It is generally accepted in training circles that training programs are rarely, if ever, evaluated to determine if they achieved what they were intended to achieve.  When times are good no one asks if we are getting enough bang for our buck.  Meeting the minimum training requirements when times are tight its hard, let alone evaluating their effectiveness.

Training evaluation (ISPI Performance Standard #10) is a fundamental aspect of a healthy training program.  It helps you determine if the initial training was effective and reveals needs for follow-up interventions.  It also builds accountability for the developer and participant.  As I mentioned at the beginning, this is an area of training development that is often overlooked or minimized.  Including evaluation in all aspects of your training programs can transform your training programs from static and ineffective presentations to vibrant and dynamic engagement.

For more than 50 years Donald Kirkpatrick has been regarded as the authority on  training evaluation (a title he is not comfortable having).  He established four levels of training evaluation: reaction, learning, behavior, and results.  This is in no way the only way to evaluate training, but its staying power verifies its value.

Reaction focuses on the participants’ response to the actual event or program.  Learning measures the change in knowledge or skill.  Behavior determines whether the participants are applying their new knowledge or skill.  Results measures the effect of the training.  The last level could include a cost analysis (ROI).

Success at any level does automatically translate to success at the next.  For example, reaction (level 1) may be positive.  But a positive reaction could mean the chairs were comfortable and the food was good or the participants enjoyed the presenter’s jokes.  You want participants to have a good experience but a favorable reaction does not mean they learned anything.

Success at level two (learning) could mean the participants passed a test or were able to demonstrate competency at a particular skill.  This is good because a person can’t use what they don’t know or can’t do.  Which leads to the question, will they use it when the return to their job?

I believe asking a person to incorporate new knowledge or skills into their daily routine is frequently taken for granted.  Training types would like to believe that our training made such an impact on our audience that they immediately saw the benefit and developed an action plan for incorporating the new skills and/or knowledge into their work.  Managers and supervisors expect employees to be so dedicated to their work that they appreciate the organization’s investment, recognize the value it will bring and are eager to put it into practice.

I hope I don’t burst anyone’s bubble when I say it doesn’t always work that way.

There is no best way to determine what changes have occurred as a result of training.  Ideally the development team discussed how they will know if the training “stuck” when they were designing the training intervention.  It is much easier to evaluate behavior change when specific evidence of that change is identified in the planning stage.  Objective evidence is the best indicator of behavior change.  But what if you can’t quantify the change or data doesn’t exist?  Observation is another effective method.  A short period of observation will usually reveal if a person is applying what they learned.  However, observation can be costly and impractical if employees are spread over a wide region.

Surveys provide another useful tool for determining behavior change.  Asking the participants about their confidence applying the new skills and knowledge can be revealing.  One should always be careful putting to much weight into subjective responses.  It is human nature for respondents to want to say the right thing, even if its not completely true.  It is a challenge to convince respondents that we are evaluating the program and not the respondents.  If they are not using what they were taught we want to know that and why.