Butts in Seats and Smile Sheets – the Learning Measurement Challenge

Learning professionals talk often these days about “business impact”. However, not long ago most executives were satisfied with taking it on “faith” that it was worth making the investment. Now most executives need to justify all expenses, and they’re taking a closer look — they want data that shows the investment in training and development will pay off.

In a recent Bersin & Associates® survey about Learning Management Systems (LMS), 45% of respondents cited reporting capabilities as the number one challenge with their current LMS and that reporting was also the highest ranked driver of dissatisfaction in LMS technology. There are many reasons why tying learning data to business metrics is challenging. Not least of all is that most LMS’s are not tied to ERP’s on the backend. Therefore, any attempt to merge the data is manual and requires expertise not normally found in learning organizations. Beyond technology, here are some other fundamental reasons why learning organizations tend to struggle.

  • “Keep the end in mind” (Covey)… but few do. It all starts at the beginning. Quality training needs assessment analysis that uncovers information that not only points to the proper training solution but also lays the foundation for evaluating the impact of the solution and how success is measured.
  • Learning organizations are just not geared for measurement. Most have very solid business processes for the creation of learning, but few have the same level of experience and resource levels for measuring the effectiveness of that learning.
  • “Butts in seats and smile sheets”. Typically learning organizations focus on what they are comfortable with — attendance and satisfaction. However, these numbers do not tell the business whether or not the learning was effective and created true “business impact”.

The bottom line… like anything else, to be good at it you must focus on it. So, here are a few thoughts that can improve the metrics reporting situation on all fronts.

  1. Decide what “success” looks like on the front end. Not just success to the training organization but how it aligns to the business goals of the company overall. Avoid the “same old” metrics — how much training did we do, and were the students satisfied?
  2. Collaborate with other groups in the organization. You’ll gain a different perspective to not only shape your metrics, but you’ll also see what data they’re capturing that might help cross-reference with the original learning objective.
  3. Take the time to collect the relevant data to gain insight and enable better decision making. By linking the business data with the training data, you’ll be able to go from “we trained 30 people” to “we trained the Southeast region, and within 30 days their sales figures showed an 8% uptick in revenue compared to the regions who didn’t take the training”

I would love to say that there is an easy answer here, but this remains an industry-wide gap. That said, we can’t sit back and wait for a solution to present itself. We must be proactive.  With a little thought upfront and focus on identifying the key indicators of effectiveness, we can move beyond the “butts in seats and smile sheets” to offer real business value to our stakeholders.

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  1. Mike Meldrem Reply

    Hi Chris,

    I was wondering, do you know who owns the rights to the image of the girl here?


    I am designing a website for a client’s non-profit/donation-only tutoring firm.

    I would like to use this image as one of several rotating images for the home page.

    Please let me know what you know about the copyrights of the image.

    Mike Meldrem

    Web Design Guru