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4 Metrics for Measuring the Return on Online Training

Tuesday, September 15, 2020
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As learners’ and organizations’ needs evolve, it’s common for learning and development teams to find themselves and their work being put under the microscope and being tasked to find ways to add value and support strategic objectives. After all, measuring returns can fill a crucial role in helping learning leaders and executives determine profitability and glean insights into future decision-making processes.

Qualitative or Quantitative, That Is the Question

As useful as they are, ROI measurements are often quantitative, numbers-based conversations, which can bring limitations and challenges for people-based departments like L&D. A qualitative review of training programs can fill just as significant a part in determining their effectiveness, improving overall effectiveness, and shedding light on potential future initiatives.

If you were to think of the numbers as the what, it’s the qualitative research that gives you the how and helps you to develop a road map to enhance that experience. In this post we’re going to look at three qualitative metrics (learner satisfaction score, appetite for learning, and attention and retention) before we discuss the foundational quantitative calculation, ROI.

Before We Begin, Let’s Talk Strategy

Whether you’re analyzing the qualitative or quantitative effects of your training programs, make sure that you go into the process with a firm understanding of your strategic goals and the benchmarks against which you’ll be measuring.

  • Who are the key decision-makers that need to be involved?
  • What are your stakeholders’ expectations about the results from your online training?
  • How will business processes and operations be affected?
  • What platforms, tools, and methods does your association use to deliver training programs?
  • What systems does your association have in place for gathering training-related data?
  • What platforms or systems will your training solution need to integrate with?

Doing the upfront work to understand what success looks like and what data you’ll need will help you better understand what your accomplishments and results are.

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Assess the Effects of Your Programs

Metric #1: Learner Satisfaction Score
In the way in which a net promoter score (NPS) gives you insight into client satisfaction, a learner satisfaction score can tell you a lot about how well your training programs are supporting learners in growing their knowledge, skills, and expertise. Consider an end-of-course or end-of-program survey that asks people how likely they would be to recommend the program to their colleagues and peers. You can use the information gained to improve the experience for future learners and evaluate the L&D team’s impact.

Metric #2: Appetite for Learning
Although this isn’t often tracked, another good indication of a program’s effectiveness is a learner’s desire to continue learning about the specific topic or subject matter. If you reflect personally on the learning experiences you’d consider to be the most beneficial or successful, they’re probably those that not only helped you expand your knowledge but piqued your interest and motivated you to keep going. Humans are innately inquisitive creatures. Research into the psychology and neuroscience of curiosity tells us that the more intrigued we become about a topic, the more likely we are to spend time investigating it.

The takeaway: Being able to spark a learner’s curiosity and motivate someone to learn more is a telltale sign that your program is effective.

Metric #3: Attention and Retention
Samuel Johnson, an English writer and poet, once said that “the true art of memory is the art of attention.” Translation: Capture someone’s attention and they’re more likely to store the experience in their long-term memory. If you think back to your college graduation, there are probably a handful of memories you can recall immediately, such as the weight of the gown, the melody of the music, or some wise words from a mentor.

Leadership development or product training courses may not be able to have that same level of grandeur, but there are steps you can take to get people involved and up the chances that you’ll leave a lasting impression.

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  • Use a range of media and approaches—tactics like video, social learning, and gamification—to add some variety and flare.
  • Let people practice what they’re learning and test their knowledge with video assignments, preparatory quizzes they can do in advance, or final quizzes that allow multiple attempts.
  • Give personalized feedback so people feel more connected to the experience and develop a clear understanding of what actions they can take to grow.
  • Encourage learners to get to know each other and collaborate before, during, and after with group-based work, peer-to-peer networking, and discussion forums.
  • Tie courses to other content so people can dig deeper into topics of interest to them and self-enroll in additional programs.

Make sure you check in with learners three to six months after they’ve completed their program. Even high-level questions like “What did you think of the course?” or “What has been your biggest takeaway?” can shed light on how the program affected their professional development and whether they retained what they learned.

Metric #4: ROI
For anyone building or running continuing education or professional development programs, understanding the types of returns and results you can expect to see is important. In 2018, the United States spent more than $87 billion on training and development. You want to know that whatever investment you’re making, you’re seeing a benefit from it.

At its most basic, calculating ROI involves taking your net return (total overall benefits minus the cost of the investment), dividing it by the cost of the program, and multiplying that number by 100 to get your final percentage. A result above zero means the program produced a net benefit after you’ve accounted for all the costs associated with implementing and maintaining it. The higher the percentage, the better the returns.

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But the factors that you’re going to include in your ROI calculations will likely vary depending on the nature and needs of your organization. Consider aspects such as:

  • Who your programs are geared toward—whether members, employees, customers, or partners—and the unique ways in which your intended audiences contribute to the growth and success of your organization.
  • Whether people pay to take part in your programs. If you’re an association, for example, that charges different fees for continuing education and accreditation programs, you’ll be interested in metrics like revenue per course, courses sold per year, and membership growth. If you’re gauging the effect of a professional development course offered at no charge to internal employees, you’ll likely pay more attention to metrics like average salaries, increases in productivity, retention rates, and internal promotions.
  • The industry you’re in. There may be industry-specific benchmarks that matter to you but no one else.

Customizing your approach will help you make sure that the final ROI reflects and includes the metrics that matter most for your organization.

About the Author

Haley WIlson is content marketing manager for D2L, specializing in corporate learning. She holds an honors Bachelor of Arts from the University of Guelph and a Master of Arts in history from Wilfrid Laurier University.

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