What does Effective Learning Look Like?

Apr 4, 2016 by Monalisa Salib Comments (9)

This blog is the second in an ongoing series exploring the components of USAID's CLA Framework. Here is the first blog on organizational culture.

Now that we’ve gotten why learning matters out of the way, I wanted to share briefly how we have articulated learning within the USAID Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) framework and the CLA Maturity Matrix.USAID CLA Framework GraphicStrategic learning (the yellow portion of the CLA framework) focuses on:

  1. Tracking, using, and contributing to the technical evidence base
  2. Testing and exploring our theories of change
  3. Identifying game changers and planning scenarios
  4. Ensuring our monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are designed to help us learn from implementation, in addition to meeting established reporting requirements

CLA Maturity Matrix Key Concepts Card  CLA Framework Key Concepts Card

CLA Framework Key Concepts Card CLA Framework Key Concepts Card 

This two-pager offers a deeper dive into the key concepts under learning and examples of CLA in action.

What are some examples of effective learning in your organization? Submit your response in the comments below.

Filed Under: CLA in Action


Ntchoua wrote:

Thanks for the  CLA tools with us.

The CLA matrix looks impactful and needs to be tested in diferent scenarios of learning.

Warm regards.


PAID, Cameroon

posted 6 years ago
monalisa wrote:

Thanks for your comment, Norbert! Do you have examples from PAID of learning in action that you want to share?

posted 6 years ago
lucrenta wrote:

Is it safe to say I might have a favorite CLA component? If so, then this one might be the one. It has all of my favorite sub-components and even though they all are important, in my experience, effective learning is the one that resonates the most with highly technical teams--so it is often a good entry point for talking about the other critical components of CLA. Thanks!

posted 6 years ago
monalisa wrote:

Thanks for your comment, Luis! I think I might have the same bias! ;-)

posted 6 years ago
mattpolsky wrote:

Use a larger font for the graphics, please. I couldn’t see inside the circles and boxes.

Some very nice work I’ve never seen before. You mention and link a number of areas that are often just vaguely assumed at best (e.g. theory of change), and avoid some of the traps I’ve seen in my corner of the M & E field. It was nice to show an example where the conclusion was contrary to expectations (i.e. whether sufficient employment reduces political violence). Had never heard of “context indicators” as you mean them (they mean something different in the sustainable business area), but also very nice.

  • Suggest you be a little clearer about these:When referring to “Learning,” learning of what? The value of the metric, the interpretation of the data with respect to the development strategy, the learning process, the big picture?
  • You probably really aren’t proving causality…unless it is a randomized, double-blind study and perhaps you either are, or are coming pretty close to it
  • To what creates “effective learning” to “happen,” add to the process: some reflection time, and cultural allowance for someone to ask: “is there anything we’re not seeing,” perhaps because we’re not (currently) prepared to see it?”

A few of the assertions are overly broad, and only are clearly accurate under certain conditions, not necessarily in general: “when you know better, you do better,” “our most underutilized resources” is knowledge, “our scarcest resource” is time.

In reality, more knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to “doing better.” There are different ways to look at knowledge. One framework are areas where: we know what we know, we know what we don’t know, we don’t know what we don’t know, and what we think we know that is just wrong. Your efforts may yield knowledge on some fronts, but not others.

Time is limited, of course, but sometimes for change efforts the scarcest resource are employees’ willingness to give management the benefit of the doubt that they truly mean what they say, and are competently leading the effort to achieve it. Time is part of it, but so is credibility, including the management response at key visible moments.

I may borrow from your work back in my current area. Thanks for reinforcing some hunches of what is possible.

posted 6 years ago
monalisa wrote:

Hi Matt, thanks so much for your feedback. I agree - there is more than needs to happen in between knowing more and doing better and there are a lot of factors (sometimes outside of our control) that can make the leap from having better information to making better decisions challenging. And definitely need the reflection time (that will be covered in a future blog about 'Adapting' and the cultural considerations are critical. I see you already saw the blog on the culture component in the framework - for others, though, it's here.

I think the learning about what is the most critical question people need to ask themselves up front - what is important for us to know? And that could be at various levels - at the level of the big picture or down in the details.

We'd love to hear about how you use this in your work and glad that this post was helpful to you.

posted 6 years ago
mattpolsky wrote:


Thanks for the Reply.  Not used to that from the many comments I send on articles.

A corollary to the "most critical question" you pose is "are we prepared to be surprised by some anomaly along the way?"  Probably a rhetorical question, but it sets the stage to recognize the importance of the unexpected.

As you ask about my work, I'm not in the development field (would like to be, but that's another matter).  As a sustainability change-agent, I often work with business.  I've been writing a series for Sustainable Brands journal called "The Pitfalls of Sustainable Business Metrics."  I think sustainability-accepting businesses' use of "metrics" is a cousin to your M & E, and I think your field, as well as several others, has much to teach it.  I've been exploring what could go wrong, as a way to avoid the traps; and more recently, I think, what would enhance organizational efforts (and then using metrics to measure that).

If interested, see this link to find the current 19 parts in the series, and Part 3 in particular on how your field can enhance mine.


I see I will have to circle back to development in a future article to capture and relate some of your work.  In particular, "learning" as critical to the business pursuit of sustainability hasn't come up, and needs to.  And there are cultural dimensions here too.

posted 6 years ago
mphbaker wrote:

Thank you for the article and examples.

Effective learning as you suggest really emanates from ensuring you are asking the right questions and then structuring the learning process around the resources, time available and the question asked. Often the closer the processes of learning and adapting are, the more likely the gap between knowing more and doing better work is narrowed. One tool we have used at IRI to narrow that gap are developmental evaluations.

In Tunisia, shortly after the Arab Spring, we conducted such an ongoing, iterative evaluation to help make sure the program was able to track political changes, provide evidence to test the program's theories of change and monitor the utility of programming activities. This allowed the program to adapt to the rapidly changing context, and provided IRI staff and donors with ongoing information about program results and emerging needs and opportunities. This helped facilitate discussions about how the program should best respond in real-time. This allowed our team to narrow that gap between knowing more and doing better.

The lesson is that structuring a program to include the necessary and appropriate processes, resources and time will help ensure that learning is effective (in part by narrowing that gap between learning and adapting).

posted 6 years ago
monalisa wrote:

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for sharing that example. I also just attended the InterAction Forum yesterday and heard from your colleague, Elizabeth, about effective learning in action in Somaliland. You should be submitting case competitions for these! Here is the link. 

Agreed on the need to include the necessary and appropriate processes and resources, which are two critical components in our CLA framework. The next in the CLA framework blog series will be on resources for CLA, so I would like to get your feedback when that is out probably next week or the week after.

Thanks again for your comment!


posted 6 years ago