Our webinar, LMS and Business Impact: Connecting the Dots conducted last week, was as insightful for us as it was for our packed audience. Why? Because oftentimes uncovering the ground reality gives you a well-rounded view of the subject. The Q&A that followed the 40-minute webinar by Anil Nair, COE and Lead for Organizational Learning and Leadership Development at the Zydus Group, and Amit Gautam, Director and Founder of UpsideLMS, did just that for us.

Here’s a snippet of the conversation that saw L&D and HR practitioners tune in from all parts of the world.

Questions & Answers

Q1. Do you believe that online learning is more effective than classroom training?

Anil: <transcript> Well, I must say that they’re actually incomparable. The purpose for which we use classroom training and the purpose for which online training needs to be used are two different things. We made a mention, both me and Amit, that things have changed and how online learning has probably been a better way to reach at a mass scale and possibly address and create some kind of awareness about concepts, it is more about information dissemination. If you want that to be the purpose of your learning program, it could be an Induction or a concept-driven program, then online learning is enough for you. But then imagine some kind of interventions where you need to bring about a perspective change in the behavior of an individual; imagine if you’re addressing some kind of leadership issues, imagine if you want to link some kind of a learning with the business outcomes and accordingly try to relate it to a classroom attendance, your online learning will not suffice. So perhaps you need to have a feel and touch approach. A little bit of deep-diving would be important to understand that behavior and put your answers in context. And even you can choose to have a hybrid approach by putting up a part of the program online and then substantiate it in a class.

Q2. Apart from record keeping how can we make an LMS more attractive to the user?

Amit: <transcript> I think a few simple things which can be done are, of course, first of all, the tool has to align with the learning objectives of that group of users. So instead of looking at ways of making it attractive, the focus has to be on making it relevant and important for the users, which means the LMS and learning itself have to be a part of the workflow of the employees. And this could be made better by the LMS becoming smarter. So understanding the employees’ workflow, their learning needs and their skill profile can personalize the learning for the users to a large extent. Which means when learners log into the system they can actually see things that are relevant for them and things which are going to help them positively in their workflow and in their desired or defined role. And they can focus on those activities which can help them move forward on the right path. So it has to be all about what the learner can take away and how that will impact the learners’ performance and help them move forward in their career path.

Q3. How can we measure the ROI after the training? Most of the times it is very subjective. What are your views on that?

Anil: <transcript> Very interesting. You know usually we end up measuring the level one, level two or at the most reach up to the level three (of Kirkpatrick’s training evaluation model) and seek the manager’s feedback and understand whether the individual is able to demonstrate or not. Now for each organization what kind of business outcomes are they trying to predict and for what the learning is mapped is different. A lot of work has to be done along with the stakeholders to identify what kind of learning would they like to have. I’m sure they know that training doesn’t happen by a mere agenda setting or what the Learning Department is trying to float in the organization, but it is a kind of a desire, the need of which is coming out of a business (objective). And if it’s mapped to a business need, then it has to be a joint proposition. And when it becomes a joint proposition, ‘what is it that you intend to measure’ becomes refined. So it is very important that when you say ROI, it’s like measuring something. If you haven’t defined anything you cannot measure anything. So I would say that before you begin with any kind of an agenda, decide on ‘what is it’ that you want to measure.

ROI has got multiple definitions. In some of the organizations or some interventions, you would want to measure whether the cost has come down, in some you would want to measure if the productivity been increased. If you are doing some kind of a session for a new product launch you would want to find out whether it was established from a certain point of time. I would like to say it’s more like ammunition in the bullet, keep shooting. Even if the ROI comes post training we can’t say that that is completely attributed to their training, can we? None of the organizations believe in it. BUT without the training can it happen? I would say NO. It becomes an important facilitator. So ROI has got multiple parameters. You need to rate training as a one off the important tools. If you recall my conversation, I did make a mention about writing on a drawing board about what are the various things which would improve ROI and then if you feel that there is a necessity of training in that checklist, you must include training and if not, then it doesn’t make sense. So then it becomes relatively easier when you want to measure an ROI.

Q4. How to implement the same in the healthcare setup with wide range of employees, where communication itself is a challenge?

Amit: <transcript> Healthcare setup is not really a very unique set up when it comes to implementing the LMS. So it is a similar environment to, let’s say, a large company which has fifty thousand workforce – half of that in the field, scattered across various offices either in the same country or different countries. I think, it starts from the objectives. So the technical part is actually easier in terms of implementing but the one point I want to definitely add is to use and look at the mobile application part of the tool as a big factor in implementation in a setup like a healthcare setup where the employees are not just in different offices but also have different learning needs. Anil has done this at his company so I am sure he has few practical tips which he can share.

Anil: <transcript> You made a very important mention about Healthcare setup with a wide range of employees. Yeah, it is easier to tame a dog at house than to tame an elephant. And you know I represent the healthcare setup with about twenty four thousand people globally. And I know the kind of a challenge it presents. My first reaction to this would be what is learning in an organization? Is it a big task that L&D feels is important for them to finish off because it’s a part of their KPIs and because they have been appointed to something they ought to be doing. Is it something which a business needs at a point in time when things are not going well? Okay fine, let’s try to engage our people and training could be one of the means to do it.

I would say learning is a culture. And even for that matter whatever tools that we’ve tried to make use of, it is a culture. If L&D is not something which has been internalized and been an intrinsic part of the organizational culture, you would find all these challenges.

So that means when communication is a challenge with reference to learning then people fundamentally are asking the question ‘what’s in it for me?’. How do you make people more attracted to the learning not necessarily only from Gamification, or the features in the LMS or the kind of program you have for them. We need to make people understand the relevance of it in their own lives and their own careers. So communication is a challenge is a myth. That’s where these interesting tools are there. You need to have your stakeholders who are the best people to reach out to the people. They extend to the HR community who are all there to have hands on communication with all those people in the organization. And then, preferably, if learning becomes a part of an organization culture that you know these kinds of challenges can be overcome.

Q5. Given the flurry of systems like YouTube, Wikipedia and other channels available today for the learner to access content. How do you see LMS staying relevant?

Amit: <transcript> I’d like to give you a very simple analogy for that. You know, I personally use the Amazon Fire stick TV but through that I have access to almost every streaming service. So, I think, LMS in the very least organizes all of these into a single window access to the users. Because, you know, if I leave it to the employees to go and look at these channels on their on – one there are multiple channels, which is of course difficult to track for themselves and the LMS, as I said, in the very least will help you organize variety of learning media; not just these channels but a variety of other learning media into one single place for not just easy access but also it can then be used further to profile a learner – what are they doing, how are they doing and what else can be done for them. For a company it is impossible to track all of these channels and then the amount of data from these channels to have some kind of a correlation between them for a single employee is going to be a mammoth task. So LMS in the very least will help you organize that data and also help the employee access all of these information channels quickly and easily without losing a track of what they were doing and also kind of, you know, not forces but kind of encourages them to link it to their learning work flow.

Q6. We have difficulty having employees spare time to learn and implement at work. How can an LMS bring in that continuous learning culture in an interesting way?

Anil: <transcript> Things that you are trying to implement in an organization from the corporate view standpoint and all these tools we are talking about are something that specific departments sitting at the head office are trying to launch for their employees. The purpose is ‘why’. Is it because it’s a new thing that I want to put as an addition to whatever I have done across the year and say that this is one new thing which we have launched? Or is it something that the business finds as a necessity simply because every organization is doing it? Or it could also be ‘let’s understand the kind of the relevance to the employees’. Today we are dealing with the multi generation workforce and that’s a topic that you hear in all forums. The people have changed and there are all four set of generations that you are dealing with. I mean, ranging from the baby boomers to now the gen Z people. Each of them has a different way to learn. Now if you want to have a learning culture in the organization you need to give them a context as to why it is important for them and, you know, you cannot say that one size fits for all. So even in your LMS there has to be a customization in which way that it addresses people and what does it matter to them? Believe me tough times are there ahead in the next 10 years as you even might have to try to customize it for individuals to individuals in this specific age group. So if a continuous learning culture has to be built in an interesting way the answer to that is ‘what is in it for me’. It is an answer that organizations might be prepared to give to each and every employee. It is not only related to the businesses, which is only from the corporate standpoint. P&L is for the business what does it matter to the employees? And some of it, as we just had a dialogue that Youtube or Wikipedia and other channels, is readily available today. The learning is open for them now. By bringing in an LMS you are training them on something that you want them to be trained on; they have not asked for it. At the most, you have a catalogue and they can pick and choose but that is also a fixed repository of the things. We are not giving them anything that they ask for. So it’s a two sided sword. You are giving them what you want them to learn. They are picking up what is available for them to learn but not necessarily lots of questions related to ‘what’s in it for me’ are getting answered. So if an LMS has to bring a continuous learning culture there has to be a continuous dialogue. I know you cannot reach out to the masses for that matter. There has to be in some way addressing the uniqueness in what the audience seeks. Ultimately find out what each age group of employees are looking forward for and try to customize it for their requirement.

Q7. What are some of the ways in which an LMS can enhance the reach of training for a particular audience? Are there some rules that people can follow?

Amit: <transcript> I think Anil has answered this in different words but if all roads lead to Rome, then I think all roads lead here to a learning culture and also ‘what is in it for a learner’ in the end. And every organization will have a different answer to this question in their own context. If they can answer that question and define that question very elaborately then using that they can define the key success parameters of what does the reach of training for the audience actually mean. Is it just giving them access to the training? Is it giving them access to a tool which helps them do their job better now or in future? Is it giving them access to collaborative environment where they can learn from others but it has to be defined and how does it really help the learner because there may maybe a different point of view from a business standpoint and from a learner standpoint what it really means for them. So as Anil has been mentioning in various forms now, it has to start with from the learner’s perspective that ‘what is in it for them’. Answering that question would lead to a lot of answers not just for the LMS but also for the entire L&D process per se.

Q8. I am the L&D manager of company with workforce that has both white and blue collar employees. How do I lay down the objectives for measuring business impact?

Irrespective of your company size, employee makeup or industry you operate in, the first step is to analyze your company-level, overarching business objectives. Breaking down the company vision into granular, quantifiable objectives is also a good starting point. Next is to map these objectives to L&D goals. This essentially means finding out which objectives can be achieved with the LMS (or other learn-tech tool). Then it’s a matter of converting them into metrics and measurable KPIs.

Classifying objectives into tactical and strategic buckets is a good way to ensure you are able to meet both your long term and short term goals.

Q9. How can I measure the real impact of LMS for my organization?

Paying attention to success metrics is as critical as the LMS selection process itself. First and foremost, you should lay down the objective(s) you wish to achieve through the LMS (refer to previous answer). This will be your indicator of the metrics you need to measure so as to evaluate the effectiveness of your LMS. The earlier you factor this in your process, better are the chances of LMS success.

Q10. Our current LMS has primitive reporting and analytics capabilities. How do I use it for business impact measurement?

As we reported in the webinar, learn-tech unavailability is one of the key barriers to business impact achievement. This includes learning platforms with limited capabilities too. While switching to a new LMS that has advanced reporting and business intelligence along with everything you need now and later from a futureproofing POV is the best solution, integrating with third party BI tools can help too. However if your LMS doesn’t support integration, it’s best to overhaul your L&D and invest in a new-age learning platform like UpsideLMS.

Q11. IMO ROI is an elusive L&D goal. How can I make it tangible and measurable?

ROI measurement is the singular dichotomous metric that’s both – most wished for and most difficult to measure. WRT Kirkpatrick’s Model, based on four levels – Reaction, Learning, Behavior and Results, it’s clear that there are certain projects in which not all levels of evaluation are required. POSH training, for example, is often necessary regardless of ROI. On the other hand, Compliance Training, for companies operating in a litigated business environment, is critical not just from employee awareness and compliance perspective but also from a cost saving viewpoint as it helps in avoiding heavy fines.

Please refer answer 3 to know you can make it tangible and measurable.

Q12. Organization culture is key to our functioning at <name of company hidden for privacy>. Can an LMS be used for achieving an impact of that nature?

Organization culture is the software that keeps everything running while the people, the processes, the procedures are the hardware. This software is an outcome of the shared mindset and value system of the people that work in it – across all levels and functions. And people can be influenced/ trained using learn-tech tools like an LMS that support a variety of training formats like eLearning, classroom training/ ILT, virtual training, social learning and mobile learning. Today’s AI-powered learning platforms take this to the next level by relevant recommendations and user behavior insights.

Q13. Is there a correlation between the L&D investment and its impact?

We have been conditioned to believe that pricier is better. While premium pricing is a factor of the product’s (or service’s) innovativeness, it’s not always so. Even in the LMS space there are a number of small-to-medium sized players with competitive pricing that have a great, future-looking product (sometimes even better than the legacy players, owing to their agility and innovation mindset they are driven by). If you ought to correlate, it’s best reserved for L&D planning and impact; better the planning, more the impact.

Q14. What metrics should I be focusing on?

Each company, rather each L&D unit within a company, has its own, unique metrics for success. For some it might be a relatively tactical KPI like training standardization while for others it may be as strategic and business-oriented as employee retention.

It’s important to remember that training metrics are no good unless they can actually be measured, either through KPIs or sub-metrics. For example, to “improve sales staff performance” is not a metric by itself. It’s a mere business goal. “Improve sales staff call rates by 25%” is far more quantifiable, and hence measurable.

Another thing to keep in mind is that every level of Kirkpatrick’s model involves some form of metrics. The “reaction” level measures emotional response. The “learning” level measures learning retention. The “behavior” level measures how new knowledge transfers to everyday work habits. And of course, the fourth level measures ROI. Among these four levels, for any project, there may be hundreds of possible metrics to use. It can be overwhelming to determine which metrics are actually useful to evaluate and will help you draw accurate conclusions.

Please refer answer 1 to understand how YOU can derive the right metrics for your L&D interventions. 

Q15. Our LMS objective has been to boost productivity. However we have been largely unsuccessful in this endeavor. What can we do?

Behavior change can be difficult to measure quantitatively, but sometimes specific performance changes can be measured. For example, in the case of sales staff who were trained on a new database system, the percentage increase in the number of daily customer calls can easily be measured. The LMS can churn out a lot of data to help with the maths here, but you need to have the parameter defined correctly and clearly to get the answer you are seeking.

Q16. I head the training of a medium sized company which by definition itself doesn’t endow us with deep pockets. We have managed to convince our management for investing in a learning platform however I am worried that it may mean compromising on our ability to do what we intend to and hence not get the impact too.

The good news is some of the best LMSes out there don’t cost the earth. The bad news, however, is you need to fine-tune your LMS selection process to sieve the saturated marketplace. As mentioned earlier, lesser known brand names, at competitive prices, do the job as good as, sometimes even better than, their big-branded counterparts. As long as you have chosen a learning platform that has all features you need today and tomorrow, is easy to use, has a solid support – achieving business impact is not a challenge.

Q17. I think it’s the lack of learn-tech availability more than anything else that stops us from achieving the desired impact. What is the solution in such cases?

Oftentimes it’s not the lack of software or tools, but the inability of the existing tools to give us the expected results. Example: Almost all LMSes have a built-in Reporting module. But data dumping alone is not sufficient for business intelligence as it lacks both learner- and business-specific insights. Not to mention the cumbersome and time-intensive process one has to endure to extract the desired information.

Full recording of LMS and Business Impact: Connecting the Dots is now available for (Free) viewing.

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