ROI: Demonstrating The Value & Impact of Learning Professionals

HR, TrainingThe CIPDs Learning and Talent Development Survey 2013 gives an indication of the continued critical importance of learning and talent development to the business environment.

The CIPD notes that learning professionals are still operating in a resource-light, challenge-rich environment (as identified in 2012 and since the onset of the global financial crisis); times are tough but energising.

There is a resilience and permanence to learning, developed through experience of previous economic downturns, which is encouraging. Many learning professional have called this the smart learning revolution; the CIPD prefers to call it the social learning shift because it is about more than just technology.

In a constrained environment, learning effectiveness is a key performance contributor. Where skills and talent are constants of the business conversation, the leaerning and development function is a pivotal area.

However, we need to continuously rethink and refresh how we support learning – to do that the CIPD suggests that we need to develop a set of common behaviours which draw on great practice and illuminating insight. It should also embed the CIPD values of purpose, agility, collaboration and expertise.

The CIPD survey demonstrates that learning professional are starting to practise many of these behaviours, learning professionals are:

  1. Grappling with the transition from instructor-based learning to more social and collaborative forms of learning;
  2. Operating much more with an organisational and business focus;
  3. Finding their way into the increasingly technology driven delivery environment;
  4. Increasingly focused on the lifetime learning journey for organisations and individuals, as the apprenticeship data show;
  5. Contributing their expert voice and viewpoint into the world of work debates on issues such as productivity, flexibility and work organisation;
  6. Beginning to reflect on how they evaluate learning and how they link it to wider business impacts; and
  7. Continuing to understand the importance of talent as an organising focus for learning in all of these contexts.


Most organisations are using e-learning, but a relatively small share of learning and talent development time is allocated to it. The fact that most think it is essential to building the right mix of learning content indicates that this is not resistance but a rational reluctance to over-invest until better information is available.

Completion of e-learning courses is progressing, albeit from a low base. The importance of design and development skills in L&TD teams using e-learning is now top of the agenda. As the CIPD explained in their report From e-learning to Gameful Employment, learning professionals need to build, blend and connect to make e-learning effective. One of the main challenges is that the cutting-edge integration of smart technology and existing learning technology has not taken off as many anticipated.

Social Learning

Organisations ‘get’ the need for social learning and are interpreting it in encouragingly broad ways. It is not just a technical fix; it is a set of behaviours and attitudes to learning. It means learning is happening around the watercooler as much as the webinar.

An interesting perspective on the instruction versus self-learning debate is the fact that half see on-the-job learning as social. Only about a third, generally the largest organisations, see it as being about using specific platforms and tools. Most seem to be improvising with existing resources such as webinars and virtual learning systems.

If learning professionals can connect that insight with the technology they already have, they could go a long way. Social learning will be increasingly important in engaging talent. Organisations cannot do all of this through one department; it will be by multiple collaborations. One such collaboration is with union learning reps and other such envoys.

Learning Impact

The impact of learning programmes on organisational success should be at the centre of any learning professional’s approach in L&TD. In key reports and presentations the CIPD have suggested the need to move towards outcome measures and be less obsessed with ROI (return on investment), especially when conducted without a baseline.

The CIPDs survey demonstrates that most practitioners evaluate L&TD interventions and most commonly use the metrics within HR, such as retention, engagement and performance. The private sector is much more likely to use these methods.

However, over half of the CIPDs survey respondents continue to use Kirkpatrick’s evaluation levels; and mostly only at the reaction level!

It seems that learning professionals are stuck in a recurring loop of evaluation where they want to move forward but cannot. Key reasons for this include:

  1. Lack of prioritisation in measuring L&TD effectiveness;
  2. Access to data is often ‘siloed’;
  3. Incompatible systems;
  4. Difficulties in accessing data consistently and from other departments;
  5. Difficulties in accessing timely data; and
  6. Skills.

Finally, learning professionals should:

  1. Align L&TD interventions with current and future business objectives;
  2. Demonstrate the cost effectiveness of used (or new) interventions, in comparison to non-used (or old) interventions;
  3. Demonstrate the effectiveness of interventions (in both cost and performance terms); and
  4. Evaluate, review and analyse the overall L&TD strategy and its impact.

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