Saturday, 21 April 2012

Five ostriches

Why is learning evaluation so widely ignored? Too many people are sticking their heads in the sand, and I think there are five types.

It’s too hard!
Many people think it’s too difficult to measure the outcomes of learning and their contribution to business performance, but as Peter Drucker said “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. I think this fear derives mainly from the unfamiliarity of HR and L&D professionals with research methods and statistical analysis – but this specialised help is readily available. A more sophisticated version of this argument is that people development is hard to measure because it’s behavioural and doesn’t lend itself to quantification. Yet qualitative data is also measurable, with just a little more thought. This really shouldn’t be an excuse – if it’s too hard, get help!

It’s too expensive!
This is both an extreme generalisation and a myth, akin to claims that all training is expensive. It can be, but equally it can be managed economically. Online surveys can be distributed cheaply; telephone interviews are usually much cheaper than face-to-face, and just as useful; judicious sampling can significantly reduce costs; and regular practice makes evaluation quicker and easier. The alternative is much more expensive – continuously repeating training that doesn’t pay. The reality is that lack of evaluation is wasteful, and not evaluating is too expensive.

Nobody cares!
They should. At some point, they will. And when they do, there had better be a case for L&D ready in response. Otherwise it’ll be cut. Just because senior management may have a temporary blind spot doesn’t justify this lazy approach. All managers need foresight and planning, and if HR managers aren’t measuring the cost, value, and business contribution of L&D, they’re not doing their job properly.

All learning is valuable!
Of course it is. But so are many things organisations do, and ultimately learning is competing for scarce resources. It’s not enough to be A Good Thing, it has to be demonstrably more valuable than alternative investments. Certainly, there can be debate about how to measure value, and economic/financial considerations may not be the only ones, perhaps not even the most important, but measures still need to be made.

With apologies to Hispanic readers (a joke in the Highlands of Scotland is that there’s no word in the Gaelic language that conveys the same desperate sense of urgency). The problem is that evaluation is rarely seen as a pressing priority, and no matter how important it is judged to be, may continue to be put off till “tomorrow” indefinitely. This is a dangerous way to operate, and more enlightened organisations will weigh urgency and importance to determine when to allocate time and resources to evaluation. The antidote to mañana is to allocate a proportion of L&D budgets (both time and money) to evaluation – 10% to 15% is the usual amount – and ensure that it is used.

Do you recognise behaviour from your organisation as any of these five types? Are you an ostrich with your head in the sand?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Evaluation Debate in People Management

Bill Parsons, CIPD Vice-President, raised an important debate in the most recent issue of People Management (27 March). Under the heading ‘Learning to Leap’, Bill observed that learning and development often fails to correlate with business metrics and contribute to business outcomes.

Unfortunately, the debate hasn’t really taken off. As I write, mine is the only comment (5 April) in reply to Bill’s piece. Keith Ledingham has just written a letter in response, ‘ROI is essential to measure HR’s contribution’ (17 April).

The problem is, the only people who seem interested in debating this are from the supply side: Keith is one example; my recent articles on evaluation at TrainingZone have attracted comments only from Paul Kearns and Stephen Gill, both consultants, despite thousands of “reads”; the overwhelming majority of followers of my evaluation account on Twitter are from the supply side.

It seems far too many HR and L&D professionals are ignoring learning evaluation. My next blog post will explore why this is.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Praise and thanks

My thanks are due to all who have praised my last-but-one book, Delivering E-Learning, in the three years since its publication. I have previously acknowledged Martyn Sloman’s review in Training Journal and Neil Archibald’s in HR Network Scotland magazine, as well as Richard Wright’s original review on, who have since added reviews from, notably a five-star review by “Mid West Book Review”.

I would also like to thank John P Wilson for his review in Industrial and Commercial Training, Paul Justice for his review in, Sebah Al-Ali for her review in Goodreads, and Christopher Pappas for naming it in his blog as one of his top five e-learning books for beginners.

The book seems to continue to attract interest, with a new version in Arabic due out this year, which I’m looking forward to.

Thanks, everyone!

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