Measuring learning ROI is hard – but not impossible

Posted on: January 19, 2018Updated on: April 16, 2024By: Axonify Team

There’s no denying it—tying learning to business results is a challenging and resource-intensive task.

Many companies struggle with demonstrating this connection across a variety of industries. Most, in fact, have a tough time progressing past the basic measures of learning like performance improvement and organizational compliance.

But, the most desirable and undeniable measure all organizations would like to show is: business results. How can we demonstrate that the learning achieved by an employee actually impacted the company’s bottom line?


Unfortunately, the ability of many organizations to validate this link is often hampered by the lack of technology. In a recent webinar, our CEO, Carol Leaman agreed with this sentiment. However, over the last five or so years, she says there’s been a shift in the tide. Namely, there are three key elements driving organizations to measure what really matters:

  1. Increased demand from the business to deliver results
  2. Advancements in brain science
  3. Evolution of technology

Like never before, organizations are better enabled to move past outdated measurement methods.

By harnessing the power of machine learning and brain science, L&D professionals can elevate their learning programs into continuous cycles of optimization that measure success—both at the individual and team levels.

But first, let’s start by understanding the current landscape of learning measurement.

The reality for most companies today

According to last year’s comprehensive survey conducted by Bersin, most companies are not progressing past the first three levels of its High Impact Learning Organization (HILO) maturity model (download the full report).

In fact, 94% of organizations are stuck in the first three levels which focus on simply completing assessments, gathering data from several internal learning sources, and trying to use that data to deliver better learning experiences. But, where they need to get to is level four, the highest level of maturity. At this level, companies are enabled to gather all manner of data (from external and internal sources) to predict a higher order of business results. This allows these organizations to inform continuous learning to truly empower its people and affect behavior change.

It’s time for L&D to make a change

Going back to the first main influencer driving organizations to measure what matters: the increased demand to deliver business results. Leaman says this has prompted L&D to figure out how they can help make an impact. In hopes of better understanding this growing trend, we conducted a survey which revealed a significant disconnect between what the business wants and what employees need.

Basically, employees do not benefit from a one-size-fits-all training approach. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t help them become better performing employees. And yet, many L&D professionals are still serving up traditional content that has no real measurement in place other than observational, qualitative data.

How microlearning can help

Over the last decade, great strides have been made in brain science research that have shed light on the importance of microlearning as an effective way to deliver impactful learning. No longer does the firehose approach work of inundating learners with information. Rather, we continue to see the value of providing bite-sized content, spaced out over time.

Here are the three key principles of memory you need to know:

  • Spaced repetition: True to its title, this concept requires information to be repeated or reinforced in a manner that is spaced out over a period of time. According to German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, you can drive long-term retention of information to greater than 90%, by repeating information 3-5 times, over a period of 30 days. This concept allows L&D leaders to measure what’s being delivered, and when, to the learner.
  • Retrieval practice: Also known as the ‘testing effect,’ the thought behind this one is simple: recalling information helps ingrain it to your long-term memory. After you’ve learned something new, if you’re asked to retrieve that information again and again, you’re more likely to remember it in the long term.
  • Confidence-based assessment: By allowing an individual to assess their own level of confidence, managers and leaders can better evaluate what their employees know, how confident they are in their knowledge, and what areas need more focus to truly achieve mastery of knowledge and skills.

Embrace the evolution of technology

The advancement of technology has also spawned a new, and much more convenient way of consuming information: through the use of mobile devices. Organizations can now utilize these devices to distribute training programs, capture and analyze information in real time, and provide instant feedback.

More recently, machine learning and adaptive technology have further enabled organizations to collect data to measure the effectiveness of learning—and, most importantly, the impact it has on business results.

Having all of this data is great — but what you really want to know is how you can tie all this back to business results.

3 critical learning metrics to help you measure ROI

According to Leaman, if you want to truly measure the return on investment (ROI) from learning, you need to look at these three critical metrics:

1. Individualized knowledge

Thanks to the advancements made in technology, organizations can now collect hard data on the knowledge levels of a single employee to identify gaps and areas of improvement.

2. Confidence assessment

Measuring confidence is just as important as measuring the individual’s knowledge. For example, employees who are highly confident in their knowledge are often risk-takers. But, if they don’t actually know that much or don’t have the right information, leaders need to understand what their true level of knowledge is and how confident they are in order to change behavior. Vice versa, an employee who exhibits a high degree of knowledge but low-levels of confidence may hang back, instead of performing the type of behaviors needed to impact the bottom line.

3. Workplace application

Being able to measure employee knowledge and confidence levels in the workplace can provide valuable insight into where an individual may need more coaching. Having these observations captured and tied directly to confidence and actual knowledge provides leaders mountains of data.

The data captured from these three key learning metrics can empower organizations to begin applying statistical models and machine learning to drive powerful business results.

If you’re interested in learning more about measuring the impact of your learning programs, head on over to our Measurement page.

Axonify Team

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