The past ten years have seen a rapid shift in the learning industry. Clients are increasingly focused on analytics and ROI, not just in learning but across the enterprise.

The Kirkpatrick/Phillips model (shown below) provides a framework for measuring the value of any given learning and development initiative conducted by the organization.



The bottom layer is measured through feedback forms, “smile sheets,” and qualitative evaluations of how much participants enjoyed the program.

The second layer up focuses on knowledge retention—after six months, testing to see how much was retained from the learning event.

The basic point is this: the closer we can get to the top of the pyramid in tangible, measurable results, the more valuable the initiative is to the organization (and, as importantly, to the people who make the decisions on whether to renew/extend the program).   

And yet, most learning and development initiatives—I estimate around 90-95% of them—include the ability to measure knowledge retention…at best.

In a digital age, where virtually everything is measured and analyzed, the vast majority of a $360 billion spend is largely unmeasured.

Of course, when you speak to senior decision-makers inside an organization, they want to be able to make a direct correlation between the money spent on learning and the financial business outcomes.

When we start to actually measure the behavior change (level 3 of the Kirkpatrick/Phillips model) inside an organization, the perceived and actual value of the learning programs increases. I mention both because, as most western legal systems put it, “justice must be done and must appear to have been done,” and the same is true with the impact of a program inside an organization. As much as there are benefits to knowing that we made a positive impact with a program, tangible value needs to be recognized by chief decision makers if we hope to expand or renew those programs in the future.

Plus, when we can quantifiably prove behavior change, it’s much easier to confidently ask the question, “how is said behaviour change impacting actual business activity?” and from there, it’s a very short hop up to ROI. The holy grail being when consultants are able to point to a program with their clients, and say “a dollar spent on this program directly translates into X dollars in increased revenue or decreased costs.”

The closer you can get to the top of the pyramid, the more resources an organization is willing to put into a learning and development program.

There’s a global shift happening in L&D, from measuring learning impact qualitatively and making assumptions about impact, to a demand for tangible, quantifiably measurable results that have a direct impact on key business metrics. This is impacting learning professionals across the globe. Your clients are no longer satisfied with feedback forms, or once-a-year training that is never applied on the job.

In building our learning technology platform at Actionable, we focused on creating tools that consultants can leverage to access behavior change insights and provide more quantitative value to their clients, while staying more relevant and unique in a marketplace which is increasingly demanding demonstrable ROI. There’s no doubt: times are changing.

Despite being a fairly new platform, we’re seeing organizations begin to shift their cultures and improve their performance by taking the insights that are generated through the Actionable platform on a daily and monthly basis, analyzing them for opportunities and red-flags, and making changes within the business. Regular use of the platform creates a predictive analysis tool for identifying the opportunities for future learning and development inside the organization.

What I’ve always liked about the Kirkpatrick/Phillips model is that it provides an easily understandable reference structure for the massive shift that the learning and development industry is experiencing now, as it has been for 10+ years. Companies are increasingly looking for a demonstrable return on their learning and development investment. We’ve seen first-hand that consultants benefit from moving their clients up the pyramid, and framing their offering in terms of the ROI their clients will see. By shifting your practice along with the changes in the industry, you can increase your relevance in the marketplace, increase sales, and make a measurable difference for your clients.

This is part one of our four part series on trends in learning, which we refer to as the “Shifting Learning Landscape.” Read part two: Time and Attention are at a Premium