Everyone agrees that training employees are good. However, when learning occurs on company time and the company dime, we need some measurement to show that employees are using their new knowledge or skills to improve job functions or other goals. Unfortunately, based on a 2004 study by Rob Brinkerhoff, then a professor at Western Michigan University, up to 85% of employee training results in “scrap learning.”
It’s important to measure both results and expenses in order to justify future training budgets. In 2018, according to Training Industry, Inc., global spending on corporate training totaled $366.2 billion. According to Training Magazine’s 2018 report on industry spending, companies are now allocating even more resources (19% of L&D budgets) to measuring the impact of training programs.
With so much riding on your ability to improve outcomes and demonstrate return on investment (ROI), here are five important considerations to keep in mind when measuring training effectiveness.
Meaningful measurement starts when you establish your organization’s training goals. It can’t be an afterthought. Whether your objectives include demonstrating regulatory compliance, improving job productivity, up-skilling for proficiency in new technologies or improving employee satisfaction, each outcome may require its own type of measurement.
Completion rates may be enough for compliance. Some cases, such as mandated project management or cybersecurity training, require certification. Other measurements, like for agile methodology training, may focus on future reduction of errors and improved time to product delivery.
Measurement should happen not just for the duration of the training but before and after it, too, through such tools as pre-training assessments and proof of sustained application of new skills to the job. Participants’ reactions to the quality of the training can also be helpful, particularly for improving courses or evaluating vendor contracts.
Don’t reinvent the wheel … or the spreadsheet. You probably have some key performance indicators (KPIs) you company already tracks, including:
Sales, marketing and revenue figures
Incident or error reports (e.g., bugs, data breaches, customer complaints)
Product delivery timelines
An honest assessment of your program’s ROI demands a thorough understanding of your total training expenditures, including hard and soft costs. Some investments that often go ignored include:
Time and money spent on internal L&D, including instructional design
Third-party vendor/instructor training fees
Off-site training center rental fees
Travel and hotel costs for employees
Employee productivity lost during training
Cost of incentives for training participation
It’s essential to have a clear and consistent picture of the history and current state of performance to measure against after training. For some skills, such as programming and digital marketing, it’s easy to assess your employees’ skills before training and compare them to post-training performance.
Pre-assessments also enable adaptive learning by helping you identify employees’ skills gaps and then personalize learning accordingly. It can be as simple as staggering start times (skipping introductory or irrelevant courses) depending on each employee’s existing knowledge.
Many popular models for training evaluation use surveys to gauge participants’ opinions of the course. However, to provide value and measure ROI, the most important questions provide answers that show retention and application of skills and enable you to improve future training.
“Our learning evaluations should be conducted to help us make our most important decisions. Not just to check a box. Not just to prove impact. Not just to make us feel good,” says Will Thalheimer, Ph.D., of Work-Learning Research, Inc. “They should help us improve our learning and get the resources we need to maximize our effectiveness.”
When it comes to measuring the quality of a training program, the outcome is king. He writes that what training professionals really need to ask participants is, “How able are you to put what you’ve learned into practice in your work?”
Industry certification from an independent, bona fide authority is another great way to verify the attainment of skills and knowledge. It also gives both the employer and the employee a competitive advantage.
It’s also helpful to have learners complete projects, such as software applications, machine learning models or digital marketing plans, using their new skills. Applied projects reinforce the learning process, promote skill retention and encourage participants to use them.
Using open-ended questions and projects to demonstrate that learners were able to acquire knowledge and apply skills to their job gives L&D professionals valuable insights and tools to improve future training and demonstrate their programs’ ROI.