In my last post I opened a conversation about the challenge of measuring return on investment from eLearning development projects. This time, I’ll share with you my seven-layer cake recipe for defining, creating and measuring successful eLearning.
Like all layer cakes, this one must be built one layer at a time. Each higher layer rests on those below it.
Layer 1 – Function: the mechanisms used to find the training, open the training, navigate through the training, track progress within the training, and pause, play, interrupt, restart and exit the training must work without error. A website, search engine or LMS must make it easy for me to find and open the training. If there is a “Menu” button, it must always navigate to a menu page. The “Next Page” button must do what it says it does. If I exit the training and return, it should remember who I am and what material I’ve seen. Get layer one correct and you are in the game; miss, and nothing else matters.
Layer 2 – Accuracy: the content presented in the training must be correct. This isn’t just about getting your facts and figures right. If you are teaching problem-solving, build plausible scenarios that match the learner’s work environment. If you are teaching skills, weave best practices into the mix to explain why a task is best done a particular way. And don’t miss the importance of accurately presenting and reinforcing the attitudes and beliefs that you want the learner to hold about your company, your brand, and your products.
Layer 3 – Engagement: use a variety of media (text, graphics, sounds, video, animation, …) to present your content, as different individuals learn best in different ways. Incorporate interactive elements that require response from the learner so that they don’t have a chance to “zone out.” Use appropriate repetition to reinforce recall and stimulate synthesis.
Layer 4 – Effectiveness: measure the knowledge, skills or attitudes of the learner before taking the training, and then again after taking the training. Compare the two results. What, if anything, changed? Were the changes positive? If you don’t want to or can’t pre- and post-test everyone, use a focus group or do some statistical sampling.
Layer 5 – Retention: everyone has had the experience of cramming for a test and, the following day, forgetting everything again. Short term improvements, measured in Layer 4, are a good start. But what’s needed for real success is long-term retention. Again, sampling is fine but check to see what happens one week, one month and one year after the training was completed.
Layer 6 – Alignment: successful training does more than teach someone something new. It teaches them something useful. Depending on your organization, your competitive landscape, and market maturity, “useful” may take many forms – revenue creation, customer satisfaction, competitive differentiation, investor confidence, and so on. In my view, you can capture the essence of “useful” (in all of its forms) in the phrase “aligned with business goals.” Successful learning is aligned with, and fosters the accomplishment of, business goals.
Layer 7 – Impact: the most valuable measure of success would be one that could convert qualitative measures of alignment into quantitative measures of achievement. It’s fine to say that this eLearning project is designed to improve product knowledge in the sales force. It’s better to say that revenues went up 15% in the quarter following training deployment. But it would be best of all to say that revenues went up 15% because of the training.
Will I Get My Money’s Worth?
If, by asking this question, one means “is there a quantitative measure of value creation that depends solely on the impact of this specific training effort?” I’d have to say “sorry, no.” We are complex, sometimes irrational, human beings living and working in a complex, often chaotic, world. Tracing cause and effect with that degree of precision simply isn’t possible.
However, if one means “can I take concrete steps to define, test, and evaluate training investments as they relate to my company’s business objectives?” the answer is a resounding “YES!”
That’s my view. What’s yours?