Increasing depth of learning


When employees attend training courses, it’s generally expected that they will improve their performance somehow and that this increase will ultimately have an impact on business performance. However, getting data that shows this can be difficult.

The Kirkpatrick model is the leading framework for evaluating the effectiveness of training. It considers the value of any type of training, formal or informal, across four levels: 

  • Level 1 Reaction evaluates how participants respond to the training
  • Level 2 Learning measures if they learned the material
  • Level 3 Behaviour considers if they are using what they learned on the job
  • Level 4 Results evaluates if the training positively impacted the organization

(, 2016)



While getting data at level one is reasonably straightforward with the administration of a post-event questionnaire, getting data at the deeper levels requires increasing amounts of sophistication.  One difficulty is that you need to allow some time to pass after the training event to be able to evaluate if people have genuinely learnt things (level 2) or changed behaviour (level 3) and had an impact on results (Level 4).  Identifying and engaging the participants to complete some form of evaluation becomes increasingly difficult with the more time that passes and so many training programs lack quality data on their effectiveness.

Corporate International Service Learning (CISL) however, is more than just a training course. CISL programmes are an experience that impact participants profoundly. They take participants across international borders to learn skills, gain knowledge and develop new behaviours by challenging them to apply their skills and expertise on real-life issues that have a social impact.  New data from Emerging World’s 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study backs up this claim with long term impact data on these experiences at all the levels on the Kirkpatrick framework.

The 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study on the long-term impact of CISL programmes surveyed programme participants from six global companies including BD, Credit Suisse, EY, Merck and Microsoft. The 688 respondents had all completed a CISL assignment at least 12 months prior to taking part in the Study.  This enabled the longer-term impact of these experiences to be evaluated and they showed an enduring positive impact in a wide variety of areas including breadth and depth of learning, career mobility, responsible leadership behaviour and employee engagement.


In the Study, the Kirkpatrick model is used to understand the long-term impact of CISL programmes on the Depth of Learning. When we talk about Depth of Learning, we are trying to understand how effective CISL programmes have been across the 4 levels of Learning.  

To understand the impact against these levels, participants were asked a series of questions relating to how their CISL experience had impacted them since they had returned and they responded on a 5-point Likert (fixed anchor) scale of Strongly disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree and Strongly Agree. 

 The results were profound and demonstrated the strength of CISL programmes. Not only would 100% recommend a CISL experience (Level 1), but 92% recognised that their experience led to positive developments in leadership skills and competencies (Level 2) and 78% felt they had made positive changes to the way that they work as a result of the experience (Level 3). In addition, 56% of participants believe that they have made a positive business impact because of the insight and learning (Level 4.) all of which show the effectiveness of CISL programmes in developing employees.

It’s one thing to have the data on impact, but the CISL Study goes further to identify factors that help strengthen that impact by analysing the data against a range of programme design variables.  

Setting learning objectives prior to assignments creates a deeper learning experience

When learning objectives are set prior to CISL assignment, there is a significantly higher level of impact on participant depth of learning. The 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study data supports this statement and the chart below illustrates just how much difference setting learning objectives can make to depth of learning.


The data looks at participants that either agreed and strongly agreed versus disagreed and strongly Disagreed that they set learning objectives prior to their assignment. These two sets of data were subsequently measured against five of the depth of learning measures. The data shows us that across all measures, where learning objectives are set there is greater impact on depth of learning. This is particularly strong for participants who agreed that changes in their behaviour had been observed by others and those who made a positive business impact on their organisation.

Continued engagement with partner impacts depth of learning

This year’s Study looked more closely at what happens after the assignment in terms of the alumni experience. A strong alumni programme with opportunities for participants to engage with each other and to remain involved with their CISL programme and the partner that they supported can have a strong effect on the breadth of learning. Were participants continue to engage with the partners that they supported during their CISL assignment once they have returned to their roles, there is a higher impact on depth of learning. The chart below illustrates just how much difference continuing to engage with partners can have on depth of learning:

The data shows participants that either agreed and strongly agreed versus disagreed and strongly Disagreed that they continued to engage with partners. Again, the two sets of data were measured against five of the depth of learning measures. From this chart we can clearly see that continued engagement with partners causes a greater impact on depth of learning. This is particularly strong for participants that strongly agreed that made positive developments in leadership skills and competencies.

Supporting participants in their return to work impacts depth of learning

The data also suggested that participants that felt supported on their return to work have a deeper learning experience. The chart below illustrates the significant impact that supporting participants on return to their role has on depth of learning: 

The chart shows us that providing support on return increases the depth of learning achieved from the experience. Those that do not feel supported on return are showing much lower responses for both changes observed by others and making a positive business impact.

Similar kinds of insight can be seen across other areas of impact such as breadth of learning, career mobility and employee engagement (read the employee engagement blog for details). It all points to companies looking more closely at CISL as an approach to develop their leaders and being deliberate about how such programmes are designed to support good quality learning outcomes.

Join the Intensive Global Leadership Experience

If you would like to understand what a CISL experience feels like and explore how to use it within your organization, Emerging World is running an open Immersive Global Leadership experience in May 2018.

The programme, which will take place in Kenya, offers interested companies the opportunity to experience a CISL experience alongside their peers from other companies using a compressed design that that we have employed previously on successful programmes with global organisations including EY, Microsoft and Salesforce. Click here to learn more about the experience. (2016) [online] available at [accessed 28 November 2017] 


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Tags: business performanceCISLdepth of learningEmployee performanceimpactlearning

Categories: Corporate volunteeringLeadership Development

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