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Ensuring Return on Expectation: The True Measure of Online Training Success

— by Lance Dublin

ElearningWeb based training

Think about the first time you went to your favorite restaurant, what were you expecting? Do you remember what those expectations were based on? Maybe it was a friend’s recommendation or a glowing review on Yelp!, maybe it was just the name of the restaurant. By the time you first walked through the door, you’d formed ideas about the food, the service, the ambiance—by the time you walked out the door, those expectations were hopefully fulfilled.

This is a good example of what I like to call Return on Expectation (ROE). The best ROE happens when we get exactly what we’re promised, when our expectations are fully met (and maybe even exceeded). In this post let’s talk about ROE in the context of introducing online training to your trainees.

From the time they first hear about your online training program, trainees are forming ideas: Will I be required to use it? How long will it take? Will the technology be good, bad, or ugly? Will it be like anything I’ve done before? If you anticipate these expectations and address them early on, you can help create success. If you don’t, and trainees’ expectations aren’t met, you’ll encounter both active and passive resistance.

So as you get started, here are few areas to consider setting expectations around:

  • The Benefits
    Most of us evaluate something new by asking, “What’s in it for me?” If you want your program to be a success,  let your trainees know exactly what they’ll get out of participating by using tangible, real-world terms. For example, instead of promising “You’ll be able do your job better”, try “You’ll be able to use our CRM software, which is required to do your job.” When trainees know there are valuable benefits to them, they’ll be more interested in participating.
  • The Content Design
    Is your content design quick and to the point, or is it long & dull? Are there videos or is it all slides? Do trainees have to take a quiz? The more you communicate about the nature of your content design, the more your trainee’s expectations will match their experience—and the less likely they are to be disappointed when they discover exactly what they’re in for. If you want to keep trainees coming back, let them know they can trust what you say.
  • The Technology
    Simply put, don’t over promise and under deliver.  If your online training software is the technological equivalent of black & white TV, don’t sell it as HDTV. As with your design, the more accurately your trainees’ expectations are set, the more likely they are to be satisfied (and less likely to be disappointed).

You can probably think of other expectations that are unique to your company and your trainees, but the bottom line is that if you want a successful online training rollout, you need to:

  • Recognize that your trainees have expectations
  • Anticipate and understand these expectations
  • Reset  trainee expectations (if they’re not accurate)

And, most importantly

  • Meet expectations consistently!

Lance Dublin is an independent management consultant based in San Francisco, California. He has over thirty years of experience and a proven track record of success in learning and development, and communication change implementation, organizational redesign and development. He specializes in revitalizing learning, implementing change and transforming organizations through providing specialized consulting and advisory services to guide clients world-wide. Contact Lance at or visit

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