To a degree, learning is its own reward. Employees become more productive and engaged, and learning also improves job satisfaction and retention. But from a practical perspective, in business, everything must show its worth. Is learning an investment or an expense? Either way, how can you be sure you are making the right decisions?

Shifting Perspectives

In the 1990s, ATD researcher Laurie Bassi found that the more a company invested toward developing employees, the higher its stock value was the following year. However, it’s common among executives to treat training as an expense rather than an investment, which can make it tough to convince them to increase learning spend. Training is also in danger of being the first thing cut from the budget when money is tight or economic downturn appears imminent. It’s incumbent on learning professionals to make a business case for learning as an investment. Leaders only make tangible investments that contribute to long-term growth. To bring decision-makers on board, it’s essential to make learning results measurable.

Learnability and Effectiveness

Companies often rely on the Kirkpatrick Model when assessing learning effectiveness. This model measures four levels of engagement:

  1. Reaction: Did the learner consider the training to be relevant and useful?
  2. Learning: Did the training achieve its stated learning goals?
  3. Behavior: Did the employees effectively apply the training to their job?
  4. Results: Did the training achieve desired business outcomes (improved efficiency, reduced costs, increased revenue, etc.)?

Learnability directly impacts all levels of the Kirkpatrick Model. It increases employees’ motivation and improves “stickiness” and completion rates. Choosing the correct training and evaluating its learnability can improve engagement and, ultimately, the bottom line.

What Should You Measure?

It can be difficult to measure the results of learning in a concrete, tangible way. Consider these best practices in assessing the effectiveness of your learning programs.

Take Baseline Measurements

Assess the current level of whatever you’re trying to improve with training, such as productivity, sales revenue, and average appraisal or promotion rates.

Set Realistic Expectations

Don’t oversell the expected results of a training program. Evaluate the program and what you can reasonably expect to achieve from it. Then, present that information to decision-makers.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Talk with senior leaders to learn how they identify success. If you return exceptional results but not the results they were seeking, it’s hard to prove the worth of the program. For example, if you provide data on long-term cost savings, when executives are looking for a short-term revenue boost, they might perceive the program as a failure.

Evaluate Now and Later

Too often, organizations assess learning programs’ success immediately after they end. While this evaluation is important, it only provides part of the picture. Conduct additional reviews after six or 12 months to measure ongoing results or drop-off rates.

Align Learning Effectiveness to the Company’s Goals

Financial measures are ideal, but it can be challenging to make a direct correlation between training and your company’s bottom line, and they are not the only important assessment. Compare performance to industry benchmarks or your own baseline measurements. Also, consider also the following success measures:

  • Improved performance appraisals
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Positive employee engagement surveys
  • Better retention rates
  • More internal promotions
  • Higher productivity

While these metrics may not be as tangible as financial numbers would be, they still provide valid indicators of the value of your program.

Partner With L&D Consultants

It’s not always possible to keep up with the latest best practices, nor is it possible to measure without bias. Working with training consultants can help you obtain the desired results and focus on your core business. A consultant with L&D expertise can be a neutral third party and a fresh set of eyes on your current tracking practices.