Discover how to use evidence-based learning to craft effective training strategies!
I recently saw a LinkedIn post where a training professional proudly shared that their company managed to clock up their pre-pandemic target number of training hours, partly by going online. While this effort to focus on training during these challenging times is commendable, I couldn’t help but think that the number of training hours is by itself a rather insufficient measurement of training effectiveness.
Instead of using traditional measures such as the simple learner evaluation form, learning and development (L&D) leaders have embraced evidence-based learning which focuses on outputs, such as behaviour change and performance improvements as a result of learning.
According to Towards Maturity’s 2019 The Transformation Journey report, learning innovation has delivered more than 9% improvement in outcomes leading to growth, productivity, transformation and profit over the last 7 years. It is therefore worth studying how learning leaders use evidence-based learning to help develop high-impact learning cultures at their organisations.
What is evidence-based learning?
One difficulty with adopting evidence-based learning is that it appears to be a vague concept. When faced with the question of which measures are best at assessing training effectiveness, the answer we often get - “it depends” - is unhelpfully subjective.
It’s perhaps easier to start by saying what evidence-based learning is not. It isn’t using standalone measurements that are disconnected from business problems. It is about using the appropriate evidence to quantify the impact of the training session.
Learning leaders from high-performing learning organisations typically start with the business problem rather than a learning solution. This means that before implementing a learning strategy, learning leaders would determine what business problems the training is meant to address, according to Emerald Works.
L&D professionals need to ensure that the learning solutions are not only in tune with but actively support their company’s goals whether these are to help the company grow, increase productivity, or improve profitability.
Emerald Works also finds that learning leaders in high-performing learning cultures use analytics to improve the learning experience (61% vs 16% on average). This significant difference shows that learning leaders are much more adept than the average L&D professional at using evidence-based data to design their learning solutions.
What are the benefits of using evidence-based learning?
Towards Maturity’s report identifies overcoming cultural resistance as one of the biggest challenges to building a learning culture in an organisation. Over half of L&D practitioners (59%) believe that managers are reluctant to change and have traditional expectations of organisational learning that are difficult to challenge.
One of Towards Maturity’s suggested solutions is for L&D to share the results and value of organisational learning with managers - something that is currently only done by 19% of L&D professionals.
Thus, the major benefit of adopting an evidence-based learning strategy is that your focus on critical business problems will allow you to easily communicate the business benefits of the training solutions to line managers and C-Suite leaders. This will help you get the buy-in and resources you need for your learning solutions.
A secondary benefit is that the identification of critical business problems early on will help you clarify what evidence is needed to measure the training outcomes.
How can you implement evidence-based learning strategies?
Just as there is a wide range of evidence that you can use to measure training outcomes (depending on the identified business problem the training is meant to address), there are a multitude of approaches that you can use to implement evidence-based L&D.
It is important to bear in mind that although the theoretical best practice recommends that L&D practitioners start from the business problem, the learning design process is often an iterative one in real-life. Nevertheless, the basic principle of using the relevant data as evidence of training impact should hold.
Below are a couple of case studies that highlight how an evidence-based approach could be introduced to the learning design process.
Case Study 1: Benchmark L&D practices
Personnel Today describes how Warwickshire County Council decided to go through a benchmarking process to see how their L&D strategy matched up to other organisations. Additionally, they could see what they could do differently.
Based on the benchmarking exercise, the council conducted a learner landscape survey among employees and found that people wanted to collaborate. As a result, they developed communities of practice and internal coaching pools, and looked into providing a collaborative space for their workers.
In addition, the council is shifting its evaluation process so that it looks for behaviour change such as monitoring how people have put their training into practice. This will result in more appropriate L&D evidence. It will also help them when conducting the next round of benchmarking and survey - to quantify if any improvements have been made.
Case Study 2: Effective ROI measurement shapes learning design
For L&D, the all-important ROI or return on investment is the return on the financial investment made in training activities in your company. Lee McDonald of Saïd Business School demonstrated at the 2018 World of Learning conference in detailed steps how to measure ROI effectively. She then showed how this could in turn shape your learning design.
Here are the steps that McDonald asked potential participants of training courses to take:
- Discuss with their managers what they were aiming to achieve through the training.
- At the end of each training session, write an action plan - detailing exactly what actions they were going to do next - for their managers to sign off.
- Agree on a time period with their managers, e.g. 3 months, after which there would be a follow-up to see which parts of the action plan had been put into practice and which had not.
- Any parts that had not been put into practice were flagged and the cause would be investigated.
This evidence-based process pinpointed what was working, and also prevented any further irrelevant training from taking place.
Thus, the appropriate ROI measurement could help you shape your data-driven learning design. You would therefore be able to examine the data before you design your training curriculum.
You could also consider trialling the initial training on a pilot group of participants. You would then be able to assess the effectiveness of the training course before rolling it out to the whole organisation.
In summary, evidence-based learning is a powerful strategy that can help L&D deliver real and measurable results. As we’ve discussed, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to implementing an evidence-based learning strategy. Instead, L&D professionals are encouraged to develop tailored learning solutions to achieve business-critical goals. L&D practitioners would thus benefit from keeping up-to-date with learning leaders’ best practices and seeing if they could adapt and adopt them for their organisations.
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About the author
Carol Pang is a Digital Content Editor for findcourses.co.uk. Prior to this, she has 12 years of experience in the corporate and financial sectors.
She believes that people are fundamental to an organisation’s success, and that effective training can create a motivated and engaged workforce.