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Learning Measurement Recommended: Executive Education Required!



By Marcie L. Oates


Dr. Bonnie Beresford, director of Performance and Learning Analytics at GP Strategies, says, “Measure to prove…and to improve!”


Seems like a reasonable thing to advise clients as a performance consultant, right? Of course, it does! 


However, what I discovered during the monthly Texas Chapter of the International Society for Performance and Improvement webinar is that measuring results is not a common path executives and learning leaders take—especially without a deep understanding of “why.”  


Early in June, ISPI Texas hosted a fellow ISPI member and leader from Michigan—Bonnie Beresford, PhD. She graciously educated us on creative ideas and insights on how to gather data, measure it, and report results.


Dr. Beresford has co-authored the book
Developing Human Capital: Using Analytics to Plan and Optimize Your Learning and Development Investments and is considered a leader in our industry. She has more than 20 years of experience in human performance improvement, and her hallmark is linking investments in people to measurable business outcomes.


As the vice president of programs for ISPI Texas, and a host for monthly webinars, I have the responsibility of “warming up” guests prior to events so they feel comfortable with me and engaged with our members. In our pre-session, Dr. Beresford and I talked about her involvement with ISPI and how she got into the human performance technology (HPT) world. I asked several questions about her extensive experience with measuring outcomes as a consultant and was specifically curious about her chief discoveries.


I am summarizing here, but Dr. Beresford informed me that she found most executives and leaders were not particularly willing to implement effective, well-planned measurement strategies as part of the performance improvement plan. She said that many are OK with “smiley” sheets, but simply did not understand the variety of measurements available, data analysis technics, and the wealth of approaches to drill down to factual information that can be immediately implemented for improvement of learning or reviewed for future upgrading of solutions.  


She mentioned that some stakeholders and learning leaders will often say things like, “We are doing well and everyone likes our courses, so why measure?” 


As a learning and development consultant with more than 15 years of experience working with a diverse portfolio of organizations, I was intrigued by Dr. Beresford’s discoveries and am always puzzled at the lack of effective measuring and reporting requested with my own clients. I certainly recommend measuring outcomes, but have also found some project budgets end with grandiose discussions and recommendations leaving the final deliverables absent of well-rounded improvement plans or proof of meeting requirements reporting. Most ask for strategies that just solve an issue by implementing training and want to move on. 


During our webinar, Dr. Beresford discussed that Level 1 evaluations from the Kirkpatrick model are often planned as part of the performance improvement effort and—she discovered—what many do not know, including some consultants, is that the way the feedback questions are formed has a prevalent impact on the learner’s comprehension of the question, the data received, and, ultimately, the data reported.


I have to say, I was somewhat stunned by the lack of knowledge around measuring learning that Dr. Beresford described. In my conversation with Dr. Beresford, I stated, “I guess our clients simply don’t know what they don’t know?” She agreed.  


Part of my blessing and curse as a “geek” within the learning and performance improvement arena is that I have always been fascinated with exploring new territory. So, of course, I want to learn more about evaluations and often ask my colleagues this question, “How many of your current or past clients engage in a strong effort to measure impact and how many plan on reviewing comprehensive data to improve a program?” 


I have to say after thinking about it, we may have a double-edged sword here and may not like to push the thorough measurement piece of a learning strategy or training plan. This more than likely would be to keep employers happy because they feel it will be too complex, too expensive, or will not provide enough data to demonstrate business impact. Clients know they need to engage in some kind of analysis and reporting, but opt out to adhere to the project budget and timeline. I confess here and now, I am guilty of this and will strive to correct. (Sorry, previous clients, I plan to amend this immediately.)


I also learned executives may require ongoing discussions about assessing and reporting results before they perceive the value. Measuring “to prove and improve,” is essential: (1) to verify learning had an impact, and; (2) evaluation of results can help to continue a project to tweak or improve learning toward business impact or organizational development.


If you are an executive, program manager, instruction designer, or trainer, I invite you to access our ISPI site at for more about this webinar. If you join the Texas Chapter of ISPI, Bonnie’s recordings and all previous and future webinar recordings will be included as part of your membership.  



About the Author

Marcie L. Oates has over 15 years of experience supporting clients and learning organizations as a learning solutions manager and consultant with a primary focus on team building, leadership development, and business growth through customer care. She is the vice president of programs for the
ISPI Texas Chapter and has supported ISPI Texas since 2015. Her primary focus is to provide members with online, live events and support that allows them to enhance their efforts around learning and performance improvement with clients. ISPI Texas won the 2016 Merit award. For 2017, ISPI Texas is concentrating on providing members knowledge around how technology supports HPT. To learn more about this organization, access its website at


Bonnie Beresford, an industry-recognized human capital strategist, performance consultant, and author, leads GP Strategies’ learning and performance analytics practice. With over 20 years of experience in human performance improvement, her hallmark is linking investments in people to measurable business outcomes. This business impact work has been recognized by CLO and ATD. Bonnie holds a PhD in human capital management from Bellevue University and an MBA from Wayne State University. A member of the International Society for Performance Improvement, she has served on both the Michigan and the international boards of directors.