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David Perring

Fosway Group

Chief Insights Officer

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Why is digital learning’s value so poorly measured today… and what can you do about it?


The results are in from Fosway’s 2019 Digital Learning Realities Research and the findings on measuring value leave a lot to be desired. Why is L&D not gaining ground here? Fosway’s Director of Research David Perring explores...

It is it quite chastening to think that today only 34% of L&D professionals see themselves as very effective at measuring the value add of digital learning.

When so much of our learning is powered by technology, this deficiency shows us both how poorly it is applied and unimportant it is perceived to be when it comes to adding value to organisations today.  

When you consider the power of data, there is no doubt in my mind that it should be the foundation of how we organise and facilitate learning – let alone evidence its value. After more than 25 years of eLearning, it is frankly shocking how little progress has been made in making the value of learning visible against real business measures.

In the digital age, it should be a worry for us all that so much of the learning technology adopted by organisations is still focused on cost avoidance, rather than providing real proof of its value add. It raises the question ‘Why is L&D so immature at measuring learning outcomes, when it should be so easy?’

It’s time to move beyond engagement and attendance as L&D’s primary measures of success

The biggest buzz in the learning technology industry of late has been around moving from employee engagement to experience. And given how poorly some learning technologies have been deployed over the past 25 years, it is not surprising that it has become such a hot topic.

But the challenge this creates is one of group-think. If we were able to create more engaging learning with higher adoption, this would solve the problem of digitising learning and create a nirvana of modern learners and modern learning organisations.

But the bigger picture of personal and business outcomes is being ignored by too many. And this has damning consequences both on the ability of L&D to mobilise investment, time and resources to learning, but also on the quality of the learning experience itself.

By focusing on the superficial issues around the approaches to learning, we risk ignoring the bigger picture and the more influential story of the importance of learning to delivering business success – and the opportunity to tell the story of how learning could drive much higher returns.  

The 2019 Digital Learning Realities research, carried out by Fosway in partnership with Learning Technologies, shows that the relentless pursuit of attendance and completion still dominates as the way to prove L&D’s value today.

Even though 66% might seem low, it is important to realise that that is the percentage of respondents who try to measure the value of digital learning in the first place.

The reality is that outcomes are what really matter. And you can’t evaluate outcomes without knowing where you are today.

The picture becomes truly dysfunctional when it comes to how these organisations ‘measure’ against strategic goals, organisational targets, learning costs and investment, key results, tactical objectives or comparative team performance.

  • Only 37% measure against strategic goals

  • Only 28% measure against key results

  • Only 21% measure team performance

  • One in five have no measures in place at all

To my mind, it is only by measuring the value add and embedding it deeply into the learning process that we can ever ensure that we commit the right levels of effort, time and investment from all our stakeholders – leaders and learners alike.

But, more importantly, it’s the only way to personalise learning and transform the profession away from its obsession with content over performance. Because L&D’s fixation with content and its delivery – rather than outcomes – is at the root of the problem.  

Learning starts with knowing where you are and why…

The reality is that outcomes are what really matter. And you can’t evaluate outcomes without knowing where you are today – as individuals, teams and organisations as a whole. Even when it is not necessarily easily accessible from business systems, the data you need to assess where you are will exist in your organisation.

Without it, you have nothing on which to base your measurement of learning. And without that, you ultimately will not mobilise the desired levels of individual or leadership commitment to people’s learning in your organisation.

And it doesn’t take much to make it happen! In an operational context, measurement is all around us. It’s in, for example:

  • Mystery shopper feedback

  • Task or competency assessment by self, 180 - 360 assessment from peers, managers and customers

  • Performance metrics and KPIs

  • Quality assessment feedback from quality management processes

  • Manager’s performance assessment

  • Accredited assessor checklists and contextual assessment

As we look ahead to 2025 and beyond, the learning experience is not simply about how we target content at people, like some analysts have been suggesting.

Analytics matters to everyone

Ultimately, we should be basing what we do as L&D professionals on the measures of our individual people as well as organisational goals and key results, because that is the foundation of personalisation.

As we look ahead to 2025 and beyond, the learning experience is not simply about how we target content at people, like some analysts have been suggesting. It is about harnessing Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics and machine intelligence to use data for the benefit of the individual – not just as a ‘stick’ to track completion rates.  

This is about changing our relationship with learning and managing that relationship as an ongoing experience – using nudges for practice, peer-to-peer connections, feedback, teamwork and learning content to make learning agile, personalised and active.

It is in this approach where the biggest revolution of organisational learning lies, as we seek to energise peak performance and connectivity – not just direct the consumption of content.

Think about baking in from the start personalisation for outcomes and value add. Don’t get sidetracked by thinking of it as a way of driving adoption and engagement, but see personalisation as a way of making a measurable difference – to real individual, team and organisational performance.

Close the circle on the value add and apply analytics to the data that really, really, really matters… Not content consumption data, which in reality matters much less.

You can download the latest results from the 2019 Digital Learning Realities Research here

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Author Profile Picture
David Perring

Chief Insights Officer

Read more from David Perring

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