This article is part of our eLearning series. To read our master guide, check out what's missing in your company's eLearning strategy.

Executives often lament the inability to accurately measure the value of employee training investments. And the introduction of eLearning—while it typically saves companies money on travel and other live training logistical costs—hasn’t necessarily made it any easier.

It’s simply difficult to define what you should measure and figure out how to track it.

For example, should we count the gains in employee happiness as a formal benefit of training? What about staff turnover? Product quality? Sales and revenue? Even where these things are empirically measurable, it’s hard to attribute them directly to L&D activities.

Thankfully, the advent of eLearning does allow us to, at least measure the extent to which your employees are engaged with your training materials, and the speed at which they are absorbing and retaining new knowledge. After all, if your employees aren’t using their tools and remembering what they learn, then there’s no way that you’re improving your team, your product, or your revenue as much as you should be.

Brainscape’s sales training and employee onboarding specialists have identified the following three leading indicators that suggest that your eLearning results in poor ROI.

[Check out: 'Product knowledge training: Unleashing the beast in your salespeople'.]

elearning roi mens hands with laptops
Here's what's reducing your eLearning ROI and steps you can take to fix it.

1. Your eLearning is too expensive

As an instructional designer or L&D executive, we often want to impress our employees with how sophisticated and fancy our training tools are. It’s easy to spend millions of dollars on high-resolution videos, third-party experts, 3-D simulations, or Learning Management Systems (LMSs) with dozens of advanced features that make you feel like a more professional company.

These advanced eLearning tools can, of course, be very helpful. Teaching new surgical techniques or conducting complex mock executive management drills often necessitates the best of what L&D vendors have to offer.

But in many cases, our needs aren’t really that complicated to justify such complex and expensive tools. Sometimes, we just need our employees to essentially “memorize” a bunch of product attributes, safety protocols, customer service responses, legal regulations, menu items, scientific terms, or sales tactics—or perhaps to just learn where they can access such concepts in a proprietary “reference” library. We don’t need fancy videos or simulations for basic needs like those!

What you can do:

  • If all we need is just a simple FAQ reference tool without caring about deep learning, we might even be able to get by with something as simple as Google Docs or Forms (or the equivalent Microsoft products stored on your corporate directory)!
  • In other cases, if you really want your employees to learn, a lightweight, bite-sized web & mobile flashcards platform like Brainscape might get the job done as well. There are many such simple, off-the-shelf web & mobile learning tools without all the bells & whistles we don’t need, and without the need to pay for custom features whose software code needs to be updated ($$) every time our operating system or browser has a new version installed.

Considering a web or mobile learning platform, rather than custom products built by an eLearning developer, can keep your costs lower while allowing you to leverage any platform improvements that may be initiated by your vendor’s other clients. Your employees may be even happier with a lightweight mobile study platform than if you had bought a fancy custom solution many times the price.

[See also: 14 tips for great mobile learning at your company]

2. Your employees aren’t using it

In survey after survey, employees’ biggest complaint about their companies’ eLearning is that it is “inconvenient.” It requires them to take time out of their busy days to complete some requirement whose value isn’t always apparent to them.

The result of this attitude is that many employees think of eLearning as something to just “get over with.” They mindlessly let videos play, flip through the slides, or skip to the easy Quiz so that they can “check the box” with little actual learning absorbed into their brains for the long term.

Furthermore, even when instructional designers provide “job aids” for employees to take home after their initial training, those job aids may not exist in a convenient format for future use. Who wants a bunch of difficult-to-search PowerPoint slides or readings collecting virtual dust?

What you can do:

  • For higher-ROI eLearning, instructional designers should strive to provide training tools that are more “on-demand”.

Employees are magnitudes more likely to use instructional software when they want to learn—either because there will be a formal high-stakes assessment at some point, or because they are made to understand that they will perform better at work with the new skills. L&D leaders can embrace constructivist learning theory and encourage employees to seek their own knowledge rather than spoon-feeding them “instruction.”

Brainscape believes that digital employee training flashcards are one of the best (affordable!) ways to achieve such a self-paced, on-demand microlearning experience. A well-organized set of bite-sized study materials, accessible and searchable on any device, is not only useful to studying but is also useful as an ongoing reference. And because digital flashcards are so bite-sized, they make it easy for managers to track many different microlearning analytics at multiple levels of engagement.

Whatever software you use for your company’s L&D, do your best to provide tools that work as both a self-paced learning experience and as an ongoing reference that can be accessed on demand at any time. Using a program that is engaging, social, and mobile doesn’t hurt either!

[See also: Creating eLearning your team will actually use]

3. Knowledge isn’t being retained

Motivating your employees to learn, while providing your eLearning in a convenient format, is a great start to ensuring that people actually use your training software. But the final step toward solving your eLearning ROI problem is to use instructional concepts that actually work!

Great eLearning programs implement adaptive, interactive, data-driven techniques whose core objective is to drive real retention . . . not just to check a box.

What you can do:

  • Find an eLearning solution that teaches effectively.

As Brainscape has uncovered through decades of cognitive science research, the optimal learning solutions combine a healthy degree of self-paced learning, Active Recall (thinking of answers from scratch), Metacognition (assessing one’s own knowledge), and Spaced Repetition, in order to optimize employees’ pace of learning and maximize their retention.

[See also: Does your eLearning use good cognitive science?]

By focusing your spending on the features that matter for your training purposes, and by creating effective learning tools that your employees actually use, you will continue to yield the greatest possible returns on your eLearning investments.

Brainscape graphic spaced repetition active recall and metacognition
Brainscape uses cognitive science to teach content in the most effective—and efficient—way possible.