Skip to main content

3 Qualitative Metrics for Measuring Learning Return on Investment

  • 4 Min Read

While return on investment (ROI) is often a quantitative conversation, these qualitative metrics can be just as impactful.


As customer needs evolve and the speed of change increases, organizations are constantly having to do more with less and that’s made return on investment (ROI) an especially important metric for measuring program success over time. Learning and development (L&D) initiatives are no exception.

L&D departments are increasingly being put under the business microscope, being tasked more and more with looking for ways to add value and support business objectives. Measuring ROI can help learning leaders and executives determine business profitability while providing insight into future decision-making processes. But, as useful as it is, ROI measurement is often a quantitative, numbers-driven conversation which, in the case of people-based departments like L&D, is often hard to quantify. However, a qualitative review of learning programs can be just as impactful as numbers in determining their effectiveness while providing insight into the potential of future initiatives.

Qualitative data is often beneficial for improving the overall experience of a specific program. If you were to think of the numbers as the “what,” it’s the qualitative research that gives you the “how” and helps you to develop a roadmap to enhance that experience.

Here are three key qualitative metrics you can use to measure learning ROI.

Learner Promoter Score

Like a Net Promoter Score (NPS) often used to assess client satisfaction, a learner satisfaction score can provide insight into the benefits of a learning program in supporting the employee to further advance their knowledge, skills and behaviors in a specific area.

An end-of-course or end-of-program survey for both in-person and e-learning initiatives can be a powerful tool for gathering feedback that can be leveraged to improve the experience of future learners participating in the program. Similar to an NPS, asking a learner how likely they are to recommend the learning program to a friend or colleague can provide tremendous insight into the benefits of the program, as well as a way to evaluate the investment made by the L&D department.

Desire to Learn More

Although not often tracked, a learner’s desire to continue learning about specific subject-matter is an indication of the effectiveness of the program they have just completed.  Think back to any learning programs you have been involved in lately. The ones that you considered good and beneficial had clear outcomes and helped you gain new knowledge or changed your perspective on specific topics.

More than that, they probably piqued your interest and curiosity and made you want to continue learning about those subjects. The psychology and neuroscience of curiosity tells us that, as humans, we have an insatiable demand for information and thirst for knowledge, and the more we are intrigued by something the more likely we are to spend time investigating that specific topic. I’m sure you’ve heard of the common expression “curiosity killed the cat”; being able to pique a learner’s desire to learn more is an indication of the effectiveness of the learning program that’s being delivered.

Learning Attention and Retention

Samuel Johnson, the English writer and poet, once stated that “the true art of memory is the art of attention.” What he meant was if we can capture someone’s attention it’s more likely that they’ll store that experience in their long-term memory in a box labeled “important stuff.”

Let’s try another thought experiment.  Think back to your wedding day or your college graduation or, perhaps, the day when your first child was born. I can almost guarantee that every single one of you will have had at least a handful of thoughts come to mind, memories that you can practically replay in your head.

However, if I were to ask you to think back to the last leadership development program you did, unless it ended yesterday, you will have had a harder time reliving that moment as your brain is first trying to remember what course it was, when you took it, what the topic was and what you remembered from it.  As such, checking in with learners three to six months after a program is complete and asking a generic question like “what did you think of that course you took,” gauging their ability to recall their experience, will give you a good indication as to the kind of impact the program had on their development and whether or not they retained learning.

There you have it!  These three qualitative measurements can provide you with insights into the ROI of a learning program that you can then use to build a business case for future development or expansion.

To learn more about how you can measure learning ROI, contact our Learning Strategy and Consulting services team at [email protected].

Written by:

Stay in the know

Educators and training pros get our insights, tips, and best practices delivered monthly

Table of Contents

  1. Learner Promoter Score
  2. Desire to Learn More
  3. Learning Attention and Retention