In recent weeks, the volume of requests to measure the effectiveness of learning has increased dramatically. The global economy is tightening and learning is shifting in an instant to virtual and distance learning.
And businesses want to make sure every dollar is well-spent and every minute spent learning is "effective".
Unfortunately, too often in L&D, we limit our perception of "effectiveness" to the correlation between learning and business measures. This connection is difficult enough to prove under optimal situations, but something even more alarming has become apparent in recent weeks: far too few organizations are adequately measuring their performance.
Instead, they rely on what we refer to as "spontaneous metrics", where each manager or leader uses an impromptu, personal gauge to measure something.
What are spontaneous metrics?
Spontaneous metrics are created when a standard or goal is never defined, and never create an actual problem to be remedied. As a result, each individual defines their own standards and criteria. And the metrics remain ill-defined until something goes awry - like a global pandemic.
For example, one company had always managed employee productivity by "making sure employees were at their desks, working": no utilization rates, no time tracking, no productivity goals. When the entire work forced shifted to work-from-home, L&D was asked to curate productivity resources to ensure employees were being productive during the day and to "prove they were effective".
In a company that had never defined "productivity."
The volume of calls which parallel this scenario has been alarming.
How do we deal with spontaneous metrics?
Learning designed to support spontaneous metrics should be avoided, plain and simple.
Our friend Lori Niles-Hoffman at NilesNolen recently shared a COVID-19 triage chart that they developed, which details the questions L&D should ask when approached to build or migrate learning during this period. The first two (non-COVID-related) questions are specifically designed to weed out learning based on spontaneous metrics. The need for a defined target of "Success" should always be an opening requirement before we design learning.
The reason for this extends beyond learning measurement. If the organization is unable to define what success looks like, how can we possibly build learning to support it? Spontaneous metrics beget spontaneous design, which begets spontaneous performance.
Breaking that cycle before it starts is critical.
How do we measure in an environment of spontaneous metrics?
In a recent interview, Dr. Will Thalheimer shared a great quote:
"Because our L&D leaders live in a world where they are not understood, they do stupid stuff like pretending to align learning with business terminology and business school vibes - forgetting to align first with learning."
When we think of the effectiveness of learning, this quote would be a very good credo. Learning effectiveness should focus on the effectiveness of the learning, first and foremost.
If you work in an environment that forces you to design learning for spontaneous metrics, know that effective learning can be used to illuminate a culture that measures spontaneously. Focus on measuring if learning occurred first, and plan on using that data in a consultative approach to performance. There is a profound influence in showing that people know how to do something (that they have learned effectively), but that this knowledge is lost in a maze of spontaneous metrics.
If we can take anything from this period of enormous change, it is our opportunity to stop wasting time on learning that will not affect the organization and to turn our focus towards measuring learning.
A.D. Detrick is a strategy and measurement consultant, human capital analytics expert, project manager, instructional designer, and trainer. He's also a self-confessed comic book geek and a believer in using humor and humanity to teach complex concepts.
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