Know Your Audience: The Learners

With all this time at home during quarantine, I have SO. MUCH. TIME. On my hands to learn and read and eat bon-bons in bed! (Joke: I’m homeschooling my 10-year-old and monitoring my two teenagers for meltdowns and outbursts.) However, I did recently have a chance to read an outstanding article from eLearning titled, “Triple-Bottom Line of Learning: And Why Learners Care” by Lonna Jobson.

In a nutshell, the article asks if you are truly considering your learners’ experiences and personal investments in the learning expectations at your firm.

“How much time, energy and resources are they investing? What tradeoffs are they making in order to learn? What are their concerns? And could the process of tracking and calculating Return on Learning affect them or their learning experience? If so, how?”

Return on Learning (ROL)

I perked up when I saw “Return on Learning.” If we could all just prove that our training is impacting the company’s bottom-line positively, then we’d have all the information we need, right?

Wrong, this article argues (successfully, in my opinion).

ROL is calculated in five levels:

  • How is the learner currently performing?
  • What gains do they hope to reach?
  • What metrics will verify the improvement?
  • What are the costs and benefits associated with these results?

Author Jobson argues that these metrics give the C-suite what they need to know, but do they really help you understand the learner’s experience? For example:

Learner Experience:

  • How did the learner feel about the learning opportunity?
  • Was the material relevant, interesting and useful?


  • What did the learner invest? What benefits did the learner receive from learning the content?
  • Application:

    • How many times did the learner successfully apply the new knowledge during the first 30 days?
    • Business Impact:

      • How did the implementation of the program and the resulting changes in business metrics, such as sales, productivity, operating costs, errors, job engagement and employee retention, impact the learner?
      • Were learners notified of gains made? Were they thanked for their investment?

      Cultural Impact:

      • What cultural benefits, such as job satisfaction, collaboration, creativity and innovation, impacted the learner?
      • NOTE: Jobson shares many more thoughts within each category. I highly recommend her article to get your wheels turning. You may end up thinking about specific learners in your law firm and considering why their attitude (positive or negative) may be the result of concerted efforts or oversights made in the above categories. For example, have they been thanked for their investment in learning? Was the material they learned even applicable to their job over the next 30 days, or did it feel like a waste of precious time?

        Think of Your Learners

        As you’re thinking of specific learners in your law firm, try this exercise. Put them in one of the following categories:

        • Antagonistic
        • Distracted
        • Passive
        • Engaged
        • Aggressive

        How you treat each type of learner – attempting to understand their experience or not – will impact your ROL. And you also need to remember that the employees in your firm can “shape shift” from one type of learner to another, depending on circumstances in their own lives. For example, an aggressive/ambitious learner may become a distracted learner under an intense work deadline. Has your learning program taken her experience into account and accommodated her needs? Or is she just expected to be a cog in the learning machine, doing as mandated by some disconnected strategic plan?

        Know Your Learners

        In order to pump up your ROL, you must take into account your learner experience. Jobson recommends the following efforts to make sure your learners are engaged in the firm’s learning goals.

        • Include learners early on: Get your learners’ perspectives on knowledge gaps and urgency. Not only will you learn something important for your program, but it’s good for morale.
        • Find the niche: Don’t assign the same learning regimen to everyone across the firm. They don’t all need the same content. (If you bore them or annoy them, you will have to fight even harder to get them back.) Provide learning experiences to each person that stretch and inspire them. (A robust learning management system loaded with law firm-specific training content makes this seemingly overwhelming task a cinch.)
        • Market well: Share clear objectives and build excitement for learning through an engaging internal marketing effort. Done right, a good marketing program can move an antagonistic learner up the scale to an engaged learner.
        • Be sensitive to timing: Respect your learners’ time and other priorities. Work with individuals to create realistic learning goals and deadlines. (In large firms, this customized attention can feel impossible, but again, an LMS can manage assessments, communications, individualized learning paths and deadlines.)
        • Engage the learner in ROL: When learners understand how their time investment in learning can impact their own productivity and the firm’s overall goals, they will be more engaged and committed to the process.

        If You Build It… They May Completely Ignore You.

        So, what have we learned here? My takeaway: Just because you build the training program that your C-Suite expects does not mean your learners will care one whit. Your training program must also incorporate the learners’ experience and must engage them in results.

        As Jobson concludes: “The most successful learning initiatives – the ones that fortify both the bottom line and company culture – include learners in the initial gap analysis conversations, deliver high-quality learning experiences and track and recognize learner successes.”


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