One of the biggest challenges for L&D is showing how we contribute to business success. Often business leaders have difficulty understanding our contribution. This is because they do not understand, or relate to, the terms used by learning professionals. In other words, business leaders do not know how to interpret learning results as business results. They know the necessity of training. But, they do not understand how learning outcomes translate into business outcomes.
The foundation of this communication problem is exposed when you consider the practice of learning design. Typically, learning programs relay their intended results through their learning objectives. Most often, learning objectives state what content is being covered in a course. But not, how the content relates to job performance. The objectives are not written as a job outcome. This, in itself, creates a disconnect between learning programs and their application within business.
Using design analytics to measure learning over the past 10 years has taught us a lot about the separation between the language of learning and the language of business. It has also taught us a lot about how to adjust learning practice so there is a natural alignment between the learning department and the businesses that they serve. Let me explain.
Traditional Learning Practice
Seasoned L&D professionals understand the goal of any learning program is to enact a change in the performance of employees. Our challenge is to create learning programs that address business needs. We strive to improve job performance to fill the need. Unfortunately, even with this understanding, the evolution of L&D has moved us down the path of focusing on the delivery of content. Before the internet, we concentrated much of our energy on finding content. Now, with content so readily available, we focus on making the content “engaging” or easily distributed. The bottom line, we do not use the science of our business. Instead of focusing on the decisions we make to target business needs and ensure learning, we put most of our attention on the activities needed to deliver learning.
Therefore, we have communicated our value by the volume of our work, instead of communicating our value by the quality of our work. On a daily basis, we put an enormous amount of time, money and energy into different delivery methods, content curation, and engagement activities with little regard for succeeding with the goal of adding employee capability on the job.
Fortunately, modern technology has enabled better information about the decisions we make in design and the impact of our learning. Over the past years, the use of design analytics (designing for business outcomes and measuring against that design) has revolutionized the way L&D operates.
The Promise of a New Normal
Confronted with the need to improve our expert practice (or face the never-ending degradation of the L&D profession), some have endeavored to elevate L&D processes. A small but dedicated group started by revisiting the foundations of learning. They explored the science of learning and embraced proven methods. Some of these methods include Blooms taxonomy and performance-based design. By revisiting the science of learning, the skills needed to apply the science emerged. These skills are the professional skills that enable learning professionals to create effective learning.
Ultimately, the skill of the learning professional is apparent in the way they design their programs. The professional practice of learning is about understanding and applying the science of learning to the goal of meeting the business need and improving employee performance.
Much like an architect of a building, the learning designer creates an outline for learning and includes all the design elements necessary for learning to take place. A building architect creates detailed plans to ensure the strength and function of the building. If something goes wrong, the first thing you do is to look at the plans to make repairs.
Likewise, learning designers use all their professional “know-how” to design programs so employees learn, and job performance improves.
With this understanding, it only stands to reason that the value of a learning program is determined by the achievement of the expected job performance. This is the foundation for design analytics. Design analytics are the information gained from measuring the intended outcomes as stated in the design document.
The main avenue for creating design analytics is the use of measurable instructional design (MID). MID creates standardization across designers by ensuring consistent components are present in the design (objectives, instructional strategies, evaluations). One of the components of MID is to convert learning objectives into three job categories. These three categories include basic knowledge, critical thinking, and observable behavior. The basic knowledge objectives are included to support the skill objectives (critical thinking and observable behavior). When designers use MID in their practice and categorize their objectives into one of these three areas, they are identifying which job skills are being learned.
To assure learning addresses job performance, MID requires learning designers to use job “duties” as the foundation for creating objectives. Additionally, they are expected to add the conditions of the job and the criteria for performance as part of their objectives. These vital pieces confirm that learning objectives are representative of job/business requirements. Business stakeholders speak the language of skills and understand the impact of improved performance. By categorizing learning objectives into these areas of job performance, they are easily tracked to business results.
The Bottom Line
If you are still fighting against the push to do more, and you are still communicating your value by your production volume, it is time to consider a change. It is time to use the best practices of instructional design to produce design analytics. Now is time to incorporate the science of learning and to easily measure the outcomes in your professional practice.
It is within your own power to improve your practice and cut the language barrier. These small steps to elevate your professional practice will naturally create a common language between learning and the other business units. Your ability to create, and use, design analytics will provide valuable information to improve your practice and will forever remove the need to translate outcomes. Most important, it will raise both your professional expertise and your professional reputation.