Learning Technology? Careful What You Wish For
Learning Is Essential But Must Be Accountable
Instinctively, learning practitioners often seek out technology to provide a quick fix for their struggling learning efforts. It’s only natural since technology offers wonderful opportunities to accomplish things that were once unimaginable or unattainable. Consequently, however, when learning efforts fail to meet expectations, it’s technology that gets the blame.
There’s another wrinkle that’s more than just wanting more technology, and it involves convincing decision-makers to make the technology purchase itself. It’s probably no surprise that making a significant purchase request with decision-makers is certainly a challenge. If you’ve tried doing so, I know you faced a slew of questions and what you may perceive as resistance. It’s safe to conclude that involving more technology is a conundrum for learning practitioners.
I’m a huge learning technology proponent and the first to encourage its use. But technology is rarely to blame for the failure of any learning initiative, and stakeholder resistance to your purchase request may not be what you believe. Learning technology is a double-edged sword, when one considers proposing it for a learning need and how it’s utilized within learning initiatives. Trust me, having it can be in your favor, but you don’t want it to be a decision stakeholders regret.
Two-Part Business Decision
Let’s first address the elephant in the article. Utilizing learning technology to improve employee learning is admirable, however, operational leaders (your internal clients) will evaluate its use from a business perspective. This isn’t meant to imply operational leaders don’t recognize the importance for learning; trust me, they absolutely do. But, paraphrasing President Kennedy, for decision-makers it’s not what learning can do for employees but rather, what employee learning can do for the business that interests them. The decision to allocate money and scarce resources to more learning technology comes down to two things:
- How will improving learning contribute to achieving business/operational objectives? In operational speak, it’s about getting learning to manage change and improve performance.
- What value will the learning technology deliver over the life of its operational existence? For leaders, this is about asset valuation or the literal business calculation of Return On Investment (ROI).
For leaders, the first point is about how your learning improves performance and facilitates change, something not unfamiliar to practitioners. In short, this is about your learning efforts to demonstrate some level of business impact. In more familiar terms, it’s meant to operationally improve employee performance, leading to improving the business itself. This is about measuring your learning efforts against the key performance indicators stated within your organization’s performance framework.
As expressed in several of my eLearning Industry articles, LinkedIn Learning courses, and book The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard, your role isn’t that complicated, it’s the execution of your efforts that’s in question. In short, your learning focus is to ensure employees effectively apply learned skills to deliver improved organizational performance, not to account for (payback) the actual costs for the delivery of learning.
Building A Business Case
The second point, learning technology value, is somewhat more precarious and often misunderstood by practitioners. Demonstrating operational value for learning assets, like technology, requires having operational and financial literacy. Now, don’t panic, you’re not expected to be an expert, your organization has people for that. A word of advice, however, make friends with your finance department to assist you in building a business case for any learning technology acquisition.
In most cases, leaders will reject learning technology purchase requests because they focus too much on the learning need rather than meeting business expectations. Reading between the lines, this means you pitched it to them wrong. Doing so dooms the pitch from the outset, and being financially literate allows you to have sensible conversations with decision-makers.
Even though your objective is to improve learning uptake, this is not your stakeholder’s focus. They know the learning’s purpose and don’t need to hear it again. They want to know that the promised increase in learning value will reflect the investment’s contribution to long-term growth for the company. For them, additional technology is an asset expected to deliver a Return On (capital) Investment.
Technology, when used appropriately, is meant to simplify and facilitate our work and lives. Business translation: it’s expected to improve productivity, leading to improving profitability and increasing corporate value. Translation for practitioners: when stakeholders hear “eLearning”, the “e” isn’t about the delivery method but rather delivering operational efficiencies and effectiveness.
Operational stakeholders have a couple of pet peeves. One is about having an interruption in the workflow. When done well, eLearning minimizes (not eliminates) this, since employees no longer have to stop their work to physically attend a training session. The second peeve is the unnecessary requirement of additional, non-value adding assets. The instant you mention purchasing additional technology your leaders expect you to clearly demonstrate its long-term value contribution to the organization. And regretfully, this is a financial capital investment calculation.
The Technology Dilemma
You expect learning technology to facilitate the participant’s learning experience. Your stakeholders expect much more. From a qualitative perspective, leaders expect technology to facilitate predictive decisions. You may recognize this as analytics or predictive data analytics and it’s paramount to decision-making.
Prior to current (continuously improving) intelligent technology, tracking learning impact or results was essentially based upon practitioner hearsay. It’s why many practitioners still turn to participant evaluations, or smile sheets (level 1), and knowledge retention, or testing (level 2). But times have changed and stakeholders expect more analytics from learning.
Don’t you believe me? Look at the evolution of marketing in the last 10 to 20 years. Prior to technology analytics/algorithms, it was a challenge to track marketing impact; it was all causal relationships. Consider a multimillion dollar Super Bowl ad, say, back in 1995. Did it really work? Possibly. But apart from anecdotal evidence, proof is elusive. This was the same for your training efforts: did they work? Did it make a difference for their work? For the organization? You’re not sure? Well, your stakeholders now expect you to be sure, especially when you ask for more “eLearning” technology.
Current learning technology involves the active collection of learning data through specifically designed algorithms. Consider the evolving use of data collection and reporting tools such as xAPI, as well as the extensive capabilities of current Learning Management Systems and eLearning delivery mechanisms. Learning is getting into the realm of analytics and algorithms, and with remote working, eLearning is now front and center. Progressive practitioners will leverage this opportunity to target their efforts and prove value to stakeholders.
It’s Now Up To You
We live in a wonderful time when technology offers many new and unique opportunities. Practitioners must capitalize on these opportunities, balancing the creative inclusion of eLearning while respecting and delivering tangible business expectations for their decision-makers. The planets have aligned for organizational learning, requiring Learning and Development to play a central role within the context of business operations and performance. Consider learning’s predictive qualitative nature, its role in delivering efficiencies, and account for its longer term indirect financial value, and you’re guaranteed to get stakeholder support for your next learning technology request.
Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We would enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!
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Learning Is Essential But Must Be Accountable Instinctively, learning practitioners often seek out technology to provide a quick fix for their struggling learning efforts. It’s only natural since technology offers wonderful opportunities to accomplish things that were once unimaginable or unattainable. Consequently, however, when learning efforts fail to meet expectations, it’s technology that gets the…
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