Learning is only ever a means to an end
– never an end in itself
Many professionals working in the field of learning and development will be familiar with the rhetoric in the title of this article. The idea that corporate training must be able to justify its existence in terms of business impact, return on investment or making a meaningful, measurable contribution to business goals has been re-iterated so many times it is becoming tired and cliché.
Why are we still telling each other this after twenty years? Have we made no progress whatsoever? Surely, something must have changed. Surely, we must be getting somewhere. In fact, I think we have. And one important message I would like to send in this article is to offer a ray of hope. I would like us to take a moment to reflect on the fact that if you compare corporate training from say the 1970s to corporate training today it has come along in leaps and bounds. I, for one, rarely meet a learning professional who will try to convince you that a one-day workshop is likely to produce as much lasting impact as a robust learning journey spread over time. So, let’s just take a moment to celebrate how far we have come. Ahhhh…. feels good, doesn’t it?
So, now we’re feeling a little more optimistic let’s think about the road ahead and how we can overcome some of the obstacles that remain. I would like to suggest that the biggest barrier that we face is not a new one; it’s been there since the world of L&D first realized it must concern itself performance as well as learning. If I were to try and define this barrier in one word, I would have to say the problem is ‘reach’.
As L&D professionals we know that business impact from learning simply does not happen in classrooms – virtual or physical. Business impact happens out in the workplace when our program participants take something they have learned and use it in a part of their job that produces an outcome that the business cares about. We also know from the research of Professor Robert Brinkerhoff and others that training participants need support to identify the most impactful opportunities to apply their learning, they need feedback to know if they are making progress, they need to know that it matters if they use their learning or not, that someone cares. Absent this encouragement and support most learners are likely to give up sooner or later.
What’s that I hear you say? You can’t take responsibility for what happens outside the classroom? You have no insight into what happens in the participant’s performance environment? You don’t have the reach? Well that may have been true ten years ago but new technology is helping to redraw the boundaries and extend the reach of L&D right into our participant’s daily work.
From learning to performance with technology
Learning is a field that is no stranger to leveraging technology. E-learning helped revolutionize distance learning and LMS’s have allowed vast global corporations to keep tabs on the competencies of thousands of employees. In recent years a new animal has entered the EdTech menagerie – the Learning Transfer Platform. Organizations like Promote international with their Promote® platform are blurring the lines of where the classroom ends and the workplace starts extending the reach of L&D professionals and enabling them and their program participants to navigate the path from learning to performance. With Learning Transfer Platform technology all the invested stakeholders from facilitators and program managers to participant managers and the participants themselves can see exactly what is happening in the learning journey – who is applying the learning; in what type of situation; who is struggling and needs more support. The Learning Transfer Platform provides a two-way channel of communication that allows training participants to learn from each other, share successes and ask for support when needed. For those running the program, having the real-time snapshot of what is working and what is not allows for in-flight adjustment to ensure the long-term results of the program.
I would certainly not suggest that Learning Transfer Platforms alone will solve the learning-to-performance challenges that have blighted us all these years. However, when combined with performance oriented instructional design principles, Learning Transfer Platform technology can help us extend our reach and significantly increase the rates of impact from training.