2021

Transforming Corporate Learning with Better L&D Strategy, Design & Measurement

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Across the globe, only about a third of all new learning is successfully transferred into the workplace, despite billions of dollars being spent annually on corporate learning transformation. With such vast insufficiencies at play, the need for organizations to assess their L&D strategy and its outcomes has become incredibly important.

ID9’s Chief Research Officer, Dr. Paul Lever, has looked into the issue in-depth, specifically around how learning transfer can be dramatically improved by the engagement and accountability of trainers, managers, and key stakeholders.

Dr. Lever’s findings revealed several factors that could positively impact the successful transfer of learning in the workplace. This whitepaper breaks those findings down into three specific subject areas:

  1. Understanding the organizational environment
  2. Why good learning design and measurement matter
  3. Recognition of individual learning styles

1. Understanding the organizational environment

Stakeholders and managers are powerful assets in the organizational chain of command. A project brief that is developed without their contributing knowledge and insights, and executed without their support, is destined to fail. In addition, their proactive involvement can identify and remove existing barriers to learning application, reduce organizational constraints, and as a result be a key factor in the successful transfer of learning.

“Organisations can’t wait until after a learning intervention has happened, to address the issues around the application and transfer of learning” explains Dr. Lever. By taking the view that trainers, managers, and key stakeholders are the primary drivers for a positive learning climate, there can be a dramatic improvement in the learning environment, as well as in future learning design and development.

There is also the organizational environment itself that has a role in a successful L&D strategy. How individuals are influenced, how they interact with others, respond to the actions of others, and engage with the environment, are key factors when considering the organizational culture and climate.

The individual’s psychological experience of the organization shapes their perception of the climate they believe they work in. Broadly speaking, this refers to what is important to them in the workplace, what they are influenced by, and how they interact with, and respond to, their workplace. Climate includes issues such as where they fit in the organizational culture, their relationships with colleagues, and managerial influences. There is a recognition that organizational climate itself can be a barrier to the application of learning.

Organizational culture, however, can be shaped by the managers and stakeholders themselves to a greater extent. Referring to the shared experience across the organization of common beliefs, values, and assumptions, the strategic actions of trainers, managers, and stakeholders can directly create an environment that encourages and supports positive learning transfer. This is crucial for an individual to be able to successfully transfer and apply their new learning, within their experience of the organizational climate and culture.

“The identification of factors and constraints influencing organizational learning that creates learning barriers is essential before, during, and after learning,” says Dr. Lever. “This creates a positive learning climate and recognizes that stakeholders and managers do influence the transfer of learning into the workplace.”

2. Why good learning design and measurement matter

Good processes around instructional design can be established by first identifying the individual’s learning needs and outcomes, then aligning them with the organizational learning objectives. Effective structures can then be built around the concurrent objectives of both the individual and the organization to develop learning that is motivating and will deliver a higher retention rate.

It is imperative that a learning program is developed from the outset with measurement in mind. Measuring learning can only occur when a program is set-up to be measured by way of measurable learning objectives and in-program measurement through learning and review activities. “Too often, measurement is left until the end, as an afterthought,” Dr Lever says, “which means that it’s not measurement at all, but rather a qualitative review, based on feelings, much like we would provide to a restaurant or hotel.”

True measurement of a learning intervention, in turn, feeds back into better learning design, resulting in more strategic investment from L&D executives and, most importantly, better organizational outcomes overall, due to the successful application of training and learning.

How learning can be designed better

Sound instructional design processes that factor in the principles of adult learning are critical to learning success and retention. By dictating the flow of the learning intervention early, the learner is better able to achieve their potential for effective learning transfer.

As mentioned in the introduction, the operational costs of unsuccessful learning transfer have become a strong motivator for change in corporate learning. Many of these costs come from poor measurement of results and outcomes, with no tangible way of identifying organizational learning value.

The formulaic approach to L&D strategy is becoming a thing of the past and deeper levels of customization are now seen as a necessity, where previously they may have been considered a luxury.

In a traditional organizational environment, managers focus on achieving strategic goals and objectives and meeting the core deliverables around the training and professional development of their team. This approach leaves little scope for creative thinking and around learning experience design. As a result, corporate learning programs are notorious for being complex, unengaging, and bland – a reality that is all too often reflected in the outcomes for both the individual and the organization.

It is possible, though, to create balanced programs to suit all learners. When organizations build, deliver, and measure their training with a structured and comprehensive approach, the high-quality training programs that emerge ensure better outcomes, better learning application, and exceptional results.

Why measurement is essential

Making measurement a key priority is essential in identifying the learning value and ensuring it’s aligned with and in support of the identified strategic corporate goals. Measuring the results – both tangible and intangible becomes the foundation stone of how learning interventions are developed, applied, and invested in by the organization, moving forward.

When measurement is prioritized, the whole learning design process is transformed. Assessing the results, reading into the analytics, and designing vital, meaningful corporate learning programs in response to that data has a two-fold effect. First, it gives credibility to the proposed interventions, justifying further investment, and learning application outcomes are strengthened, creating a culture of positive high-performance learning.

If done well and successfully, the ongoing measurement of any learning intervention’s tangible and intangible results will become standard organizational practice. This point offered profound relevance to Dr. Lever. “For organizational learning to be legitimized in the eyes of senior management and therefore be continually supported, learning analytics must be realized. This requires measuring learning outcomes that directly relate to an individual employees’ development and the organization’s strategic plan.”

3. Recognition of individual learning styles

There are a few factors that influence someone’s behavior when it comes to learning. Some are environmental (culture), while some come from prior and personal experiences (climate); these may affect many learners in similar ways. However, personal things, such as motivation and a belief in their own ability (self-efficacy) to deal with the challenges presented to them, come down to individual learning styles.

A well-designed learning strategy depends on congruence with the organizational strategy. It also requires learning and development professionals to identify the nature and strength of an individual’s beliefs, motivations, and learning styles. Or the use of a Learning Design System (LDS) that achieves this automatically to ensure the task of facilitating learning transfer becomes possible.

Learners with a strong sense of self-efficacy are more likely to complete tasks and apply the learning successfully. Having a positive experience that provides some clarity around learning processes is also an important factor; it motivates a learner’s engagement in training and the application of learning. Along with self-efficacy, it’s also important the learner is engaged in the outcomes – knowing the results of their efforts will be of value to them personally is a key driver in successful learning application.

Dr. Lever summarizes it well – “Where the factors of learner motivation, meaningful learning through learning design, learning alignment and learning application are combined, a learner produces a connection to it and learns from it. Therefore, the combination of learning design, learning measurement, and learning application is a formula for effective learning transfer and provides learning value for the learner and the organization.”

In addition to this, the role of the trainers, managers, and key stakeholders in supporting and mentoring the learner is also vital. A lack of engagement in the learning interventions can create barriers to learning and impact detrimentally on the learning transfer climate. In many cases, improved individual performance and positive learning outcomes directly correlate with the degree to which coaching and mentoring support were given.

“Managers often believe that preparing and training employees to meet future challenges is important, however do little themselves to actively support and mentor their employees through the learning process,” Dr. Lever explains. “Supportive organizational learning environments require vertical integration and support where one succeeding management level reinforces the behaviors of subordinate levels. An unsupportive learning environment creates barriers to learning transfer and therefore may lead to a poor learning transfer climate.”

CONCLUSION

One of the most important findings in Dr. Lever’s research was the fact that in general, organizational and managerial support around corporate learning was low. This resulted in employees believing that training was not a priority for the organization, in turn impacting learner motivation and commitment to training. This was further impacted where managers were not seen to be actively engaged in the learning processes, or where they lacked accountability for the learning intervention as a whole.

In the minority, were instances where the transfer and application of learning were high. In those instances, it was most often the case that employees had strong self-efficacy and initiated their learning transfer and application independently of their managers.

Dr. Lever, in conclusion, found “with proactive support and encouragement of learners before, during and after the learning intervention, learning transfer and the application of learning is enhanced.” Concerning L&D design and measurement, he also found that “when training positively affected an organization’s bottom line, management support for training increases, however accurately measuring the before and after is a difficult and time-consuming activity”

In addressing the organizational strategic objectives, in conjunction with the measurement of training success, the true value of training can be clearly revealed. Of course, not all training can be measured against a bottom line but making the distinctions between training with direct value and training with indirect value is certainly a progressive approach to training assessment and measurement for future learning design.

Using an accurate measurement tool, therefore, becomes crucial. “Any new simplified learning measurement process would need to create an actual measure of tangible training value to the organization,” says Dr. Lever. “Ideally, it would measure the increase in personal and professional employee capabilities through positive learning transfer, whilst securing the credibility of Learning and Development professionals as knowledge leaders within the organization.”

ID9’s end-to-end Learning Design System is the most effective and respected of its kind globally, because of the impact of the solutions on corporate learning programs.

Pathways allow for upskilling of learning teams with ID9 Intelligent Design Certification Programs, or customized learning that can be developed through strategic outsourcing to the ID9 Custom Design team. For those with the expertise to share, the ID9 Masterclasses offer quick start instructional design course solutions, with ready-to-deliver workshops or online courses as the outcomes. Learning outcomes are transformed with the application of ID9 IMPACT – a tool that measures organizational learning results and gives a comprehensive insight into the true impact of the learning.