By Daniel Hunter

Just 7% of L&D professionals evaluate the impact of their initiatives on the wider business or society, with most limiting their focus to learner and manager feedback, according to new research. The annual L&D Survey from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, highlights that a lack of effective evaluation can contribute to skills gaps being undetected, particularly in the use of innovative approaches such as new learning technologies. In response, the CIPD is urging L&D professionals to look beyond trainee satisfaction and measure initiatives in terms of how they add value to the organisation as a whole, and society in general.

The need for L&D professionals to link more directly to overall business strategy and outcomes is a key theme that is being discussed next week at the CIPD’s annual Learning and Development Show (13-14 May 2015) which will bring together thousands of L&D professionals at London Olympia to discuss the latest trends and developments in L&D.

Ahead of this, the CIPD’s annual L&D survey reveals that 1 in 3 organisations (37%) only measure the satisfaction of those that take part in L&D initiatives, rather than their wider impact on the business. According to 45% of respondents, the most common barrier to evaluating L&D is ‘other business priorities’, but barriers within L&D and HR itself, such as the quality of analytical data (32%), and crucially the capability of L&D and HR to conduct evaluation (25%), were also voted as common obstacles.
Ruth Stuart, L&D Research Adviser at the CIPD, said: “It’s difficult to predict the ways in which L&D will evolve over the next few years, but there are a number of key tools we have which can help shape the future, and evaluation is one of them. It allows organisations to understand which L&D initiatives are working and which aren’t, so they can tailor activities accordingly and engineer people development to add the most value to individuals and the overall business.

“Although most organisations are evaluating the majority of their L&D initiatives, they’re not going far enough and crucial measurements, such as whether L&D is affecting organisational productivity, remain unknown. With more and more L&D professionals reporting increased workloads and external pressures, we need to work smarter, not harder. We need to invest in our own analytical capability and use evaluation to identify skills gaps earlier on, so we can ultimately deploy effective L&D practice and encourage long-term, sustainable organisational growth.”

The survey identified some of the skills gaps already existing in L&D departments, such as in analytical and technological capabilities. Despite the fact that three quarters of organisations use learning technologies in their L&D initiatives, and 57% of respondents expect developments in mobile learning technologies to have the greatest impact on the L&D profession over the next five years, the survey found that many lack confidence in their ability to use them. Less than a quarter of respondents (24%) feel ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ confident in their ability to harness technology to increase the effectiveness of their L&D interventions. When asked how confidence might be increased, several called for ‘simple terminology’, ‘bite-sized introductions to what is currently available’ and ‘more basic courses, guides or articles’. However, not all technologies are being embraced, and organisations are equally split on whether their use of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and gamified learning will increase or decrease over the next two years.

Ruth continues: “Although face-to-face delivery methods will continue to play an important role in L&D, learning technologies are on the rise and organisations are investing much more in them as a resource. And it’s obvious why — technological initiatives can play a critical role in enabling flexibility and helping to advance a learning culture through facilitating knowledge sharing and social learning.

“However, investment in learning technologies is completely wasted if L&D teams cannot use them, so more needs to be done to understand capability gaps in the profession, and ensure L&D initiatives are used effectively. The research found that confidence is greater in organisations that actively encourage and enable the development of L&D capability, which proves that it’s not just about resource, but about developing a targeted approach for building L&D skills. More effective evaluation will aid this, and help to harness the business benefits that learning technologies, among others, can bring.”