Majority of L&D professionals feel ‘growing pressure’ to measure impact

CIPD calls for ‘step-change’ in how learning leaders use data, as survey suggests competing priorities hold them back

Most learning and development professionals report feeling pressure from leadership to better quantify the impact of learning in their business, according to new research.

Seven in 10 (70 per cent) L&D professionals said they felt pressure from their organisations to measure the business impact of learning. The researchers said that represented a 38 per cent increase on last year.

The survey of 1,000 professionals, commissioned by learning technology providers LEO Learning and Watershed, also found a majority (96 per cent) wanted to measure impact, but only 50 per cent were evaluating learning based on return on investment, job performance or organisational impact. More than a quarter (28 per cent) reported “not knowing how to get started” when it came to learning measurement.

Tim Dickinson, director of learning analytics strategy at Watershed, recommended L&D teams first focus on their data gathering strategy when creating a nuanced picture of business impact.

“As L&D teams create a comprehensive, data-driven picture of the effectiveness of learning across their organisations, they can combine this with data from other areas in the business to start building evidence of business impact,” Dickinson said. 

But Andrew Wood, partner at coaching and development company HCubed, warned employers using business impact as a way to “outsource accountability” for their business’s culture and performance would create further problems. 

“It’s important to be clear what L&D is on the hook for, ensure we don’t over-promise and think about how our work connects to other activity within the company,” Wood said. 

The survey found more than four in five (86 per cent) L&D professionals want to use learning data to deliver personalised learning, but only 21 per cent currently do so.

Andy Lancaster, the CIPD’s head of L&D content, said the report showed that measuring impact “must be a high priority for all those involved in organisational learning”. 

“For that to be a reality, there needs to be a step-change in how learning professionals use and understand data, and how they share the impact of their work with the wider business,” Lancaster said. He advised there was a “long way to go” but found it encouraging that L&D teams were beginning to make inroads. 

While some survey respondents said they did not know how to start collecting learning data, a similar number (28 per cent) said “competing priorities” was the main barrier to measurement. And Piers Lea, chief strategy officer at LEO Learning, told People Management these priorities could include both time and budgetary pressures. 

“By leadership demanding this as a priority, it gives permission to set some time and money aside for this purpose,” Lea said. He added it was worth knowing the business impact of L&D “if only to direct that spend optimally in the future”.