Research & Thought Leadership

How to measure the success of a training program

Tyler Losey

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Talent assessment

Measuring success in a training program is hard. It is much more difficult than answering if it is raining outside. Imagine answering the question “is it raining outside?” by replying with the temperature in Kelvin or replying with the average rainfall in meters over the last two weeks in your town. Or by glancing out the window without stopping and looking far off in the distance. Or answering “yes, it is raining” because you saw one car earlier in the day with the windshield wipers on, or because your weather app told you it would rain today.

If someone answered that way, one of the following things has happened:

  • They would be using the wrong metrics to show if it’s raining,

  • They were using the wrong metric at the wrong time,

  • The metric they used would appropriately answer a different question altogether,

  • They didn’t understand the question

Too often, the question “is the training program successful?” is answered similarly. What is success in a training program? How do we define our objectives? How do we measure if we’ve met those objectives? When will we expect to see results from this investment in learning? How do we measure success?

There are a lot of questions and for many training and human resources managers, and success is harder to define than rainfall. But the questions remain: Did we do what we said this training program was going to do? Did the program work?

We return to some of the same old metrics, like attendance to show utilization of a program, adoption to show engagement, but then, why does the program not “feel” successful? Why are there disappointments? Why is the business confused and never satisfied with the results?

Simply put – you achieve what you measure.

Plenty of metrics may be used to show the success of learning programs, including attendance, activities completed, progress to targets, log-ins, time spent learning. But these metrics are just scratching the surface of the measurements that can be used to show the success of a program. And in fact, many of these metrics are only relevant at certain parts of the program delivery and only for certain stakeholders.

Evaluating the success of the program at all stages of the program’s duration involves a number of different metrics with you may not have looked at before.

For instance, let’s say you are looking for a new language training provider because a lot of technical complaints and administrative tasks have reached your desk as a training manager. You select a new training partner externally, and it is the launch phase of your program. What should you measure to show the success of the new vendor? Not satisfaction ratings from the students – but rather, number of complaints per user, or average vendor response time, or number of cases escalated.

Take the launch phase of a training program, for example. In order to measure the success of your program at this stage, if you look at the student perspective, how much interest, demand, “hands raised” are there, for this type of training? Have you assessed the target population’s preference for even the provider of the training program? What about the modality? All of those metrics are super relevant to show your success at the launch stage when it comes to the employees who will participate.

But, for the business at the launch phase of a training program, what metrics should you look at? Is there a business problem to solve, or to avoid? For instance, productivity or efficiency or increased participation in other training? What about outputs for sales/marketing or system breakdown in shared services support? What is the opportunity cost of not having a training program at all?

And at the end of the program, what was the cost per learning hour? The lower that is, the more value per user and engagement per user there was. What about the cost per level advanced? If you’re providing a training program that has unlimited amounts of content and is aligned to a skill level target framework, you can see the value of the learning progress made.

Was your program goal to just provide something that the learners would like? Great! Student feedback is effective in that case. But if there was a business goal that the training program was designed to alleviate, how effective is student feedback, as well, and when is that relevant? Perhaps more during the monitoring phase when thinking about the program as a whole than at the conclusion of a program when discussing the continuation of it with the business.

Training managers and HR professionals are brave to run training programs. Why? Because it is difficult to measure success. It’s complicated because, it matters for whom you are measuring success, and at what stage of the program you are at. Depending on these factors, measuring return on learning can change with the metrics. You can use metrics every step of the way to ensure that you can show how you’re tracking towards the results you want. You achieve what you measure, so measure what you want to achieve.

Tyler Losey

Global Account Manager, Hult EF

Originally from Upstate New York but educated in Washington, DC, I am a huge geek when it comes to Spanish literature, spin class, and being a tourist. The thing I've worked hardest on is becoming's opened so many doors for me! Find me on LinkedIn:

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Tyler Losey

Originally from Upstate New York but educated in Washington, DC, I am a huge geek when it comes to Spanish literature, spin class, and being a tourist. The thing I've worked hardest on is becoming's opened so many doors for me! Find me on LinkedIn:

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