Measuring the true business value of workplace learning and development (L&D) remains a challenge. You may know your company’s training needs, but may not know how to successfully measure training effectiveness or prove its return on investment (ROI).

Unfortunately, the value of training is often only in the spotlight when it fails, such as when a compliance mistake leads to bad press and a big monetary penalty. But when learning truly sticks, its impact may seem invisible — which is fine if you aren’t considering budgets, resources and productivity.

Measuring training ROI is more achievable now more than ever — especially with today’s digital technology. With the right data, design and patience, the true strategic value of organizational learning can shine through.

The Expansion of Digital Learning

Digital learning was already experiencing high growth and adoption prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before a mass of organizations made the switch to remote work, many recognized the value of online learning in terms of convenience, logistics and impact. In its simplest form, moving learning online can be as simple as setting up a module, letting employees know about it and utilizing various nudges and deadlines to easily communicate with the touch of a button.

Even this most basic approach to online training is a far cry from the costs and effort of booking conference rooms, juggling schedules, printing materials and more to pull off a big, mandatory in-person training. Simple streamlining can offer the first measurable value of digital learning initiatives with companies spending less to train more people in less time. But cost savings is just the tip of the iceberg when looking to measure the business value of training initiatives.

Once the pandemic struck, the mass adoption of online learning increased. Employees working from home still needed to be onboarded and complete critical compliance requirements. With the pandemic subsiding, organizations are discovering that online learning is valuable no matter where employees are learning from.

Completion Data, Incomplete Value

Many organizations use course completion rates as a measure of success. For example, the goal of 90% of employees finishing a training module may be a worthy benchmark and “check the box” for compliance purposes, but it doesn’t reveal how effective the learning is or its impact on the greater business objectives. Even metrics such as pass/fail don’t always reveal the true impact of learning.

Of course, when delivered online, the productivity saved from not gathering employees in a conference room for a two-hour training that an online session could tackle in an hour or less (and at their convenience) is measurable and does hold value.

Calculate and Correlate

To truly identify business value from learning, L&D and human resources (HR) teams must start with aligning their goals with the overall strategic goals of the organization. Ask yourself: What are we trying to solve? Which strategy are we looking to turbocharge? For example, if a sales-focused company wants to improve its results, how can training support that goal? Designing modules to focus on sales strategy provides a base to pinpoint value down the line.

In this example, a positive spike in sales can be the result of various factors, but if it coincides with a new training, that’s a correlation that can’t be overlooked —especially by C-suite and other senior stakeholders. Besides the all-important boost to the bottom line, this correlation builds a business case for more training. And if that training is already cost-efficient because it was digital, the ROI becomes even more impactful.

Consider these other examples:

  • If, hypothetically, a digitally driven training experience is able to reduce onboarding by two days, then an organization that hires 500 employees in a year can save 1,000 workdays that can instead contribute to productivity.
  • A company with B Corp aspirations and multiple locations switches to online training to reduce its carbon footprint and make significant progress toward its goal of zero emissions.
  • Well-trained employees can be promoted into new or open roles, saving money on hiring costs.

Even compliance training can be measured with this approach. For example, the completion rates and scores from an effective anti-harassment training module may be encouraging, but perhaps the true indicator of its effectiveness is a reduction in the number of complaints an organization receives. That might lead to less money spent resolving complaints as well as improved employee satisfaction, which may correlate to less turnover. The value of training is there — it simply sometimes dwells outside of the training experience itself.

Ongoing Learning, Ongoing Results

Digital learning also produces a lot of beneficial data that can strengthen the value of training. Research shows that personal and purposeful learning experiences — that adapt to individual learner needs — yields better learning results. Personalized learning improves training effectiveness by delivering relevant L&D specific to their role. That way when they’re presented with a critical decision on the job, they’re more likely to make the right choice.

Training data can then be combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and integrated with other learning tech to track and identify future opportunities for skills development. The system can then automatically send employees additional learning resources to boost their skills. Intelligent data can provide limitless ROI in growing the skills of your organization’s most valuable resource — its people.