Soft costs vs hard costs: Teasing out the ROI of Virtual Learning

Money, they say, talks. The BS walks. So it is with eLearning. You can fulfil the most basic regulatory requirements and go cheap but you’ll get what you pay for: low engagement, poor knowledge retention and no measurable productivity gains. But they’re soft costs, right? They don’t hurt the bottom line so it’s all good, right? Wrong! So, spend a little more, set up a webinar or canned video program with live voice instructor which participants can step through at their own pace. Make sure you have lots of interesting visuals, animated graphics and a few lighter spots to keep it interested. It’ll work. Barely.

The problem here is that there are no real metrics, other than the list of the participants who signed on and stepped through the presentation to the end. There’s no real engagement metrics and productivity gains may be negligible. Online learning, however, is evolving and it’s here to stay. Even though the stepped interactive video is a huge leap over the passive video module and study after study upholds that theory, there’s something missing. One-way interactivity is good but the goal is engagement, retention and productivity then instructor-led, live, interactive and reactive, immersive virtual classroom are the way to go, with full two-way video and audio channels. Even better, offer private side chats so students can discreetly ask questions or compare notes with other participants and the instructor, all in real time.

It’s truly the best replication of the standard instructor in a live classroom model available without all the associated costs of travel, accommodation and time away from the office. And this is where the ROI modelling comes in. First, there’s the elimination of all travel costs, accommodations and off-site classroom space along with a sizeable reduction in administrative costs because almost all interactive virtual learning programs have associated auto-enrollment applications which will handle the scheduling and prompting of participants once they’ve registered for the event. Depending on time zones, most of these events can be scheduled during the work day where participants don’t have to leave their offices or can log in from home, training can be used at the student’s convenience reducing absence from work.

The research shows interactive learning requires 40 to 60 per cent less of employee time than a classroom setting and that’s something which translates directly to the bottom line. Not only that, they cover more material and, more importantly, remember more because quizzes are integrated into the modules. This results in up to 60 per cent better retention rates even for self-paced video compared to live classrooms while revenues rise an average of 26 per cent per employee. It’s an impressive array of benefits with no downsides, given that Millenials especially crave learning opportunities because they lead to career growth opportunities. In fact, providing those learning and growth opportunities are key factors in employee retention.

The next question then, is what are you waiting for?