When Is Learning Successful?

The Application of Learning As A Successful Process
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Summary: How do we make sure learning is successful? The application of learning is an important factor when looking for completion and ongoing success.

Making Learning A Successful Process

After an interesting discussion with colleagues from all over the world about learning, one theme kept popping up: application. The cultural differences in learning varied but all seemed to agree that truly successful "learning" is when it can be applied to benefit or improve a situation. With a focus on data—especially completion data—is this enough of a metric to make sure that learning is beneficial to the end goal?

What Is Application Of Learning?

I've worked in international education for a few years now and one stark cultural difference was the application of knowledge. The expectation in many education systems is to imbibe information from a teacher, course or book, and regurgitate this through a vigorous system of exams/tests. The expectation to perform very highly in exams is often drilled into us as young children. However, across cultures, this has started to shift: the application of knowledge in unknown situations is a skill in itself. If we cannot use our newfound skills or in reality, our learning has in no way improved our life, then was learning successful?

A Different Approach To Learning: Qualitative Vs. Quantitative

It's very easy to fall into the trap of using data to measure success, especially if it’s eLearning. If employees complete their training, excellent, tick. If employees complete their training with a pass mark of >80%, even better! But has that knowledge been learned? Completion is not the same as understanding. Using data is an easy way to measure but numbers can be manipulated, charts presented, and certain measurements ignored to fit the brief. We don't always get the whole picture.

We can always hope that numbers reflect the human outcome but how can we be sure? At the beginning of any learner journey, it is useful to sit down with colleagues and employees and understand the personal benefit. If we can understand how the new knowledge will be applied, we can start to work backward. This makes it much easier to identify how we will measure success and most importantly, the most relevant success for employees. This is why I'm a champion of qualitative data. People.

Qualitative Data Is Our Hero

How many numbers can you reel off? I was once upon a time told in an old psychology lesson that we can only remember 3 numbers before we start faltering—pro tip: it's easier to remember numbers if put together, such as "63, 45, 92" when trying to remember 634592. But how much of a story can you remember? You can probably tell me numerous plotlines of films and exactly what happened in your favorite Netflix binge-worthy show last night.

Take this same approach to learning:

  • 90% of people completed their course
  • An 88% engagement rate allowed learners to successfully complete their course in 6 months

Luke set goals and worked hard to achieve them: a couple of hours here, 15 mins there when possible. This effort paid off and he exceeded his initial goal of 1 hour a week of learning. His dedication to improving his Excel skills was not only appreciated by himself but by senior management and colleagues, too. After 6 months, Luke and his entire team had completed the course. Luke was much faster now, he could get reports out on time, and he was more focused on the task at hand. Clients were happier, colleagues were happier, and Luke went on to rule the world.

Ok, maybe that last little bit was a step too far but you get the picture. By concentrating on the real-life picture, we can see the true reason for learning. Yes, there are always tangible ROI metrics that should always be measured—productivity, client satisfaction, ESAT scores, etc.

At Rosetta Stone, we've carried out research into measuring success and we are constantly learning from our clients about best business practices. We put together a great eBook that's helpful when first asking yourself, "How am I going to measure learning success?" But we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss intangible measurements. Although sometimes harder to measure, they are absolutely vital in understanding whether learning was beneficial to the learner—and the wider community—and, most importantly, that it was successfully applied after completion.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on what you think makes learning successful and how—or what—we should be measuring.