All of your employees have completed their required eLearning, and they all scored 80 percent or higher on the test at the end of the training. Was the eLearning successful?

That depends. Completing an eLearning course does not guarantee that an employee has learned anything. Passing a standardized test or other objective assessment might not mean anything either: A learner’s ability to correctly answer multiple-choice or true-false questions doesn’t mean that she can apply that knowledge to doing her job. If the test is administered immediately after the learner completes the eLearning course, all it measures is her short-term memory; that student might not be able to score as well a week later.

How can managers move beyond multiple-choice tests to more deeply evaluate the effectiveness of eLearning? Here are seven strategies for measuring employee learning:

  1. Clearly define learning outcomes and a means to evaluate success at the beginning of your eLearning design process. Have a clear goal: Our employees will be able to do ____. This gives you something to measure. If the goal is to list and describe 10 financial services products your company offers, then a standardized test might be the best tool to measure learners’ success. But if you need employees to perform a complex multistep process or apply “soft” skills like empathy to problem-solving, a multiple-choice test is not the right instrument.
  2. Measure and certify competence in a skill or performance of a procedure by observing and evaluating employees as they perform that skill. Ask learners to complete a project (alone or in their work teams), submit a video of themselves performing a skill, or have an evaluator observe them at work. If an in-person or video observation is not feasible, build a performance aspect into the training. Some serious learning games simulate and test real skills.
  3. You can conduct subjective assessment using pre- and post-tests that ask questions about employees’ attitudes and beliefs. These tests measure the impact of learning more deeply than closed-ended questions with a single correct response.
  4. In-person training includes interaction between an instructor and learners, providing opportunities for instructors to gauge whether learners comprehend and have internalized the knowledge. When dealing with skills acquisition or harder-to-measure soft skills, these conversations can be crucial—and difficult to replicate online. Simulations of common workplace scenarios, such as responding to irate customers or aiding frantic callers to an assistance hotline, offer opportunities for learners to practice soft skills like problem solving and communication. With practice, employees’ confidence that they can field such calls from actual customers increases. Managers can use a “dashboard” in the eLearning module to track employees’ progress and see whether they’re choosing appropriate responses in various scenarios. At the completion of training, real-life role-playing among staff, online or in person, can reinforce those skills before learners are turned loose on real customers.
  5. Teaching others is an effective way to both solidify and demonstrate mastery of a skill. Asking employees to teach newly acquired skills to their colleagues and encouraging sharing of information on intra-office learning networks can show managers whether employees have assimilated, and are correctly applying, information conveyed in eLearning.
  6. Asking learners to evaluate an eLearning module, both immediately after they complete training and after an interval of several days or weeks, can provide important information about its effectiveness. During and just after the training, employees’ responses can indicate whether the eLearning was engaging and whether the learners believe it was worthwhile. After an interval, employees can report whether they believe that they’ve used anything they learned in the training to do their jobs; it also provides an opportunity to gauge how “sticky” the learning was.
  7. If learning goals have direct links to skills or tasks that are part of a learner’s job, evaluation of the employee’s performance pre- and post-training should indicate whether the training had any impact. Self-evaluation, though not completely reliable, is also a measure. Does the employee have increased confidence in his ability to perform a procedure after the training? Is that confidence and improved ability reflected in his performance?

Simply checking the box that employees have completed their online training is not enough. Clearly defining eLearning goals and outcomes—as well as describing what success looks like—are essential precursors to creating effective eLearning and assessing employees’ progress.