Learning Audit: Do you need one? — Part 2

…continued from previous post

How do you perform a learning audit?

You can search the Internet for audit parameters and how you should set up your audit plan but a learning audit is a project and just like any project it should follow best practices of project management. However, before you begin your audit’s project plan, you need to determine why you are performing your audit. Knowing that will help you decide the type of audit you should perform and what you will measure. These will also be dependent on the size of your organization, what types of learning activities are, what your time-frame and budget are, and finally what the goal of the audit is. Once you’ve answered those questions, you can look at the methodologies available.

Is your goal to do a return-on-investment analysis? The purpose of ROI is to prove that the time, effort and money invested in learning is providing some — ultimately financial — return, whether that is direct cost saving or indirect profitability from increased productivity or efficiency. A learning audit focused on ROI will use metrics to measure differences between costs, productivity and other factors before and after learning.

But you may be attempting to determine how your learning initiatives affect your employees and the organization as a whole. Learning affects can trickle down to all areas of an organization positively and negatively. A classic example of this is with business initiatives that involve cutting training programmes. There may be an immediate cost saving, however, service levels may suffer as a result, which may cause customers to leave, reducing profits in the long term.

Be aware that attempts to measure ‘intangibles’ and trickle-down affects related to learning and performance have not necessarily been successful nor widely accepted as accurate. This difficulty goes hand-in-hand with issues related to valuing the human capital possessed by an organization. Much has been written on the subject of “human-resource accounting” in the past couple of decades both in academia and in the business world — mostly about its impracticality.

However, there are correlations that can certainly be measured. For example, learning that helps meet compliance can prevent costly mistakes, which can mitigate risks and liability. Improved access to data can reduce response times for time-sensitive issues, which can, in turn, reduce stress. Learning may make employees more productive helping them feel valuable and fulfilled and thus reduce turnover. Reducing staff turnover eliminates production delays that occur when mission-critical employees leave. Since hiring new staff is expensive (both in recruitment and onboarding time/costs), improving this process can save money and increase profitability.

Also be aware that spending too much time, effort and money measuring can offset the improvements you are hoping to gain. If the measurements you seek are subjective or not easily available, assigning consulting or staff hours to the acquisition and measurement of data can reduce productivity. Be sure to measure only what is relevant, and then use that information for future planning and improvement.

What are the benefits of a learning audit?

A typical learning audit will identify which activities are (or are not):

  • Making an impact
  • Valued by learners
  • Meeting business requirements (including risk management)
  • Adequately performed and managed

But you should also find:

  • Where organizational goals are being met and where they aren’t
  • Areas of resource waste
  • Opportunities for improvement

As noted earlier, the real improvements will likely come from the whys as well as the whos, whats and wheres.

For an example we can go back to the poorly attended class mentioned earlier. Is the course content outdated or unnecessary or was it simply a matter of a confusing or inaccurate description? Was the class not properly promoted? Does the instructor have a poor reputation? A course might be scrapped because of low attendance when there is nothing wrong with the content. No knowing why attendance was off can certainly result in a case of throwing away the baby with the bath water.

The purpose of an audit is to ensure the quality, appropriateness, and effectiveness of all learning products and service and that’s the ultimate benefit. If done well, a learning audit can provide future success in learning, but also contribute to overall strategies for success for the whole organization.

Continued in next post…