Submarine control panel. Bowfin Submarine Museum, Pearl Harbor. Personal collection.

How do we measure the impact of informal and incidental learning on organizational performance?

Reda SadkiLearning strategy

Evidence from learning science clearly identifies how to strengthen learning culture in ways that will drive performance. However, in a recent study conducted by Learning Strategies International (LSi), we quickly found limitations and gaps in the data available from the organization examined, despite the best effort by the organization’s staff to answer our questions and requests.

We found two gaps that needed to be addressed before the most effective approaches to develop capabilities could  be applied usefully – and their impact measured:

  1. The gap between a commitment in principle to learning and skepticism about its actual value. (This gap surprised us.)
  2. Gaps in data and reporting needed to measure internal learning (and how to improve it).

We believe that the first gap (skepticism about the value of learning) is the direct result of the second (lack of measurement).

Without a measure of its impact on performance, internal (staff) learning is likely to be seen as a “nice-to-have” rather than a strategic priority.

Measurement is needed to demonstrate the correlation between internal learning and performance.

Measurement in learning is notoriously difficult. We recognise that although internal learning is critically important, many other variables determine organizational performance.

It would be wonderful if it were possible to draw a straight line from internal learning to specific business outcomes, but it is not.

Recognizing the value of informal learning further complicates measurement: self-directed learning, coaching, mentoring, and other informal learning strategies have this embedded capacity to allow us to learn much more than we intended or expected at the outset.

This makes such learning more difficult to measure, but far more valuable to the participant, team, and organization. This is why we recommended:

  • the use of knowledge, mission, and financial performance of an organization or network as key metrics to correlate with learning culture; and
  • an evidence-based approach (already deployed in over 8,000 organisations and adapted by LSi for global, complex humanitarian networks) to measure these three performance variables and correlate them to the dimensions of learning culture.

Featured image: Submarine control panel. Bowfin Submarine Museum, Pearl Harbor. Personal collection.