Learning vs. Training

By Holly MacDonald

In my last post about metrics, Ian Cook commented that measuring investment is a good comparative indicator and it got me thinking about what we count as investment in learning.

When faced with the question of how much do we spend on learning as a percentage of payroll, most of us are going to check the financial reports that tell us what money has been allocated to training, through a GL (general ledger) code or a descriptive line item including the word training on the income statement.   It’s easy peasy to do that calculation, but I’d challenge you to be more creative about what you count in terms of “investment”.  I recently gave a presentation to a group of HR people and one of the things that I mentioned, which I think is really hard for many of us, is to decide what you will invest in and what you will *not* invest in (linked to your overall organizational strategy of course).  Here are some scenarios where organizations could invest in learning, but never see it show up in a financial statement:

1. Professional associations and continuing education credits – this is often a sticky point in organizations – do we/should we pay for ongoing maintenance of certifications?  Tuition reimbursements, conferences, etc.  Do these get coded as training related expenses or not?

2. My example in the comment about giving employees access/time to use their personal learning networks on work time for their own learning.  I participate in a weekly twitter chat and learn loads of stuff. If you did a comparison, you may determine that this is a cheaper option than offering everyone courses.

3. Find other ways for employees to learn/develop that are not training courses.  Mentoring, peer-coaching circles, secondments, performance support tools.

4.  Create a “user-generated” forum or equip employees with the tools to create/share their learning.  Let them upload to their heart’s content. Give ’em flip cameras, ipods, Sony PSP devices, smartphones.  They can produce and consume learning content.  The best way to learn is to teach is a common adage.

5. Develop policies like “FedEx days” or action learning projects that give employees a real challenge to solve and then let them actually solve it.  As Harold Jarche says: Learning is work and work is learning, so don’t try to create a separate formal training event if it isn’t needed.

All these point to the formal vs. informal debates that continue in the workplace learning field, and present us with a much more complicated measurement challenge.  When something isn’t a training cost, how are you going to identify, track, measure, and report.  Tough questions, but ones that help you grapple with quantity/quality issues inherent in the measurement arena.

Holly MacDonald is an independent consultant with well over 15 years of experience in the learning & development field.  Holly is a bit of a techno-geek and can often be found playing online.  When she steps away from her computer, she spends time outside: hiking, kayaking, gardening and of course walking the dog.  She lives on Saltspring Island and is a leader in the live/work revolution.

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