5 Concrete Ways To Measure The ROI Of Training Programs

5 Concrete Ways To Measure The ROI Of Training Programs
Summary: Every learning professional wants to show the value their programs create – that “Holy Grail” of analyses, ROI. Doing so in practice is often incredibly difficult. This is a practical approach to begin tackling ROI of training, starting in those areas where the learning professional is in the driver’s seat.

How To Measure The ROI Of Training: A Pragmatic Approach

You put on a class. It went well. Or it didn’t. The participants liked it. Or they didn’t. The coffee was hot. Or it wasn’t. However it went, chances are you will hear about it in some form of post event feedback. Over 90% of learning organizations conduct these surveys to calculate the ROI of training, according to the Association for Talent Development. But their prevalence should not imply usefulness. Indeed, according to research from McKinsey & Company, half of learning organizations don’t even bother to keep track of participants’ feedback about learning programs. Let that sink in… Half the time, no one looks at these results again.

The post feedback form is so alluring because you as a learning professional control it. You have a captive audience. But there are other ways –and indeed better ways– to measure the ROI of training. And a bunch of them are entirely within your influence, if not outright control. Here are 5 concrete ideas that help you as a learning professional drive change and truly impact your organization.

1. Start Asking Questions Well Before The Training Begins

Generally, Instructional Design would involve someone from the business – a manager, a task force, or an executive who helps guide the content. That is necessary, but not enough. You as a learning professional can and should involve the learners themselves in this process. Research is very clear on this. Adult learners do not learn without knowing what’s in it for themselves.

This initial survey is your chance to begin capturing not just their thoughts, but their hearts and minds. Use it to acknowledge their motivations and expectations, and then incorporate those into your session. Here are some example questions for a sales training focused on acquiring small and medium-sized business customers:

  • What would most aid you in closing 50 additional SMB leads next week?
  • What challenges did you face last week in closing SMB leads?
  • When you think about the type of sales performer you want to be, what qualities and skills come to mind?
  • When you think about your most successful segments, what makes the difference?

Take the answers to those questions and make them part of your training. In the kick-off, share a graph or a word cloud of the responses and highlight the common themes. Throughout the training, point out where the content is speaking to these themes.

2. Measure What Participants Do, Not Just What They Say

People say a lot of things. They say they exercise, they are patient with their children, and they were engaged in that class. Yet, according to research, they did not and were not.

So measure their demonstrated engagement, not their stated engagement. Use an affordable audience response system (such as Poll Everywhere) to see where learners are in real time. These systems no longer require a ton of set-up, nor are they expensive.

You ask a question in your deck, the participants respond on their phones, and the results appear immediately. You can make it a friendly competition. Or do a bunch of “what if” scenarios that the group discusses, similar to a choose-your-own-adventure game. This not only tests their knowledge, but actually improves it through the magic of active learning.

After the fact, you can look at the results and benchmark sessions against each other and tweak them. You can even share the results with the instructors or speakers (in a non-threatening, collaborative sort of way, of course).

In this way, you get to see who is actually engaged, not who says they were engaged. And how much relative value each session has generated. You can even get automatically generated reports with all the gritty details. That’s a step forward.

3. When You Do Ask Direct Questions In The Training, Ask The Right Ones

I’m just going to say it: Stop asking about the meeting room and whether they enjoyed the speaker. Sure, it’s tempting. Those are things you can do something about. But they betray the true potential value of your learning organization.

To get at that, consider integrating some deep learning questions into your sessions, many backed by proven research into how adults learn. There are summaries and suggestions from organizations like TEAL at the Department of Education that can apply to a corporate learning environment. Here are some examples…

  1. Scenarios.
    Present a scenario and ask for suggestions from the group on what to do next. Have the group rank each other’s suggestions.
  2. Best Answer.
    Pose a multiple choice question where several of the options are technically correct. Ask participants for the best answer amongst the correct ones, and then facilitate a debate about why they chose as they did. This promotes discussion and active thinking, not temporary memorization.
  3. Peer Review.
    Have participants construct an artifact, a work sample, perhaps the text of an email campaign. Put the artifact on display, and then have the group make suggestions for improvement. (Medical conferences do this frequently, in the form of poster presentations, often displayed in rows with a set time and forum for discussion.)

4. Get A Commitment

At the end of the session, ask learners to make a commitment. Have them do this before they leave the room. What action will they commit to doing? What tactical change will they institute when they go back to their desk? Research suggests that this simple act of committing, particularly if done in front of a group, has an impact on behavior.

As an added bonus, you can remind participants of their commitment. Save the responses and within a month of the training, resend them to participants (more on this below).

5. Extend The Session Into Their Day Jobs

The moments that matter are the ones that happen after the training. Follow up. But do so in a way that is personalized and tailored to their experience.

If you used an affordable, web-based ARS system during the training, you can send each participant a copy of their responses. You can send a survey populated with what they wanted from the session, rather than generic questions. With some systems, you can also launch text message reminders of what they learned. In this way, the learning is reinforced in their day job, where it matters.

Finally, ask about what matters: How much of what they’ve learned they put into practice. That is the beginning of calculating the ROI of training.


This piece was informed by the teaching and writing of Dr. Allison Rossett, to whom we owe great appreciation, and also by the influential work of Dr. Clark Quinn.