaviour change (i.e. doing things differently in light of earlier experience) to describe learning.

Knowledge assessments do not capture behaviour change. At best they capture short term memory retention.

Our efforts must instead focus on measuring behaviour change in the context of workplace performance – the outcomes of the solutions we support.

There is an opportunity for the learning function to improve learning measurement by moving away from measuring ‘activity’ and focusing instead on outcomes and impact.

Principle 2

Rather than measuring everything just-in-case, the learning function should consider two types of metric:

  • L&D Centric Metrics are focused on determining the efficiency of performance solutions. These provide data to help make decisions on aspects of L&D process improvement – such as improving consistency and removing ‘busy work’.
  • Stakeholder Metrics are focused on measuring impact and effectiveness. The ultimate success of any L&D input is determined by the stakeholder and it is the stakeholder who will decide if expectations have been met.

The opportunity for the learning function is to integrate the metrics decision approach within the performance consulting model. This ensures decisions on measurement approach and metrics are made together with the stakeholders at the beginning of any project or new initiative.

Principle 3

Stakeholders will overwhelmingly be interested in the impact of solutions on their own metrics. The Sales manager will care most about increased sales; the COO will care about improved productivity and the Safety Manager will care most about reductions in accidents and lost time through injuries.

‘In any transaction, the supplier determines the price, but the purchaser determines the value’

Much of what L&D commonly measures and reports on constitutes ‘activity’ or ‘inputs’. These emphasise that L&D has been busy, rather than successful.

Workplace performance and performance improvements are ‘outcomes’. The best way to approach measurement is to focus on the end game.

The opportunity for the learning function is to train itself to think in terms of OUTPUTS rather than INPUTS and PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT rather than LEARNING.

Principle 4

It is impossible to measure the value only by measuring the tangibles. Most of your organisation’s value now resides in intangible assets:

  • In people
  • In technology
  • In brands and goodwill

Although ROI inputs may be easy to calculate, the outputs can be much more difficult. It is also often impossible to isolate the impact of specific learning inputs.

As Robert Brinkerhoff says, “There is no uniform set of metrics suitable for everyone”.

By engaging stakeholders in the early stages of the performance consulting process, desired outcomes and impact (future performance) can be defined and agreed at the outset.

Look also for correlations beyond any potential learning impact. The impact of the ‘70’ and ‘20’ is likely to include a range of direct and indirect outcomes.

The opportunity for the learning function is to integrate the metrics decision approach within the performance consulting model and to define the value to be delivered through performance solutions.

Summary of measurement principles

  1. Agree metrics with stakeholders at the beginning of any project or new initiative. This is one of the critical ‘first steps’ that must be taken
  2. Align metrics decisions with a performance consulting model
  3. Focus on measuring outputs rather than inputs
  4. Look for correlations beyond any potential learning impact.

Explore Further

The 70:20:10 Forum toolkit contains a variety of important tools and resources to support the adoption of these principles in your own organisation. The Measurement Toolkit and Performance Consulting resources will allow you to explore these principles further and download/adapt guidance and tools to support your own approach.

This post raises a number of important considerations in terms of how we measure the impact of learning and the skills required of the HR/L&D function to define stakeholder and outcome centric metrics. What is your current approach to measurement and how are you supporting a transition to measuring outcomes and impact? Why not share your comments and experiences with our community. 

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1 comment

Very useful reminder that aims, objectives and measures of success need to be agree up front as part of the project planning process. Time invested up front will enable benefits of a programme to be realised at a variety of points.