How does professional learning provide sustainable learning impact with measurable behavior change?

I have now been a purchaser or provider of professional learning experiences—primarily in the education sector—for nearly 20 years. While I may have not always been using the exact words of the question that opens this post, ultimately the answer to this question is what I’ve always been seeking in my work. But is it achievable? In this post, I will explore the current state in relation to a number of approaches that are currently in play.

Within education, there is a vast amount of money spent on professional learning to help leaders and teachers be better in their roles, and to ultimately improve student outcomes. For the vast majority of my twenty years as a purchaser, and now provider, the ‘go-to’ approach for measuring success was evaluation sheets at the end of the professional learning event. I have come to call them the ‘happy sheets.’ These evaluation forms provide a rating of how happy (or unhappy) participants were with the training. Unfortunately, the factor that always seemed to impact happiness the most was the quality of the catering.

I’m being a bit deliberately provocative here, but the reality is that the vast majority of professional learning experiences in education that I was involved in did little (or nothing) to measure sustained learning impact, or measure behavior change back in the workplace. Even worse, the events were often viewed by participants as a break from their “actual work,” valuable only because they provided a change of scenery and a free lunch.

Of course, in a handful of cases, participants embraced the learning, applied it to their daily work, and saw significant improvements. But if I’m being very honest, estimating that 10% of participants enjoyed these improvements is likely a generous interpretation.

I was pretty consistently successful at getting very good ‘happy sheets’—but I’m not sure about sustainable learning impact, and I know I haven’t measured behavior change in any significant way, other than a few testimonials here and there.

There has been some recent movement towards using Net Promoter Score (NPS®) to supplement or replace feedback sheets. This was created by Fred Reicheld and Bain & Company and is calculated from the results of asking customers one simple question: How likely is it that you would recommend this brand/product/service to a friend?

While there are a number of advantages to using the NPS system instead of just evaluation sheets, there are some limitations:

  1. It is overly simplistic. It only captures a single point in time, and even in that one moment, it obscures subtler facets of the customer experience.
  2. It doesn’t take into account the outcome that a customer used a product or service to achieve.
  3. It is a lagging indicator, which means you learn too little, too late.
  4. It was designed as a measure for consumer goods rather than professional learning.

So, while ultimately using NPS is a small step forward from ‘happy sheets,’ just measuring the participant’s feelings at a single point in time is ineffective for achieving the goals of the learning event, and doesn’t capture any relevant information about sustained learning impact, or measurable behavior change as the result of the session.

There are some examples of organizations using approaches that are trying different methods to achieve sustainable learning impact with measurable behavior change. So, I’ll now explore two such methodologies: Gamification, and the Actionable L&D behavior change platform.

Learning through Gamification

Gamification is the process of taking the key outcomes of professional learning and integrating game mechanics to motivate participation and engagement. Gamification takes the data-driven techniques that game designers use to engage players, and applies them to non-game experiences to motivate actions that add value to the professional learning program.

This approach to creating a successful learning program (and therefore changing people’s behavior) is based on the four following elements:

  1. Continuous on-the-job practice: Continuously using what the participants learned in training in their daily work activities dramatically improves learning retention and supports sustained behavior change.
  2. Motivation and engagement from gamification: You can increase participants’ motivation for behavior change if you turn the learning process into a game. The gamified structure along with awards and rewards as external motivators are built into the process. Participants will do the tasks and change because it is fun, they like to compete and they can see their improvements step-by- step on the gameboard.
  3. Social learning: Participants get motivated if they can learn from each other. Constant peer-to-peer interactions regarding the real-world application of knowledge, and sharing what they learned, will draw them into the learning process. Participants will do the tasks and change their behavior, because they can learn from others and help each other in a professional environment.
  4. Measurable results: All the actions during the follow-up stage of the learning process turn into behavior change. Gamification enables the implementation of support and offers a method to quantify behavior change and view the personal effort put in solving tasks.

Behavior Change with Actionable

Actionable provides a L&D platform that helps embed professional learning through micro-learning prompts over a 30-day period following professional learning activities.

The platform uses just-in-time technology to commit participants to action following the professional learning experience, and gives the learning provider data that measures both the level of engagement and the implementation of learning back on the job by participants. It makes the professional learning ‘stickier’ and gives you insight into the ROI of the professional learning through comprehensive insights documentation.

Actionable also supports a data informed follow-up conversation opportunity to reflect on the impact of the professional learning, and discuss future professional learning needs with participants.

This can be incorporated into any of your current and future professional learning options to help embed change and measure ROI.

Actionable enables an approach that helps us measure the quality and impact of our conversations. It’s built on the idea that continuous spaced learning around a single small commitment the participants want to implement makes learning stick. In addition, it builds in support and accountability that leads to measurable behavior change.

This enables organizations to measure the leader’s influence and impact as well as the overall engagement of their leaders and staff, therefore enabling data-informed conversations.

Comparing Actionable and Gamification

Both Actionable and gamification use idea that follow-up to professional learning enables greater take-up and impact. However, they each have different approaches to motivation and engagement:

  • Actionable involves self-chosen commitments, and micro learning behavior changes, with prompts from the technology. Participants choose either a mindset, skill, or relationship based commitment (or create their own), and select an accountability buddy to support the change. Actionable commitments can be private to the individual, with insights being available to the leader.
  • Gamification is chosen by the leader/professional learning provider, and uses a range of tasks that are based on inspiration, reflection, application and/or community. Gamification incorporates a Social Learning aspect where progress, or not, is public.

Actionable also has a much higher-level use of the data generated and available.

I have a strong belief that an L&D behavior change platform, such as Actionable, is the way to go in providing professional learning experiences that enable sustainable learning impact and measurable behavior change.

For me the focus, certainly in education, should be more about ROE (return on engagement) than ROI (return on investment), though we obviously all want money to be well spent. The greater the engagement of teachers and leaders, the more likely we are to achieve the outcomes we all want for our children.