Patti P. Phillips, Ph.D., and Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D.
This article was originally published on December 21, 2020, on ChiefLearningOfficer.com.
In today’s uncertain economic climate, the need to ensure that virtual learning provides value and improves organizational outcomes is increasingly important. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to work-from-home, most learning programs have shifted to virtual formats. This environment has created the need for program owners to design and implement virtual learning with the desired outcomes in mind. Additionally, there is an increasing economic need to demonstrate that the virtual programs are working and delivering the desired results.
Studies show that many virtual learning programs break down when measured at the application level (participants not using what they learn) and impact level (the business impact connected to application). Fortunately, L&D professionals can avoid this breakdown. To secure the support and funding that virtual learning needs, the programs must deliver business results. This article will explore how designers, developers, providers, and program owners can ensure virtual learning will achieve the desired results using design-thinking principles that focus on delivering outcomes at the application and impact levels.
Serious Challenges for L&D
Many learning and development professionals have faced challenges in delivering the results that executives appreciate and understand. Answers to our recent polling questions of L&D teams show the following statements to be true from the perspective of the L&D professionals. However, to deliver the value that executives need from virtual learning, the answers should actually be false.
- Most learning and development content is not used (wasted). Unfortunately, there continues to be a transfer of learning problem as individuals learn the content but subsequently do not actually use what they have learned. There are many barriers to this transfer, with the most significant barrier being a lack of management support. For in-person learning and development, this barrier to transfer is much less of a problem.
- Organizations rarely measure the learning outcomes desired by executives. Studies confirm that executives want and need to see the business connections to learning, whether the learning is delivered in-person, virtually, or through a mobile device. If participants don’t use what they learned, the program delivers no business value to the organization. The key to successful results is to ensure that the learning is used and has an impact.
- The learning providers do not have data that shows they make a difference in the organization. To make a difference, the individuals involved in programs must use what they have learned, and that use must have a corresponding impact. Both are necessary. Without use, there will be no impact. Unfortunately, many learning and development practitioners do not even measure at this level to ensure application on the job and the corresponding business impact.
- Most executives see learning as a cost and not an investment. When executives see learning as a cost, bad things may happen in uncertain times. The learning budget may be cut, reduced, paused, minimized, or controlled. If executives see learning as an investment, they may protect it, support it, and even enhance it in downturns. The challenge is for L&D professionals to show the executives that learning delivers a positive ROI. The best way to do that is to actually measure the ROI on a major program using an ROI formula from the finance and accounting literature. Doing this will remove the doubt that learning is an investment.
The Chain of Value is Always There
It is important to understand how success is achieved with virtual learning. How do you deliver more productivity or improve the quality of services, or have more innovation, or be more responsive to customers? If a lack of knowledge or skills is a stumbling block to success, then putting those processes in place will enable success. Virtual learning can easily provide this if the learning is connected to the business measure in the beginning, the right solution is implemented, and it’s designed to deliver the impact results. More importantly, the amount of improvement in the impact measures caused by the virtual program can always be pinpointed. The success follows a chain of value, outlined in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The Value Chain for Virtual Programs