Measuring learning outcomes is difficult in any environment, especially in a corporate setting where learning is often viewed as incidental to employees’ day-to-day responsibilities.
In our experience, learning is most effective when it has the following two characteristics:
- Hands-on – Effective learning includes both theory and practice. It’s easy to sit through a lecture, passively absorb the information, and believe that you “get it.” However, you cannot truly understand a topic until you have applied it yourself, asked questions, and assimilated it in your own way.
- Accountable – Company leadership and mentors should be involved in learning. When learning is conducted solely by HR and/or outside consultants, employees will understand that the company regards it as unimportant and, consequently, will invest less time and energy. (If company leadership does not want to be involved in learning, perhaps you need to rethink what “learning” you’re offering.)
These two principles will improve learning outcomes and measurement. However, the improved “measurement” is not a more precise quantitative measure of learning that is recorded in an employees’ file, but rather a real-time demonstration of ability to the leaders and peers that an employee works with on a daily basis. This answer may not be helpful for quantifying learning outcomes — but that’s precisely the point. Quantifying learning reduces it to a task when it should be the genuine and open-ended pursuit of improvement and knowledge. (If you think that’s naive, it probably says more about your expectations for corporate learning than it does about our opinion!)
Most importantly, when leaders and mentors are involved, they can incorporate the learning objectives into day-to-day operations, through informal coaching or by formally incorporating them into the performance management process. This demonstrates to the employee that the company considers the learning to be important and provides continuity for the learner beyond the classroom.