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Bersin and Associates

Evaluating E-Learning Yahoo Group

The E-Learning Factor: Companies are using metrics to justify e-learning's impact on strategic business goals.” John Berry (Internet Week, 11/06/00)

Beginner Basics: Measuring e-Learning's Benefits. Kevin Kruse.

Return on Investment in Training. Marcia Conner.

Andy Sadler, “How to make WBT Drive Profits: Not drain productivity.” Technical Training, Sept/Oct 1999.


eLearning is a powerful and revolutionary tool. It allows you to reach thousands of people across the world—at a fraction of the cost of traditional training—and can transform your company.

Only a year ago, elearning initiatives were exploding everywhere. Now, however, executives are starting to ask the tough questions. “What are we really getting for all this money spent on elearning?” “Now that we’ve bought all this content and software, how do we know that our elearning programs are really effective?”

In implementing elearning at many corporations, I find, repeatedly, that one of the biggest differences between elearning and other forms of training is that elearning is completely trackable. You know everything that every learner did, unlike classroom training. You have the opportunity to measure precisely the impact of your elearning investment.

This article reviews a proven methodology for measuring elearning, how widely it is being used, how effective it is in transferring knowledge, and, most importantly, how much impact it has on the bottom line.

Why measure? As Peter Drucker stated, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Some of the huge economic benefits of measuring elearning include:

     You know how well your sales force understands a new product.

     You can decide whether your vendor content library is worth what you’re paying.

     You can compare the effectiveness of various internally developed courses.

     You can measure the value of collaboration and synchronous elearning that takes valuable time away from employees and customers.

Defining Effective

Remember that the ultimate purpose of elearning is not to reduce the cost of training, but to drive business results. If you cannot identify the business goal of an elearning program, you should ask why you are doing it in the first place. eLearning is a business performance improvement tool, not a training tool.

Effective elearning drives you toward measurable business goals: increasing product revenue ramp rate, reducing turnover, reducing rework, or increasing customer satisfaction ratings. Before you measure this business result, however, you do have to know if the elearning program itself is being used and if it is changing people’s knowledge and behavior.

The Five Step Program to Measuring Effectiveness

I group elearning effectiveness into five steps (The “Bersin Five Step Program?”). In order to make this measurement, you will have to get data from your Learning Management System (LMS) or your elearning content provider. Demand that they provide you this information. If they can’t, you probably have the wrong supplier.

Step 1: Enrollments. “Is the audience showing up?”

The first and most obvious thing to measure is enrollments. Is the audience actually enrolling in the course or courses? In most systems, courses are stored in your dynamic course catalog, and students have to enroll proactively in order to start a course. In some cases, they are “pre-enrolled” or “automatically enrolled.”

You need to monitor enrollments over time. If a course is launched on June 1, and the audience size is 1000—what percentage of the people have enrolled by June 10? You should try to monitor enrollments week by week.

If learners are not enrolling, then you probably have a marketing problem. Either people can’t find the course, they don’t know how to enroll, or they do not understand why it is important! You may have to establish a more active marketing program.

If the course is one mandated by management, enrollments should pick up fast. If it is elective, then perhaps the course is named poorly, not well positioned in the catalog, or people do not even know it exists. You have to take on the responsibility of marketing your elearning programs. People will ignore the program completely if they do not understand why they need it.

Figure 1: Measuring Enrollment

Figure 1 shows that the pre-enrolled course (Intro to Java) is fully running from day 1. Java 102 was well marketed so enrollments picked up in 30 days. Something is wrong with Java 203, however. People do not know about the course, they cannot find it, or perhaps the target audience is small.

Step 2: Activity. “Are they eating the dog food?”

The next important issue to address is, “Are people moving through the course?” Have they started? What percent have they completed? Your content provider should be able to give you this information, too.

Figure 2: Measuring Activity

You should monitor activity correlated to enrollment date. For example, if you take a group of people who enrolled the first week of February, how far have they progressed by the end of February?  There should be a natural activity level which continues throughout the course.  If you find a large number of these people started but are not now completing or using the course, you have a content problem.  Either the content is inappropriate, too difficult, hard to operate, or just uninteresting and hard to work through.

I have found that the most important factor which governs how much activity you have in a course is the incentive to complete.  If the course is truly “optional,” then the content itself must entice the learner to finish.  If the course is “directed” (meaning that a manager or supervisor mandates the course as part of an employee’s job) then activity will typically continue. 

How long should it take to complete a course?  What is a reasonable rate of activity per week? That depends. For a course a few hours long, you will find that people progress at an hour a week or so. People usually go quickly and then stop at a particular point. This valuable information can help you assess the usability, relevance, and performance of the content.

Step 3: Completion. “Did they finish?”

Completion is just a special case of Activity—but a very special case. People who truly complete a course deserve special recognition. They will give you the best feedback on content quality and effectiveness toward the business goal. They wanted to finish.

Figure 3: Completion Measures

Another interesting point—you can’t “average” completion percentages. A group of students who achieved 30% completion is not the same as 1/3 of the students who achieved 100% completion. The former means that you have a poorly performing program. The latter means that you may have a great program, but it’s not targeted very well.

Targeting your program is important—it’s like marketing. If you target the right content toward the right audience, you will achieve the business result.

Step 4: Scores. “How well did they score?”

Many people think scoring is the one and only way to measure effectiveness. I tend to disagree. Sure, if people score highly they have learned something. But in elearning you don’t always know why they scored high. Did they really learn the material? Did they copy from someone else? Did they already know the material? Did they just try the test 15 times until they got it right?

There is another technology issue here. Does the course count the number of times a student attempts a question? If not, the score data may be useless—because people will keep guessing until they get it right.

Also, are scores only taken at the end or are there assessments along the way, which you can use to measure learning? You need multiple assessments, so you can measure progress toward the final learning goal. And the best content actually will categorize assessments by learning objective, so you can measure exactly what someone has scored well on and where they have fallen short.

Score and completion percentage together tell you a lot. You will see that people fall into different segments based on completion percentage and scores.

Figure 4: Scores vs. Completion

As Figure 4 shows, users clump into different segments. Most likely, you will find a group of users in one of the outlying corners (upper left or lower right). If you find a huge number of people there, you know there is a problem with the content or with the target audience.

Step 5: Feedback or Surveys “How did they like it?”

Feedback is a critically important part of elearning. Unlike traditional training, you have little or no face-to-face contact with learners. You need regular feedback in order to understand what people like and why they may not like something. And you need that in both numeric form and written form.

Feedback will tell you very important things, such as: Did the content play? Did the assessments work? Did the video, audio, and other media work? Were the material and interactivities engaging? Was the material useful? Were the graphics interesting?

You will find that the more personality you put into elearning the more effective it will be. For example, if you have a graded assignment that goes to a real mentor or tutor, you will find that course completion goes up by orders of magnitude. If you have live synchronous sessions mandatory (with attendance monitored) you will find that people get their pre-work done. There are many ways to incorporate real people into elearning, and doing so has a huge influence on effectiveness.

Making the Correlation to Business Results

Ultimately, the correlation to measurable business results matters. How do you know if a given elearning course or program really produces results? It is hard to correlate precisely, but here is a methodology, which works well. And I strongly urge you to go through this exercise—or hire a consultant to help. The results are critical to your success in the long term.

Look at the business results in four quadrants. Each is important in its own way.

Figure 5: Correlating Business Results.

Qualitative information gives you valuable insights. If your elearning program was a sales effectiveness initiative, you might want to interview five sales managers to ask them if they have seen a difference in behavior. You will find that people definitely want to talk about the results of elearning at an individual and manager level.

Quantitative information gives you real ROI measurement. If you can hold a target group constant, you can often see real improvements in business metrics after rolling out an elearning program. You can correlate this information to the elearning program by looking at the timing of the rollout, timing of completion, and the business change during that period. I have done such studies and found amazing correlations are possible when you look at the information carefully.

Is all this worth the effort?

Absolutely. Over the course of your elearning experience, you will spend a lot of time and money on content. If you do not measure results, you will never know if you are getting your money’s worth. Just as a Marketing executive would not launch a multi-million dollar campaign without some form of measurement, you should not launch an elearning program without measurement. I have worked with companies who have multi-million dollar content agreements and they have little or no idea what effect this is having on their business. Once you start measuring results, you can start refining and improving your program—generating higher ROI and saving money in the process.

eLearning is not a training tool. It is a business performance improvement tool. If you use it that way, your entire elearning program will be cost-effective, powerful, and aligned with the business, and it will have the potential of driving competitive advantage. This is the promise, and today it is possible.

Josh Bersin is a former elearning executive still wrestling with nightmares of learning management, content development, and measurement, and secretly likes it. He has helped more than 30 companies deploy more than 7 million elearning activities. He consults with enterprises and vendors to help make elearning best drive business results. He can be reached at


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