U.S. businesses spend billions on training programs each year. That’s no small expense. As a result, stakeholders are demanding proof that the training is worth it. They want hard and fast measures of performance change. They want evidence that performance is improving and that money spent on learning is worth it. Learning pros have been stumped by this request. They remain mystified about how to show measurable training results. At their core, learning programs can only make changes in the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of employees. This means that if a performance improvement requires new knowledge, skills, or attitudes, learning programs are the answer. If the performance failure is due to something other than a knowledge, skill, or attitude gap, a learning programs are not the answer.

Focus On The Data That Shows Performance Change

At its most basic, what learning pros need is data showing the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, or attitudes. That is the only data needed to validate learning effectiveness. I am not talking about surveys that ask if people think these things happened. I am talking about evidence that they actually did make these things happen. Business professionals who want to understand their function often use process management techniques such as Six Sigma and Lean. Process management techniques focus on understanding operations so that improvements can be made. If you apply process management techniques to the learning function, you can identify the cause and effect of learning activities. More specifically, you can identify the learning design components that achieve business outcomes. When a performance gap is identified, and a learning program is requested, learning professionals design a program to fill that need. They create learning to address the need, fill the performance gap, and create performance change.

How Do Learning Professionals Design Learning Programs

To understand how learning programs create change, you first need to understand the decisions instructional designers make when they create learning programs. The way a program is constructed determines if learning actually happens. Components in learning design, when combined, create behavior changes. For example, in training programs, instructional designers create the objectives for a course. Objectives identify the knowledge, skill, or attitude targets for the learning program. In addition, designers often create evaluations that will indicate if the objectives have been met. The combination of objectives and evaluations lays out a map for where the learning program should take you and how you will know when you get there. Measuring objective achievement (via evaluation) is fairly straightforward and is a matter of completing a knowledge or behavior exam before and after an event. When these two design components—objectives and evaluations—correlate within a program, a clear and transparent result (outcomes) can be determined and measured. Clear knowledge and behavior gains can be outlined, tracked, and reported. If you want to diagnose and repair any underperforming objectives of a learning program, you need to also include the learning methods that led to the result. You need to include the instructional methods (lecture, small group discussions, exercises, etc.) that were used to help the student achieve the learning objective. If all three of the design components (objectives, evaluations, instructional methods) correlate in the instructional design process, you have a detailed map for success. With this map, you can identify the cause and effect for results. These three design components combine to create behavior changes. They work together to create performance capability.

Objective + Instruction + Evaluation = Learning Object

The combination of these three design components is called the Learning Object. The Learning Object creates results and provides a clear unit of measure for learning programs. When we measure the achievement of each knowledge, skill, or attitude objective we can see the results formed from the design decisions made. Understanding what design decisions combine to create the targeted results takes the guess work out of learning program outcomes. This exposes how learning creates behavior and performance change. It reveals how learning programs lead to business results. You uncover how learning improves human performance and creates business capability. Knowing how a training program creates changes in an employee, and to identify what those changes are, is a foundational requirement for improving business outcomes. Applying Six Sigma and Lean type processes to learning activities enables the creation of a standardized process with repeatable results. Standardized processes and repeatable results are fundamental requirements for any business advancement.

Knowing the Learning Object Makes Measurement Possible

Identifying the Learning Object from training provides something that can be tracked as learning is acquired and then deployed in the organization. Using knowledge and behavior exams, you can measure if the student learned the material and if they applied the material on the job because you have a clear knowledge and behavior object/target. If a program is designed using clear Learning Objects, we can combine the evaluations from the Learning Objects into a standard test instrument (evaluation/exam) detailing behavior targets. The Learning Objects identify the standard of performance addressed in the learning program. Using the evaluation portion from the Learning Objects, we create an exam that measures the performance of the Learning Object. The Learning Objects represent where we plan to go, how we plan to get there, and how we will know if we got there. A standard performance gauge (exam) created from Learning Objects can inform us on the effectiveness of our design decisions based on student outcomes. In short, the combination of all of the learning objects within a learning program gives us the standards of performance required (objective), how we achieve results (instructional methods), and our means to test achievement (exam) of the standard of performance. This was the second in a three-part series about solving the mystery of learning program results. (You can read part one here.) If your mission is to deliver learning programs that create change, then please contact us to learn more. Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to tell me more about your training challenges.
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