Building a Strategic Approach to Learning Evaluation: This Five-Step Strategy Serves as a Vehicle to Promote Shared Responsibility with Key Clients and Obtain Their Commitment Up Front to Engage in Action Planning for Positive Change

Article excerpt

Building a strategic approach to learning evaluation is a solution that demonstrates value, deepens partnerships with clients, and promotes collaboration with multiple stakeholders and HR colleagues--and is a priority for integrated talent management.

The goal for learning should be to enable performance; this objective should like-wise drive evaluation initiatives. Considering that formal training accounts for only a small component of learning (Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger estimate that 70 percent of learning is obtained from assignments and on-the-job experiences; about 20 percent is developed through relationships, networks, and feedback; and only about 10 percent is derived from formal training processes), evaluation initiatives must reflect the overall environment and context in which learning takes place.

Since training is only a small part of the equation that drives performance, evaluation must incorporate a more integrated, systematic inquiry. A holistic view of performance--the context, barriers, and supports in which the performance must be realized--is essential.

Too often, evaluation and metrics are based more on talk than action. Measuring impact continues to be one of the most challenging aspects of the function, according to Kevin Oakes, founder and CEO of the Institute for Corporate Productivity, which studies best practices in learning. Other research from Bersin & Associates shows that fewer than 7 percent of organizations regularly measure learning impact.

Learning evaluation often is limited to Kirkpatrick's Level 1, also known as the "smile sheet." Although Level 1 is easy to do, these reaction-level data are rarely used in any systematic fashion such as determining how the data will be used, with whom it will be shared, and what actions, if any, will be taken as a result.

This somewhat dismal state of learning evaluation is not surprising, given multiple barriers that include

* an evaluation study without a sponsor or a clear picture of how data will be used

* concern about obtaining negative results

* business interruption or costs

* short-term focus

* lack of skill or knowledge about how to conduct evaluation studies r

* expectations and buy-in of stakeholders that are not established in advance. However, the benefits of conducting evaluation and demonstrating value more than outweigh these formidable barriers. These include

* creating accountability--what gets measured gets done

* establishing a baseline for ongoing improvements

* developing momentum and support for learning solutions

* enhancing the learning function brand

* identifying success stories and best practices to be used in future organizational change and training initiatives.

The solution to this dilemma is to build a strategic approach to learning evaluation. A learning evaluation strategy (LES) is a guide for designing and implementing a learning evaluation that consists of a plan of action that integrates learning with business goals and values (see "Expected Outcomes," on page 56). LES is based on five principles:

1. Focus on high-priority learning areas.

2. Address evaluation requirements of multiple stakeholders.

3. Foster shared responsibility for performance improvement.

4. Collect data and use resources efficiently.

5. Conduct action planning.

Focus on high-priority learning areas

Aside from compliance training, which often mandates the demonstration of learning transfer, only a small percentage of training programs warrant conducting the more involved levels of evaluation, Levels 3-5 (see "Five Levels of Evaluation" on page 56). Due to the expense, time, and business interruption that learning evaluation involves, differential investment is essential for other training initiatives. …