(The following is an edited excerpt from our ebook, ‘5 Barriers to Effective Learning Measurement and How to Solve Them’)
For the past three years, we’ve asked L&D professionals to share their thoughts, challenges, and progress in our annual ‘Measuring the Business Impact of Learning’ survey and research report.
What we’ve observed over this period is a steady increase in the pressure that L&D teams face from senior stakeholders to measure the business impact of learning. The 2019 data demonstrated that nearly 70 percent of respondents are now feeling the ‘pressure to measure’. But at the same time, L&D teams are reporting a range of barriers to implementing a learning measurement strategy effectively.
We know it’s not fashionable to talk about ‘problems’ or ‘challenges’, but if L&D is really going to succeed at effective and intelligent learning measurement then we need to talk frankly about the issues we’re facing. From conversations and our own experience, we’ve found that these barriers tend to be in the following five areas:
Learning Measurement Barrier #1: Stakeholder Buy-in
This is often the first challenge. Without stakeholder buy-in, the ability to secure investment or gain access to data needed to demonstrate business impact, becomes incredibly difficult.
We’ve been told that many senior stakeholders are skeptical that it’s actually possible to measure the effectiveness and value of learning, especially in relation to demonstrating the business impact learning can deliver.
Part of this problem may be that, historically, L&D functions are often siloed within organizations, operating in isolation in contrast to other operational functions who are regularly interacting, such as marketing and sales. Understandably, breaking down this barrier and challenging perceptions can be difficult. L&D teams need to prove they understand the overarching goals the business needs to achieve and make the case that learning has a vital role to play in achieving them.
Learning Measurement Barrier #2: A Lack of Skills
We know from engaging with L&D teams that a lack of data analytics and analysis skills is often a key barrier to implementing a data-driven measurement program. But an effective measurement program, even at its most basic level, is going to require at least a rudimentary understanding of how to collect and evaluate data from different sources.
Here’s one representative soundbite from one of our learning measurement workshops:
We think in pictures, not numbers—data doesn’t come naturally to me.”
Research seems to back up this sentiment too. A report by Towards Maturity and The Chartered Institute of Professional Development has demonstrated that there’s a significant skills gap around data analytics in L&D.
Part of this problem is also a cultural or mindset issue. L&D professionals haven’t historically prioritized more numerical or analytical skills, and L&D has traditionally been populated with professionals from humanities backgrounds. At many of our workshops, we’ve done a quick straw poll on this point and each time we’ve found that the majority of attendees studied humanities subjects.
Learning Measurement Barrier #3: Gathering Good Data
Data collection is an integral part of any learning measurement program, but it can also be the most problematic stage for many teams embarking on implementing their first measurement initiatives.
Here are a few comments from respondents to our 2019 Measuring the Business Impact of Learning Survey on the issues they’re facing with data collection:
“We’re struggling to turn data into useful information.”
“Disparate data makes it hard for us to tie things together.”
“Data mess—we have too many sources and none of them are joined up.”
To solve this problem you need to get the data you want to use synchronized and combined in a standardized way. This means implementing processes and standards that ensure compatibility, completeness, and reliability throughout your data collection process.
Learning Measurement Barrier #4: Understanding What Measurement Tools Are Needed
There are particular platforms and technologies available that will make a big data approach to learning measurement a far easier and fruitful endeavor in the long term. But navigating the ever-expanding learning technologies market to understand what solutions will meet your particular needs can prove overwhelming for many—especially considering that these platforms may require significant investment.
Learning Measurement Barrier #5: Using Data Insights Effectively
Truly effective learning measurement is about what you do once you have the data and insights at your fingertips. Once the data is flowing, L&D teams need to be able to leverage those insights in powerful, useful ways. Whether that’s to demonstrate business impact or to refine the delivery of learning programs, the insights gleaned from measurement must be leveraged in a systematic way that supports a culture of continuous improvement.
But we know that sometimes organizations struggle to get to this final stage of measurement maturity.
Solving Your Measurement Challenges
From our surveys, measurement workshops and client work, we’ve seen these barriers crop up again and again. But after years spent investigating the measurement effort in L&D, we’re in a position to offer some really practical solutions.
In our ebook, ‘5 Barriers to Effective Learning Measurement and How to Solve Them’, our measurement experts do just that, examining each of these common challenges and detailing practical ways for you and your team to overcome them.