Evaluation of your training programs should be occurring at all times. But keep in mind that e-learning evaluation is different; the goal may be the same but your methods will change slightly. When you evaluate your e-learning program, there are two areas to focus on: learner and content. Let’s look at ways to evaluate these areas effectively using your program itself and your delivery system.

The initial evaluation of your e-learning program can take place both at the beginning of the program and throughout its lifetime. In the area of content, the first thing you’ll need to do is evaluate the course content. Remember that e-learning is new to your learners and may even be new to the training staff, so discovering how the content is being viewed is critical. You probably conduct “level one” evaluations in your traditional programs, sometimes referred to as “smile sheets” Although this evaluation has a light name, the act should not be taken lightly. The first evaluation is sometimes very valuable. So how do you carry out this task in an e-learning environment? Your LMS may give you the option of putting participants into an evaluation before they get to a test on the material – or immediately after. The best option is to get the evaluation while the audience is “captive”. Otherwise, you may not get the evaluation at all.

The content of your evaluation can cover traditional bases, that is, did the learner find the content useful and engaging. But instead of talking about an instructor, substitute the system itself. What was the learner’s immediate reaction to the accessibility of the system? Did he or she encounter problems with the navigation or have trouble understanding the instructions? Did the learner encounter long delays while waiting for a video or an activity? If you think about what the learner is seeing and doing at the time he or she is in the course, you’ll be able to come up with an effective evaluation.

The learner data, aside from what you can deduce from evaluations, can also be obtained from the system itself. Look at the number of participants you were expecting, or the number of participants who are required to go to certain courses. How many of them accessed the system and the courses? How many of those actually finished the course, took an evaluation, and received a grade? You can also look at initial learner reaction outside of traditional means, especially if e-learning is new to the organization. For example, consider sending out emails to a “test group” of learners in order to get their candid and unstructured feedback. As the e-learning program progresses, consider calling users on a random basis or even having local users attend focus groups. Just because the training intervention is online does not mean that you can’t evaluate it in person. Be creative and remember that many members of your audience are more than willing to help you out.

Once you’re past the initial rollout, remember to continue taking initial reaction evaluations -and to continue looking at the results. But what else can you do to ensure effectiveness of content and system when it comes to e-learning? Consider using online evaluations at 30 or 45 days after the course is completed. This technique often works in traditional training, so why not take a look at it for your e-learning program? You can find out if the learners found the content useful. And you can evaluate their reactions after they’ve had time to think about it and take other online courses. Some LMS systems may even “tickle” the user based on his or her login, that is, it may remind them that they need to take an evaluation on a course when they sign in to take another one.

As you move forward, continue to look at the user data, as well. Know what your beginning numbers were and compare them to the numbers you’re getting on a monthly basis. You may see small fluctuations in the number of users, but the basic trend you’re looking for is an increase in users over time. If that increase doesn’t occur, dig deeper using more targeted evaluation methods.

The best thing to remember with evaluation is that you should use all of the data you collect in order to modify your program – and make it effective for the organization and its learners.