How To Know if Your Online Course Is Effective
It’s relatively easy to prove learners have gone through a course. Metrics like view numbers, completion data, and quiz scores all conclusively show that. But as you’re considering what demonstrates the effectiveness of a course, it’s helpful to look beyond those numbers. Because when you can connect the success of the learning experiences you create to how they solve business challenges, you’re able to capture the full value you and your work bring to your organization.
But what evidence can tell you a course is making this broader impact? Thankfully, the kind of content you’ve been asked to create can help you determine how to get the proof you need. So let’s take a closer look at three types of courses and some of the best metrics that confirm they’re effective.
Type 1: Performance Improvement
This type of e-learning course teaches learners new skills or gives them information that helps them do their jobs better. That makes defining success straightforward: simply craft specific, measurable learning objectives that describe the performance you want to improve.
After the course launches, performance data can show how well your content was able to meet those objectives. What data you’ll use, however, will depend on how easily you can separate the impact of your course from other factors. Let’s look at two examples to see how this can play out.
Scenario 1: The Effects of Your Course Are Easy to Isolate
Say you’re creating a course to reduce assembly line mistakes by 10 percent. It’s the only change being made, so you can safely conclude any performance improvements you see are a result of your course. To show your training was effective, just measure and compare the average number of mistakes learners made before and after the training. It’s that simple!
Scenario 2: Multiple Factors Are Impacting Performance
Now imagine you’re designing a course to improve sales revenue by 10 percent. On the surface, that might also seem easy to measure. But there are a lot of things other than your course—like inventory, pricing, and marketplace conditions—that could impact that number. So it might not be possible to fully isolate your content’s effects.
Instead, consider using less direct but still meaningful ways to show your course worked, such as:
- Improving performance on narrower tasks that are easier to isolate—such as reducing errors on vendor estimates as a part of overall sales performance.
- Demonstrating learner knowledge using a realistic post-course sales scenario.
- Raising learners’ scores on pre- and post-course assessments.
The key here is to find the clearest evidence possible that your course isn’t just presenting information to your learners—it’s also improving their performance.
Type 2: Compliance Training
Some courses exist mainly to meet a legal requirement. In that case, the first way you’ll measure effectiveness is by confirming enough employees passed the training.
But there’s no reason you can’t broaden the value this training has by connecting it to other business goals too. Here are a few ideas:
- Connect your training to performance metrics. Even generic compliance training topics can often contribute to specific performance shifts. For instance, maybe your company is required to deliver 30 minutes of phishing training each year. While outlining that course you realize the content has overlap with a big company initiative to reduce accidental data breaches. By thinking strategically, your course can contribute to both goals at the same time. Then, to show it's effective, measure course completions to cover the compliance angle and changes in phishing-related data breaches to analyze the performance side.
- Show how your training helped save money. Sometimes a course’s biggest contribution is to reduce costs. If you can streamline existing compliance training so that it still meets the legal requirements but takes less time or resources to run, those cost savings are another metric that can demonstrate success.
So while the bar for what makes an effective compliance course may be low, you can often raise it—and the value you bring to your organization—by expanding what you expect it to change and measuring those results too.
Type 3: Building Awareness
Other e-learning exists simply to share information. In those situations, hitting a target number of views or completions might be all you need to call your course effective.
But even with courses like these you can occasionally demonstrate additional value. For example, you could:
- Track engagement with calls to action. If the course also includes an optional task—like a job aid to download or a mailing list to sign up for—you can use the percentage of learners who take that action to show they didn’t just click through the content but actually engaged with it.
- Consider the long-term impact of your content on learners. Short-term awareness-building may still lead to performance improvements in the long run. Take a course on professional development resources. If you discover the learners who completed it were more likely to earn a promotion that year, that course provided value above and beyond the original goals. So keep an eye out for performance metrics that could connect back to your course.
The key takeaway here is that your course could be effective at more than just getting people’s eyes on content—you might just need to rethink what it has the potential to affect.
Remember, there’s no single, right metric that can always tell you if your e-learning course is effective. While that might seem inconvenient at first glance, it’s actually a good thing. That’s because it means you’re not always trying to hit a generic goal, and can instead tailor your measures of success to show the full impact of the course you’re delivering. And when you do that, it’s easier for your organization to see how your course contributes to solving larger company challenges.
Want to learn more about demonstrating the business value of the work you do? Check out these helpful articles.
- 2 Ways to Show the Value of Online Training
- Here’s How to Prove the Value of Training to Your Organization
- How to Calculate the Cost-Benefit of E-Learning
Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. And if you have any of your own tips for measuring course effectiveness, be sure to share them in the comments.