The learning and development industry has advanced significantly in the past decade. Content has become more targeted, delivery methods have expanded, and the classroom has changed into a more collaborative, supplemental learning space.
Advancements in technology also have accelerated learning thanks to social media, e-learning, game-based and mobile learning. In the meantime, social and informal learning have infiltrated daily work at a faster rate.
The advancement picture is not all rosy, however.
Learning evaluation and measurement have come a long way since Donald Kirkpatrick, widely credited as a trailblazer in the field, first introduced his four levels of learning evaluation in 1959. But the industry’s pace in modernizing the practice to fit evolving business needs has lagged.
Some learning practitioners are stuck on the basic levels of the Kirkpatrick taxonomy, while those who have ventured into the deeper levels struggle to determine impact and results. Others have abandoned the philosophy altogether, arguing it is out of step with modern business conditions. However, a deluge of analytics, paired with an evolving focus on soft skills development, has only enhanced evaluation’s potency.
Further, enhanced scrutiny in corporate budgets following the 2008 financial crisis has pressured learning leaders to show the business value of learning to senior executives — an audience already somewhat skeptical of the function’s strategic importance.
This has led some to approach measurement on divergent paths. On one hand, learning leaders strive to adopt methods to help them understand how to improve programs. On the other, many scramble to turn troves of evaluation data into isolated return on investment figures to show senior leaders learning is worthwhile.
Some organizations have shown progress. What’s important for learning leaders still wading through the chaos of taxonomies, vendors, data and case studies is to remember every organization is unique, said Robert Brinkerhoff, professor emeritus at the University of Western Michigan. There is no uniform approach.
No matter the complexity, the broader ambition for learning leaders should be to determine clear goals or business metrics — retention, promotions, sales, performance — that need improvement, and align learning to match. Doing so from the start will make proper evaluation and proving learning’s worth one and the same.