Unlock the value in learning audits

by Brett Henebery24 Nov 2016
A recent article in Chief Learning Officer outlined how conducting a learning audit can improve and increase the results of your organisation.

Diana Thomas, former learning executive at McDonald’s Corp. and current CEO of learning consultancy Winning Results LLC, told Chief Learning Officer that a learning audit is “a way to really step back and do a 360 and look at your whole organisation.”

By conducting a learning audit, CLOs are not only investing in their employees, but in themselves, says Thomas.

“It gives the learning leader so much credibility for being a strategic leader, anticipating where the company needs to go and ensuring that your learning organisation aligns,” she said.
Why conduct a learning audit?

Thomas pointed out that learning audits can uncover useful information and increase a learning leader’s credibility, but many forgo them because the audits appear too intimidating.

However, there are a variety of audits available, so learning leaders can customize their audit experience and eliminate the fear associated with the process.

According to William Thalheimer, president of Work-Learning Research Inc., choosing between a variety of learning audits allows the CLO to personalize how best to use their resources and budget to meet learning-driven business goals.

Audits can be full scale, or smaller and less-time consuming; focused on inputs or outputs; conducted by an internal or an external auditor.

For example, an organisation that relies on a short e-learning program might be able to perform a small-scale learning audit and still receive sufficient information to improve the program. On the other hand, investigating classroom learning tends to require a more extensive audit.

After evaluating which type of learning audit best meets an organisation’s needs, the CLO has to determine what delivery modalities it needs. Sandritter said “one size does not fit all” when it comes to specific delivery modalities.
Audit complete…now what?

After identifying the strengths and weaknesses in an organisation’s learning strategies, organisations have to adapt and adjust.

Timo Sandritter, HR strategist and chief operation officer for digital media group Haufe Inc, told Chief Learning Officer that “audits are only as good as the actions taken afterwards”.

“Therefore, CLOs should have audit plans in place that include specific action items, time frames and stakeholders involved,” he said.

Involving stakeholders in the audit process from the beginning is important so that all of the most important decision-makers are on the same page, and there are no surprise disagreements to delay the process.

Thalheimer, who has conducted many learning audits for various organisations including the Navy SEALs, said to successfully turn a learning audit’s results into organisational change, the key is level-setting.

Level-setting is a two- to three-hour process that occurs before the audit results are revealed. During this process, learning leaders and stakeholders familiarize themselves with research-based best practices to understand how their findings compare to the research and then implement changes accordingly.
But is it worth it?

Audits can be a lot of work, and some learning leaders may ask themselves, Is it worth it? The answer is, absolutely.

The benefits of conducting a learning audit are often much greater than the cost. Further, the CLO can decide how often they want to conduct one. More exhaustive and comprehensive audits won’t need to be conducted as often, but smaller, less-expensive audits could be used once or twice a year. Sandritter said CLOs should periodically examine their learning strategies in order to adapt to the constantly changing demands of their respective markets.

Thomas said she would prioritize a learning audit over other organisational investments. “At the end of the day, you want to do whatever is best to help improve and increase the results of your organisation.”

Conducting a learning audit is the best way to ensure that learning leaders and CLOs do just that.