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Why Optimal Learning Engagement Is the Answer to Higher Performance and Solving the Skills Challenge

Steve Dineen
Sep 17 2020

If the Corporate learning industry continues to focus on the metrics it always has, it will continue to go in the direction it always has.

Today's Learning and Development (L&D) metrics are archaic and need to change, otherwise L&D departments will forever lament not having a seat at the top table.

Each department has their own measures and guide; In sales its top-line revenue growth, in marketing it’s their contribution to the sales pipeline, and in services it’s customer retention and NPS scores.

However, most L&D departments measure against the number of employees trained, the number of courses attended and how many people are now certified as “skilled” having attended those courses. This form of measuring the development of our people is irrelevant as it does not adequately indicate or connect to business value on which all teams and departments are measured against. 

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Moving from L&D Outputs to Business Outcomes

Over time, measuring trained staff against business performance consistently results in not being able to find measurable performance value. This is not to say that learning cannot add business value rather it’s to say that using the wrong metric will not demonstrate its impact.

Measuring on “trained users” is like asking your L&D team to run a competitive race aiming for the wrong finish line. We as an industry need to focus more on creating highly engaged learning cultures which measure and report on its business impact.

This change needs to start at the top with recognition from C-level executives. For example, if a business leader assigns the tasks of training 2,000 staff to its L&D department, then the L&D team will design a learning solution that will measure the success of having 2,000 people complete a single or a series of training course(s).

This measurement of success in no way predicts performance in any time frame (e.g. a week later, a month or even 6 months later). For this reason, so many organisations that try to correlate business value and specific outcomes to employee training completion struggle to see performance benefit.  

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3 Reasons Why Courses Alone Rarely Lead to Performance Improvement

1) Our people don’t have memory superpowers

Companies still widely exercise their belief that putting people on lengthy training courses will up-skill their staff for their particular role. This practice is based on the assumption that attendees have the mental capacity to remember and retain large amounts of in-depth information, and ignores or is apathetic to the fact that most of what attendees understood will never be referenced again from a textbook, digital course or their memories. It's an archaic belief system that has not adapted to the times nor proven effective.

2) Only a fraction of staff will transfer understanding to everyday habits

What’s worse is that the industry assumes that understanding something in a course translates to efficient on-demand memory recall. Too many in our industry expect that staff will then automatically change their habits, behaviours and adopt new learnings going forward. So it's not a surprise that when people correlate their trained user data against performance data there is rarely a shift on the performance dial in the right direction.

Research around 70:20:10 confirmed what learning leaders knew themselves in that a course has always been just a fraction of the solution for up-skilling staff. The key learning and preparedness comes from engaging with peers and applying learnings in the workplace. Over the last five years, we are seeing an industry shift where many organisations have transformed their learning programs by designing/working backward from business performance (or from the business performance goals).

Industry leaders are considering how best to support every learning touchpoint with a variety of techniques and tools to gain the most business value. Progressive learning professionals tactics include:

  • Ensuring learning content is designed in a way where the concept or the procedure can be frictionlessly accessed in the flow of work (not the course but just the fraction of knowledge needed at that moment). 
  • Adding learning tasks which need to be applied in the workplace into the learning design to help create and accelerate new habits and behaviours. 
  • Making sure everything we do taps into people's intrinsic desire to learn, improve and grow.
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3) The world is moving too fast for courses to keep up

According to Schilling, D.R. it was estimated that in 1900, human knowledge doubled every 100 years. By the end of World War II, corporate knowledge doubled every 25 years. Today, we are seeing that human knowledge doubles every 13 months (2013). A course centric approach was great for the horse and cart era, but is now outdated given the advancements of speed the Internet has brought.

The perfect example of this is how the world has had to adjust to the global coronavirus pandemic. Globally, companies are looking to re-skill staff at an exponential speed due to not only the pandemic itself but also its resultant impact on the acceleration of the digital transformation of their businesses. Industry leaders quickly recognised that by the time courses are created, they will be outdated and there is now just to much knowledge being created to stuff solely into courses or people's heads.

3 Levels of Modern Learning Metrics Which Guide Business Performance

We need to rapidly follow the industry leaders who, years ago, began designing learning for business outcomes. Their designs use a very different outcome finish line on which L&D departments can build a suite of daily guides and metrics to grow business value. 

Level 1 - Program-Specific Learning Activity (PSLA) Levers

The most evolved modern-day learning metrics are program-specific. Business performance data has been correlated directly with specific types of learning activity, especially when they’re hypothesised from the start.

An example of this is Hilti where Rachel, Terry, Stuart, Eivind and the team define their program-specific metrics from the outset. Each learning program is formulated using data to predict business outcome and that is signed off by key stakeholders. If for example, teams don’t believe that certain program designs will lead to performance and business outcomes then they won’t implement the program and will instead, invest their efforts into areas that can better deliver value. Knowing this type of measurement is possible, C-level executives should push for this level of the detail from their L&D departments.

At Hilti, every program is relatively unique with some programs having more coaching, some heavy on user-generated content, while others are more task-based and designed to do on the job. Each program also varies on its use of informal learning ranging from 60% to 90% of the content designed to be used informally or at a point of need (e.g. when you’re on the job and need to know how to do something).

Ultimately, the L&D team not only care about the end outcome (e.g. higher performance) but they also care about the different levers of learning activity that can impact each program. By better understanding which levers (e.g. frequency of coaching, more visibility of their trainers online or better accessibility of content at the moment of need) increase or decrease employee engagement, L&D teams can better shift levers to create value in higher performance.

Hilti, being at the forefront of this thought leadership, is where the industry should aspire to be. They provide the perfect example of other metrics that are useful and critical to use on the journey to Level 3 metrics.

Level 2 – A universal indicator to measure continuous learners and a growing learning culture

Avon is another industry leader who has created a hugely successful digital learning culture for its global beauty entrepreneurs with 130,000+ active users monthly. Their users engage in a myriad of social interactions across 40 global markets and consume over a million pieces of content in that time. Interestingly similar to Hilti, 80% of interactions are from non-traditonal e-learning courses pointing towards Avon’s vibrant learning culture centred around daily, business-relevant digital engagement.

As Learning Technologists, having access to rich data of this sort and the necessary analytics tools (e.g. Universal Analytics) is like having a Golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for chocaholics. The Willy Wonka experience is amplified when this data insight is combined with the mindset and drive of learning leaders/rebels like Andy Stamps.

Andy continuously makes data-driven decisions by correlating learning activity with business performance in order to better understand what to do more or less. Andy recently asked two profound questions of Avon's data:

1) Do Avon’s "trained users" perform better than non-trained users?

2) Do Avon’s continuous learners, measured by a frequency of regular activity on the platform, perform better than users who are inactive or less active? 

Looking at the data, the answers across this learning and business dataset were very clear. There was no discernible difference between trained versus non-trained users who completed courses. The significant difference was instead found when you measured the impact of continuous learners versus non-continuous learners against the key two core business metrics; average order value and retention of its beauty entrepreneurs.

With over five million beauty entrepreneurs, it is a game changer to know that continuous learners stay with Avon 20% longer and have a 6% increase in average order value versus non-continuous learners. Logically and instinctively, this statistic makes sense as Avon have created something impressive and incorporated the right amount of structured bite-size learning plans to help beauty entrepreneurs rapidly learn and reference digital social selling skills alongside the new knowledge that is created by its practitioners.

They have also implemented digital Community Managers in each market to ensure that new informal content is added and distributed to the platform in a regular drumbeat both from top down and ground up.

The key breakthrough for Andy and the team is seeing that it is possible to define with data what a “continuous learner” is. Regardless of the term itself, a continuous learner is someone who is actively deciding to visit and engage on their digital learning platform regularly, whether that is to access content in the flow of work (e.g. how to setup a WhatsApp broadcast group or a Facebook live event), discover a new piece of global content created by a peer (e.g. how to demo a product in an even better way) or for a variety of other reasons. What Avon not only recognised but also advocated for is that all these interactions matters, not just the completion of formal courses, and point towards a beauty entrepreneur with the habit of a continuous learner.

Level 3 – Active monthly users

Amongst Industry Leaders, Avon’s results are not a surprise. Other leaders like George, Rob, Mike created a similar culture in Vodafone UK have seen a similar pattern in their engagement levels as they turned to the modern metrics of learning. A few years ago, they took 12 months of their learning data from their 5,000 UK staff, segmented the audience into 4 quadrants (i.e. most engaged to least engaged) and then compared each segmentation’s performance results.

There was a 13% difference in performance in NPS scores and average order value. People in the top half performed 13% better than the people in the bottom half. The difference was even more striking when measuring the performance during the onboarding process with an 84% NPS score versus traditional onboarding (i.e. face-to-face and old school e-learning courses) at 12%.

The litmus test today is what Charles Jennings did. He walked into a UK store at 10:30 on a Monday morning and asked the different store representatives if they engaged on their digital learning platform Fuse Universal, which he received the answer ‘yes, three times so far’. From there, the forward direction was clear and this learning culture is now embedded into their company culture. From onboarding, staff are ingrained in digital learning and encouraged to create the habit of logging onto their learning platform. These habits turn into behaviours and foster a learning culture where store managers encourage staff to search for the answers in the platform first rather than ask themselves or the nearest person to them.

Vodafone UK have sustained a 80% monthly active usage (MAU) of 80% over a 5 year period. Having 80% monthly active usage for 5 years is truly impressive and a standout statistic for any corporate platform but for an L&D platform, its unprecedented.

Vodafone UK clearly recognise and value the direct connection between performance and engagement so much so that their engagement strategy is no longer a separate thing but is baked into their operational routine. They know that their staff are choosing to engage in holistic learning by searching for something when they need it, discovering new bite size content in their downtime and completing formal learning one bite at a time. Credit should be given to the Vodafone team, as their content strategy has been refined over the years and is a standout example of what great looks like for their audience demographic.

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Modern Metrics as Indicators of a Highly Engaged Learning Culture

The key difference about these modern metrics is that they are all focused on looking and giving credit to the whole spectrum of learning interactions across formal, social and workplace learning rather than incorrectly giving credit to just the formal aspects.

One of the drivers of Learning Technology is to create experiences that are more akin to our consumer lives which we should. Interestingly, almost every consumer technology company measures the success of its software through daily, weekly, and monthly usage (amongst other metrics) because it is an indicator of how likely a user will return. When applied to the corporate world of learning, it is an indicator and guide of whether people are choosing to engage with the experience laid out for them. When we correlate the choice of usage, for highly engaged digital learning platforms with business data it shows a view on business impact from which we can then dive deeper as Vodafone, Hilti, Avon and others have to extrapolate key insights and identify specific interventions that have the most impact.

Can Successful Learning Cultures Be Replicated?

The answer is a simple yes. We see learning leaders  like Lyn, Donna, Topher and Angel leave a company where they created a successful learning culture and then go on to replicate that success at the next. What makes these and other successful leaders able to replicate to success? Modern learning technology is only one part of the answer and used without anything else changing, it will still result in the low engagement in learning and the lack of measureable business value creation.

Learning Leaders' Business Mindset

The list of other organisations whose learning leaders/rebels are business aligned and whose thinking has helped facilitate active learning cultures is growing. Learning rebels like Rachel, Donna, Gideon, Siri, Kate who have created these active, measurable, learning cultures all have a mindset of business outcome first. They have a performance driven mindset and recognise that learning is not simply about providing the business a service but is first and foremost about business performance.

Not only do C-level executives want high performing individuals and teams but also staff want to be part of a culture where skillsets are put to best use and continuous learning and engagement is encouraged, not blocked and this is where data and facts help. Many line managers will believe that learning takes their people away from doing their job and the value that goes with it, many don't believe that the way learning and training is done is a good use of their team's time. Success and data to prove value to line managers is the biggest weapon to help change this and making them into your biggest advocates for your vision.

Unfortunately, not all learning leaders or learning tech companies are aligned on this thought leadership. Many in our industry still believe that corporate learning shouldn't be linked to performance. Given the current times and work climate, a change in mindset is eminent. This digital transformation has been accelerated and will be embedded in industries across the globe so the time is now. Digital learning and the creation of learning cultures has moved more than 5 years than in the last 5 months (Thankyou Matthew Smith for that quote).


From looking at our 150 customers across the world over the past 10 years, what is clear is that there are certain factors that are critical to the creation of a highly engaged learning culture. The business mindset of the learning leader is critical and then having the right skills of the team, the right content strategy, etc. follows along. We have plenty of examples of the 7 levers that customers of Fuse Universal take to build a successful learning culture. 

If you are a learning leader who is ready to become a learning rebel join us on 24th of September to learn more about these 7 levers. You can register here.

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