An article titled “Measuring Pains”, in the October 2007 issue of Training Magazine, reports survey data indicating that learning executives and business executives from a wide range of leading companies are highly dissatisfied with traditional learning metrics (course participation, knowledge tests, reactionnaires, etc.) and with learning management systems (LMS), and want better measures.

These executives are asking the wrong question (or being asked the wrong question). First of all, even though the latest fad is to replace the word “learning” for “training” (as if training and learning are synonymous), the implicit question is still the same, misguided question that has been driving training for years: “What are the best indicators of good training?” This is a monitoring question; it implies usage, quality of delivery, timeliness, and ratings. If executives need to have this data for control purposes, that’s fine. However, they should be asking, “What are the best indicators of training’s impact on important business results?” This is a performance question. If they ask this question, then the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on what executives believe are significant, credible indicators of business impact for their particular organizations. And it depends on assessing organizational factors, in addition to training programs, that might be affecting (a barrier or a driver) the impact of training on learning and then on performance.