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Considering the ROI of Adaptive Learning

Here's an article I recently wrote for the Evolve Solutions Group blog and newsletter:



Considering the ROI of Adaptive Learning


by Tristia Hennessey for Evolve Solutions Group
February 2023

A Typical Training Scenario


You’re taking your company’s annual compliance course on cybersecurity and email safety. You’ve been with this company for several years and you know the cybersecurity rules and procedures and took the same exact course last year, and the year before that. Nevertheless, you must prove every year that you’ve taken the course and that you still understand those same rules and procedures. You begrudgingly take 20 minutes away from your other work to mindlessly click through the course, finish the exam, and mark it complete.


Now picture a different scenario – You’re a new employee in the finance department of a company. You’ve been signed up for a course which covers financial accounting principles specific to your company’s industry regulations and requirements. The first part of the course is financial basics, which you’re very familiar with thanks to your minor in accounting. From the course description, you don’t think you need to spend 45 minutes on the introduction course, but there’s no way to test out or skip ahead, so you buckle down with the course open on one monitor and a video to watch on the other, not really giving 100% to either.

Refresher Training vs. Forced Compliance


Both of these very common learner situations could have been improved with adaptive learning. Showing the same content repeatedly or pushing learners with different skill levels through the same curriculum is often justified by training departments claiming that there’s no time to develop a separate curriculum and people can just go through it as a ‘refresher’; all for the sake of compliance. There’s a difference, however, between a ‘refresher’ and being forced to sit through content you’re already familiar with. Adaptive learning is the delivery of customized or personalized learning experiences that consider the unique learning needs of the individual through learning pathways, just-in-time feedback, and performance support resources.


Adaptive Learning - Return on Investment (ROI)


Let’s look at how Adaptive Learning can help you optimize costs and get a better return on your training investment.


Your internal training department works with SMEs to develop training for your Company. This training includes eLearning, ILT, and vILT. For the purposes of this example, we will assume that it costs approximately $5,000 to create the 20-minute eLearning course and supporting materials. The first time the training was delivered to the 5000 employees at your company, that would result in a development cost of $1 per employee. Since the training can be re-used each year, you do not have to incur additional development costs when delivered each subsequent year.


So far, our ROI is pretty good, $1 per employee for training development. But, what about the labor costs associated with employees actually taking the training?

Each of the 5,000 employees are expected to complete the annual 20-minute cybersecurity training. When the training is first delivered, that equates to 20 minutes per employee for a total of approximately 1660 labor hours. Because it is required, it is a reasonable expectation of time and labor allocation to satisfy the requirement for the first year.


Now let’s look at training for subsequent years; is 1660+ labor hours per year really needed for each employee to complete the same course or can you reduce that using Adaptive Learning?


For year two and beyond, the training team designs and develops a pre-assessment quiz for the existing cybersecurity training. For evaluation purposes let’s assume this costs about $3,000 or about 45 hours to develop. This 5-minute pre-assessment would allow employees who are familiar with the content to “test out” of the training by successfully completing the pre-assessment.


Out of the 5,000 employees requiring training, 3,000 pass the pre-assessment quiz and now do not have to go through the 20-minute training. You have met your compliance requirements through the pre-assessment quiz and have allowed 3,000 to use that 15 minutes elsewhere, saving you 750 workforce hours.

That leaves only 2,000 employees who still need to complete the training but that is only about 830+ workforce hours which is far less than the original 1660+ hours annually that you were previously allocating.


If we look at the difference between these approaches from a labor cost perspective, we potentially save the company 750+ workforce hours per year using a pre-assessment, which takes only 45 hours to build.


Building adaptive learning into your curriculum allows learners to bypass the parts of your course that they can prove proficiency in, so they can focus on learning what they don’t already know. It also can prevent compliance training burn-out and frustration, shielding them from having to retake the same course out of compliance necessity, or review information they already know.


Adaptive Learning – The Result


Let’s wrap up by looking at one of the previous examples if adaptive learning had been built into the curriculum.


You’re taking your company’s annual compliance course on cybersecurity and email safety. Since you’ve been with this company for several years, you know the company’s cybersecurity rules and procedures, having taken this exact course the previous year, and the year before that. You open the course, and it starts by quizzing you on the necessary concepts. You answer all but one question correctly, which gives you targeted feedback and redirects you to the appropriate content. You review it, satisfied that you have learned something new (without having wasted time on things you already know). You complete the course in 7 minutes and get back to your work for the day. This was a much better use of time!

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