This question arose last week in a discussion about various e-learning efficiency measures. To me, “It depends.”

In some cases, it is a very appropriate measure. Yet in other cases it has no meaning whatsoever. It really depends on what you are trying to accomplish with the learning, which takes you back to your business case for investing in the
learning to begin with.

Let’s look at three cases to illustrate the differences. (There will be exceptions to each, of course.)

In the first case, let’s say that the e-learning is being used (alone or in a blended format) to convey critical knowledge or teach specific critical skills. Further, assume that completion is either required by law or is judged to be a proxy for knowledge/skills acquired. In this case, it makes sense to determine very precisely who needs to receive the training, set a completion goal (for example, 800 employees in Division A must complete the three e-learning modules by June 30.) and then monitor progress against the goal on at least a monthly basis.

A level 2 goal may also be established for mastery in terms of a passing score. The most common example is compliance-related training, but examples can also be found in new-hire training or any number of proficiency/knowledge building courses. Your learning management system will keep a record of completions establishing that the proper training was taken, which may be used as a legal defense in case of wrong doing by an employee.

In the second case, e-learning is still used to convey business-specific knowledge or skills, but the training is not mandated by law.

In fact, you may want employees to use any resource available to get the information they need to perform their job. Here we are talking about performance support, and e-learning is a very powerful, effective and efficient tool to do just that — assuming it is well designed and easily navigable. Rather than taking and completing an entire module or course, the goal here is for the employee to quickly access just what they need and then use it immediately on the job. Compelling them to complete the entire e-learning course serves no purpose and dramatically reduces the efficiency of this solution. The goal is to get in, find what you need, and get out. In this case it makes no sense to measure completions — although it would make sense to measure “touches” or access.

In the last case, e-learning is used to provide more general knowledge. Here the courses do not align directly with an organization goal, like increasing sales or reducing injuries, and the employees often decide what to take — sometimes with agreement from their supervisor.

Examples might include courses on communication, writing, language, team building and career development, as well as courses on a variety of business subjects. Employees appreciate having a library of e-learning courses available to them and this often leads to greater employee engagement. It is also important for attraction and retention. In this case employees “surf’ the library to find courses of interest to them and, since completion is not critical for any business goal, there is no need to track completions, although it makes sense to measure touches.

In conclusion, while there is some e-learning where completions must be tracked, in most cases it does not make sense to measure completions. Measure touches, instead, so you know what is being used.

David Vance

David Vance

David Vance is the former president of Caterpillar University, which he founded in 2001. Until his retirement in January 2007, he was responsible for ensuring that the right education, training and leadership were provided to achieve corporate goals and efficiently meet the learning needs of Caterpillar and dealer employees. Before this position, Vance was chief economist and manager of the business intelligence group at Caterpillar Inc., with responsibility for economic outlooks, sales forecasts, market research, competitive analysis and business information systems. He now consults with organizations on learning and performance issues, with a focus on launching corporate universities and designing effective strategies for managing the learning function, including alignment, governance and measurement. His firm is Manage Learning LLC. Vance was named 2006 CLO of the Year by Chief Learning Officer magazine. He also was named 2004 Corporate University Leader of the Year by the International Quality and Productivity Council in its annual Corporate University Best In Class Awards. In October 2010, Vance published The Business of Learning: How to Manage Corporate Training to Improve Your Bottom Line. He can be reached at
David Vance

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