Learning & DevelopmentLearning Programs

Evidence-based L&D – what you need to know

In evidence-based approach to business, the best-quality data is used for making the right decisions and setting the right direction. Similar principles can be applied by L&D departments, although currently, only one-third of L&D specialists are following this approach. Why is it so difficult to implement and how to cope with this?

What is evidence-based L&D?

All L&D leaders know that training strategy must be adjusted to current business goals. And yet, the fact that these business goals should have active and ongoing support is not so obvious. Normally, L&D departments don’t know whether the training they delivered actually had impact on the company’s business goals. In the CIPD podcast, Nigel Cassidy observes that L&D departments are usually so focused on training other employees that they have no time to find evidence to prove that their interventions are effective. This is what evidence-based learning is all about: L&D departments should self-check their activities and find the right quantitative metrics to describe the impact of L&D sessions on how particular business problems get solved. They also need to apply an optimum design process for their training activities, based on state-of-the-art scientific knowledge. Why are there so few L&D specialists who follow this path? 

Evidence or satisfaction?

It might seem that in times of Big Data, evidence-based L&D is a piece of cake. Before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, a study published by Emerald Works revealed that L&D innovations introduced in companies in the past 7 years had increased their business results by more than 9% in terms of growth, productivity, transformation, and profit. Even so, most L&D leaders don’t make proper use of evidence to design their business-oriented solutions and their effectiveness is measured only by means of feedback (38%). Only one-third of training specialists researched by Emerald Works claimed that they identified the problem with productivity. 

Data – L&D departments’ weakness?

Experts from Emerald Works say that the difficulties of L&D departments with applying evidence in their work are mostly a result of L&D leaders’ and specialists’ habits. For many years, the successfulness of training was determined by post-training surveys, participants’ and managers’ satisfaction, and participation rates. The approach to data and the ability to use data in practice are also a huge challenge: only 16% of L&D practitioners are able to skillfully use data and metrics and barely 25% believe that they are sufficiently skilled to do so. This is unused potential that actually makes L&D undervalued in organizations and decreases the quality of the solutions offered by L&D departments. This is particularly important in times of crisis when maximizing effectivity is the greatest priority.

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The benefits that can persuade the unpersuadable 

The Transformation Journey 2021 Report, prepared by Towards Maturity and PwC, suggests that the leading challenge faced by L&D teams is managers’ reluctance to ensure time for training. Up to 45% of L&D leaders believe that this is the most serious limitation they need to cope with. In 2019, 41% of L&D leaders indicated that factor as the biggest limitation. At the same time, 34% of business leaders are considerably worried about the short-term nature of L&D initiatives in their organizations. Most of them claim that L&D contributes significantly only to one out of their five crucial priorities. 

The benefits of implementing an evidence-based approach concern both L&D departments as such and the organization as a whole. Evidence-based L&D strategies make it possible to create courses that respond to real-life business problems. In turn, this brings undeniable practical value to line and senior managers. Specific numbers and metrics are indisputable arguments if you want to gain trust, confidence, and… a larger training budget. In fact, for L&D departments, this is a question of survival as well as their image: this way, they can present themselves as professionalists with a crucial impact on business development of their organization, to the same extent as other departments – or even more.

Learn how to teach

There is another argument for why the evidence-based approach is beneficial, especially in L&D: the way that the process of teaching itself is verified. By finding and verifying evidence for the methods they use, L&D specialists start thinking outside the box and stop employing standard teaching methods. Practice shows that using the latest technologies to move all the training activities online is not enough to bring the expected results. In the evidence-based approach, you need to take a step back and take a broader look at the theories of learning used in practice. 

CIPD research shows that fewer than a half of L&D practitioners implement new learning concepts, based on recent discoveries in behavioral science or neuroscience. That’s too bad – after all, science offers novel solutions for effective learning and development. And it invites everybody to experiment! The latest scientific findings have given grounds to the methods of microlearning, chunking, and interleaving. Michelle Parry-Slater, Commercial Content Learning Manager at CIPD believes that L&D professionalism in present-day companies is built on offering modern science-based solutions and providing evidence for the effectiveness of these solutions. 

Where to begin?

Before introducing evidence-based L&D, ask yourself a question about the actual L&D needs in your organization – what problem do you need to solve? As usual in such situations, you need a broader perspective. Stella Collins, co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at Stellar Labs, says that this process cannot be run top-down. Learning delivery should be planned from every place in the organization and follow the needs of all parties involved. The next step is related to data, which should set the direction for L&D activities, and to the involvement of the participants. The key task is to decide if the available metrics can serve as sufficient evidence for the effectiveness of the L&D strategy and if the training as such has a sufficient impact on the organization. Collins claims that relevant data is available in the whole organization: customer service, feedback, complaints, HR and recruitment systems, productivity, and finances. The main challenge is to find adequate evidence rather than invest in new data. 

Efficient data management can generate business value for modern companies and build competitive advantage, which is so hard to achieve nowadays. Market analysis shows that companies with a data-centric decision-making culture bring more profit than those that don’t build this culture. L&D departments simply cannot remain indifferent to these findings if they want to keep up with the needs of modern business. What’s more, access to state-of-the-art knowledge that is necessary to create effective training as well as to relevant quantitative data that can prove its worth and usefulness is just within reach.

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