How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Online Course

When you create an e-learning course, of course you want your client to be thrilled with your work. But you also want her to feel it was worth the investment. Well, how do you do that? Look for a performance metric. It quantifies how successful your course was at changing your learner’s behavior.

There are lots of different e-learning performance tracking metrics. A great way to narrow down the possibilities is to use your course type as a guide, because certain measures pair well with specific types of courses. So let’s take a look at a few typical types of courses and some performance metrics that you could use for each.

Type 1: Performance improvement Courses

This type of e-learning course is designed to teach learners a new skill or give them information that will help them do their jobs better. The course is a means to move them from where they currently are toward a performance goal. Therefore, the success of your course is measured by how close your learners come to reaching the goal after they’ve taken your course.

Sometimes your client will provide a current performance metric, and your job is to improve on that metric with your course. An example of this is if your learners are production workers and currently produce x widgets per hour, and you’d like to improve each person’s production to 1.5x widgets per hour. With some specific training, you can help them make widgets more efficiently so they increase their hourly production.

But sometimes the metric your client gives you is subject to outside influences that are beyond the control of your course. For example, if your client says your training needs to improve sales revenue by 10 percent, it will be hard to distinguish the effect of the training on sales numbers from inventory, pricing, marketplace conditions, and other external influences. In this case, try a metric that can be directly tied to your project, such as:

  • Raising learners’ scores on pre- and post-course assessments
  • Improving learners’ performance on specific tasks
  • Improving performance on contributory metrics—such as reducing errors on vendor estimates as a part of overall sales performance

The key here is to link the course back to the performance expectation. Doing so keeps the focus on how learners use the information you give them, versus simply receiving the information and not applying it.

Type 2: Organizational Compliance Courses

Some e-learning courses are designed with the goal of showing that your organization delivered training to meet regulatory or compliance requirements. In this case, and the compliance isn’t tied to measurable business goals, a performance metric isn’t really relevant. In other words, you’ll have to find something else to measure.

One idea is to use a pre- and post-course assessment that tests learner knowledge and skills before the course, and again after it. Some organizations even use the pre-assessment to determine whether the learner can test out of the course and still be in compliance.

If an assessment approach doesn’t appeal to your client, you can also look to the training itself to develop measurement metrics. For example, you can cite an increase in the number of people who complete the course to show that more people are being exposed to your content. In this context, more completions are meaningful because many regulations define compliance simply as delivery of training, so more people viewing the content is a win for the company.

You can also look to the way training has evolved in your organization over time, to show that offering a course online versus in person saves the organization X employee hours or Y dollars. These metrics won’t tell you about behavior change as a result of your course, but they will show the organization that you’ve cut costs and are conscious of operating efficiently.

Type 3: Sharing Information

A third type of online course is one that simply shares information. The material could just as easily be found on a website or on a printed flyer in the lunchroom. But don’t discount information-based courses because they don’t have a performance metric tied to them. They can still play an important role in the organization.

In this case, one gauge of effectiveness is to increase the number of people who interact with the information. For example, if you ask them to do something from within the course, like click a link or download a file, you can track the number of people who do so. This shows your client that their message is at least getting into the hands of their audience, and you can use this metric as a benchmark for future course iterations.

Remember, there’s no single, right e-learning performance tracking metric for a course. It all depends on the type of course, and what business objective your client is aiming to achieve.

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