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Beyond Kirkpatrick: The Business Value of Organizational Learning

Smile sheets, learning pros call them--those evaluation forms you're called on to complete after every training class, workshop, conference presentation or any other learning scenario your mind can conjure. The most basic proof positive that organizational learning functions consistently measure the effectiveness of their offerings. In fact, according to the latest research by i4cp and ASTD, nearly nine of 10 learning and business professionals say their organizations evaluate learning programs' effectiveness.

Because i4cp looks at all aspects of human capital strategy and management through a business lens, the joint research also factored in market performance as reported by the 431 professionals surveyed for The Value of Learning: Gauging the Business Impact of Organizational Learning Programs. The full study is available from ASTD, and a white paper recently published by i4cp confirms that "organizations that evaluate their learning programs' effectiveness also are likely to rate their market performance highly."

As i4cp research has demonstrated over and over, high-performance organizations (HPOs) just do things differently... distinctively. And the Value of Learning study added a few more of those stand-out characteristics to our body of knowledge about what you might call the HPO's modus operandi.

For instance, the Value of Learning research found that learning leaders in high-performance organizations understand that learning measurement doesn't stop at effectiveness. Donald Kirkpatrick's widely accepted levels of measuring learning effectiveness provide what the study calls "a comfortable and familiar framework" that provides parameters for gauging effectiveness. In contrast, "assessment of business impact is a younger and less-developed initiative," one still lacking the consistency and extensive use that Kirkpatrick inspires.

So HPOs soldier on, relying on Kirkpatrick, but also seeking means of tying learning to business results. What learning leaders in HPOs understand is that making that learning/business results connection begins with strategy alignment. And HPOs are more likely to base learning strategies on desired business outcomes. Those business outcomes drive learning strategy. And vice versa. What better way to make sure that learning efforts help employees achieve business goals than to use those goals to shape training programs? This "Duh!" moment is brought to us by high-performers everywhere.

Basing learning strategy on business performance objectives provides a logical means of linking learning to bottom-line results. But strategy only lays the groundwork. Learning professionals have to measure the outcomes created by their learning strategies. There are many ways to do that, and The Value of Learning: Gauging the Business Impact of Organizational Learning Programs examines the approaches that are working for companies as diverse as Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC), management consultancy Accenture, drugstore chain Walgreens, hearing technology firm Cochlear, and education services provider Bridgepoint Education. Get started with the i4cp white paper, then visit ASTD for the full report to see how organizational learning functions are measuring up.

Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.