eLearning Design and Development

How To Measure eLearning ROI

measuring elearning roi
Artwork by Kevin Bannister

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eLearning ROI: Your Complete Guide

Some things in life are easy to measure and understand, and some things are trickier to grasp: your current waist measurement in relation to the pants size you wore in college, for example—easy to understand—for better or for worse. 

On the other hand, other things aren’t as easy to quantify, such as eLearning ROI. It’s especially  slippery because it doesn’t always deal with numbers, but with humans and their behavior. 

While you may not be able to assign a numerical value to the exact ROI you receive by implementing an eLearning program for training and education, it’s possible to identify the ways eLearning has improved efficiency, achieved a goal and ultimately, balanced your bottom line.

Vision Creation and Measurable Goals

Before you can measure your eLearning ROI, you must first create a vision for the end result. Tom Kelly, VP of Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems, Inc., tells Workforce Magazine, “To prove the full ROI of eLearning you need to measure its value.” You can’t measure value without first visualizing the end result. Whether you’re aiming for better customer satisfaction, faster training, or better information retention, you’ll need to create your eLearning curriculum with that vision in mind. This can also help you relay your goals as you communicate with your instructional design expert.

Project Timeline

While you may not be able to measure exactly what each user gets out of the eLearning experience, you can measure the time frame in which the curriculum is designed, delivered, and put into action. By creating a realistic timeline, you can later measure eLearning ROI based on whether deadlines were met and the resources required to get the program from vision to completion and delivery. In general, the longer a project takes, the more resources you’re using, which eventually translates to  lower ROI for the project.

Retention and Efficiency

Some of your ROI won’t be apparent until after all of the users have completed the course material. Ideally, you should start to see a return in the retention and application of the material in daily business. Whether the eLearning was a safety course for new recruits or implementing a new sales program, regular employee audits and evaluations can help you see whether or not the new program was worth the time and money put into it. 

Production Costs

It all boils down to the bottom line. You’ll be hard-pressed to efficiently measure eLearning ROI without a clear idea of what that investment was. Don’t measure only monetary costs such as outsourcing the instructional design—take other elements into consideration, such as the time spent on the project, travel costs, content costs, and the actual expenditure of time and effort for the learners themselves. When there are lackluster results in spite of the production costs and time involved, you may need to rethink your strategy for user engagement and lower initial costs to better balance eLearning ROI.

How is ROI Calculated?

It’s almost impossible to come up with a hard calculation for a quantifiable ROI number. Instead, tools like Kirkpatrick’s Training Evaluation Model can serve as a foundation for figuring out whether your investment in eLearning was worth it or not. Kirkpatrick’s model uses four levels of evaluation (Reaction, Learning, Behavior, Impact), and, when combined, helps you create a more complete picture of how eLearning has affected your users and your bottom line. Try implementing Kirkpatrick’s four evaluation levels as part of your organization’s unique ROI assessment. 

1. Reaction

Reaction is the first measurable way to evaluate your learners’ thoughts and feelings immediately after experiencing an eLearning program.The trick to getting honest reactions is by making feedback surveys part of the eLearning module. Use ratings or scale surveys so learners can quickly tell you what they liked and didn’t like about their eLearning experience, and choose questions that give you measurable metrics. For example, instead of asking “Did you enjoy the training?” try, “On a scale of 1 through 10, how well did the training prepare you to…” Using numbers to represent answers allows you to average out the responses and create a more holistic, less subjective evaluation. 

2. Learning

Sure, the training was entertaining, but did users learn anything? Obviously the goal for any module is educating learners about a topic such as compliance, sales, or product knowledge, and then providing opportunities for them to apply what they learned. The best way to evaluate whether or not learners are reaching their training objectives is by creating knowledge checks throughout the module, such as true or false questions, or prompts to enter definitions or answer quick questions. Don’t just hope that your training is effective; give users a chance to show off what they’ve learned and you’ll know for sure. 

3. Behavior

Now that you’ve evaluated your learners’ knowledge, it’s time to measure changes in their actual behavior. Evaluate what’s being applied in real life by checking in 30, 60, and even 90 days after the training takes place. Create surveys or gather feedback from managers, especially in measurable areas like increased sales numbers or efficiency. Then, combine those numbers with more qualitative evaluations in areas such as employee morale or teamwork. 

4. Impact

Here’s where your ROI becomes more apparent: adding up all of your evaluations to create a complete measurement of the cost and overall impact of your eLearning program. Armed with user feedback, measurements of actual mastery, and how learner behavior has changed after eLearning, you still won’t be able to assign a specific measurement for eLearning ROI, but you should be able to measure the costs (time, travel, content, human) against your results (mastery, efficiency, completion). 

Measuring eLearning ROI will never be an exact science, and for good reason: Learning happens through connection, emotion, practice, and experience. By framing your evaluation in a more human way, you’ll gain a better perspective to create, execute, and adapt your eLearning so it’s as effective as possible.