The ROI of Learning Part 1: Barriers

Whether the delivery channel is traditional instructor-led classroom, eLearning or mLearning, every learning professional feels a certain amount of pressure in proving that their programming has real bottom-line impact to the company. Sometimes that pressure is self-imposed, while other times it comes from higher up in the organization. The Holy Grail of learning would be easy-to-implement metrics that clearly show the financial value of any specific learning program. Unfortunately, there’s a lot that gets in the way. Below you’ll find an array of barriers that keep learning professionals from proving the value of their programs:

The ROI of Learning Part 1: Barriers

It’s Difficult. If it were easy to do, it would happen with much greater frequency than it does, right? Perhaps the most basic barrier of all is this: When it comes to financial business results, it’s hard to establish causality. Your company might experience an improvement, but how do know that any of that might have been due to the positive impact of your learning program? The web of causality is extremely intricate and tangled with dozens if not scores of variables that in the end feel impossible to isolate from one another.

Fear. Let’s face it, putting your learning efforts under the proverbial microscope for intense scrutiny is nerve-wracking. What if the results are less-than-stellar? Will the program get axed? Will your reputation be diminished? Will you still have a job afterwards? Will the people you want to train even cooperate? Questions like these are often more than enough to make learning professionals gloss over the whole ROI issue.

Why Bother? After all, you know that learning, training, and development programming has to happen to some extent. If it’s something that’s going to happen regardless of the outcomes or ROI, why even go through the hassle of trying to measure it? This is probably another fear-based reaction. However essential you may view your learning efforts, the plain fact of the matter is that when times are tough financially, such as in the recent Great Recession, learning and training budgets are often the first to suffer substantial cuts. If you’re better at showing the value of learning, your department has a greater chance of being spared.

The Afterthought Effect. ROI must be a part of measuring the effectiveness of learning from the very beginning of developing a program. All to often, however, evaluation of learning in general often doesn’t get attention until after the program has been implemented, which is far too late in the process to do it right. Clearly defining what success means and how it will be measured needs to be tied into both business and learning objectives from the start.

It’s Not the Fun Part. You’re focused on developing awesome learning programs that fully engage learners, wowing them with all that modern learning technologies have to offer. That’s the fun part, and probably a big part of why you became a learning professional in the first place. By comparison, figuring out how to measure the value of those impressive programs feels at best like a distraction, and at it’s worst it feels like a mind-numbing chore fraught with danger.

Lack of Analytical Prowess. Whatever training or education you went through to become a learning professional, it probably didn’t include much if anything to do with statistics, data, or analytics. But the call for better measurement of learning’s impact is not going to go away. It is time to bite the proverbial bullet and gain the skills needed to make it happen.

The barriers above all feel very real, but there is good news in all of this. It’s time to take measuring learning’s impact down off the pedestal of Holy Grail status. It’s not impossible. It’s actually very logical. You have to push past the largely mythical barriers, push past any lingering fears, and get it done. Does it take time and effort? Yes, it does. But simply ignoring it won’t make it go away. Stay tuned for additional articles in this ROI series that will help you get there.

Here are all 5 parts to this series: The ROI of Learning Part 1: Barriers,The ROI of Learning Part 2: Where to BeginThe ROI of Learning Part 3: Additional ConsiderationsThe ROI of Learning Part 4: Learning/Training ROI MethodsThe ROI of Learning Part 5: The True Costs of Learning

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