How To Evaluate The Effectiveness Of Training Programs

How To Evaluate The Effectiveness Of Training Programs
Summary: Evaluating training effectiveness is critical to ensure training programs support business objectives. If not, they become redundant. In this article, I outline how to evaluate training effectiveness and address inherent shortcomings (if any).

Why Should You Develop The Ability To Evaluate The Effectiveness Of Your Training Programs?

When employees train often and learn effectively, the results usually show up in organizational performance. There’s also a mountain of research-based evidence that links effective training to exceptional performance.

Yet, surprisingly, a Brandon Hall Group research brief indicated that 9% of organizations surveyed did not see a need to link training-induced behavioral changes to business performance. Because many organizations have entrenched training as standard operating practices, they therefore lack proper metrics to measure training and its contribution to positive business outcomes.

Here are some compelling reasons for evaluating training effectiveness.

  • Justify Training Spending And Secure Further Budgets

Shareholders, Boards of Directors, and Executive teams hold business leaders accountable for their spending plans. The better the justification for those spends, the more likely those funds continue to flow. If L&D managers wish to secure ongoing funding for their learning initiatives, they must evaluate the effectiveness of training program spending and justify the ongoing need for those programs.

  • Measure The Impact Of Training Programs

The primary goal of any training plan must be to support business objectives. It is only by evaluating the impact of training programs that business leaders can get objective metrics on how well those programs work to support business objectives.

  • Improve The Impact Of Training Programs

When training aligns with business objectives, an in-depth training evaluation is the only way that learning leaders can identify important KPIs to make training more relevant. By measuring the results of a program, L&D teams can evaluate those results against predetermined KPIs and enhance or improve training plans based on that assessment.

What Are The Key Challenges Organizations Face While Evaluating The Effectiveness Of Training Programs?

Unfortunately, aspirations to evaluate the effectiveness of training program implementations don’t necessarily equate to concrete and measurable success in determining training effectiveness. That’s not because those “aspirations” are flawed! It’s typically because of inherent organizational challenges that stymie the fulfilling of those aspirations.

Here are some of the critical challenges that L&D leaders encounter while embarking on initiatives for evaluating training effectiveness.

1. Inability To Link Training To Talent Development, Performance, And Outcomes

Organizations that lack employee performance metrics are unable to say with any degree of certainty whether training helps or hinders employee performance. For instance, how do you link specific training outcomes to even more specific performance objectives? And how do you determine if training is helping to develop your in-house talent pools or if employees are successfully applying newly acquired skills (learned through training) as performance aids on the job?

2. Lack Of The Right Framework And Methodology

When preparing to evaluate the effectiveness of training program results, most evaluators begin with a training outcomes measurement approach. That strategy seldom works because it doesn’t consider what happened prior or subsequent to training. What’s required is a methodology that reviews the training framework across the organization, beginning with a Training Needs Analysis (TNA) and culminating with a determination of whether training meets all KPIs and delivers a justifiable Return On Investment (ROI).

3. Lack Of The Right Tools And Technology To Collect Data

Training technology, such as Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and Learning Content Management Systems (LCMSs), has embedded tools that provide a lot of analytic data for evaluating training effectiveness. Unfortunately, many organizations either lack the right tools and technologies to collect such data or are incapable of using available tools to collect and objectively analyze that data.

4. Lack Of Capacity In-House

Many organizations lack the capability or capacity to link organizational performance with specific training-related outcomes. This lack of abilities is reflected in the ineffective evaluation of training results.

How Do You Evaluate The Effectiveness Of Training Programs?

Evaluating the effectiveness of corporate training programs is not as simple as having a “committee” review training results and decide. While the endpoint—results—matters, an objective approach to evaluating training effectiveness requires a much broader scope of assessment.

Map Learner Outcomes To Performance Outcomes And Business Outcomes

Continuous learning is critical as a workforce performance enhancer. However, changing workplace dynamics, including gig-work, remote working, mobile and socially interactive work groups, and the use of external consulting/contract staff makes it hard to craft learning as a “one size fits all” strategy. Individual learner-group needs must be integrated with business outcomes and into every learning program; otherwise, training strategies will be ineffective at driving performance.

According to the Brandon Hall Group survey cited earlier, of the total population of organizations with ineffective training strategies, just 31% of those surveyed indicated an alignment between performance outcomes and business outcomes.

Augment TNA With Learner Needs Analysis (LNA)

During the Training Needs Analysis phase, L&D teams must integrate Learner Needs Analysis as they identify specific learning objectives and map them to business objectives.

During LNA, L&D teams must:

  • First understand and document learner needs, tasks, and preferences.
  • Then analyze the data collected.
  • Finally, integrate the conclusions from that analysis into the designs of future training initiatives.

It’s only then that learning leaders can use quantifiable metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of training program outcomes.

Identify The Right Metrics And KPIs

Use specific training metrics, such as the number of employees trained—including virtual and on-premises—assessment scores, learner feedback, drop-out rates, and training hours logged to track the progress of each learner. By identifying and tracking the right KPIs, and combining them with business metrics, L&D leaders can support the organization to drive critical organizational strategies and tactics.

Select The Right Models

Thankfully, when evaluating training effectiveness, L&D teams have several frameworks to model their assessment approaches. Some of these include:

  • Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation: This is one of the more mature assessment models and can be used to evaluate both formal and informal training. The model analyzes the training against four levels of criteria: reaction, learning, behavior, and results.
  • Anderson’s model of learning evaluation: Rather than focusing on individual learning interventions, this model focuses on whether training goals align with organizational goals. This three-step approach evaluates the effectiveness of a training program, highlighting the current state of the training’s alignment with business goals; applying various tools and methods to validate the training’s value to the business; and identifying the best approaches to deliver value-based training across the organization.
  • The Phillips ROI model: This five-level model is a more refined take on Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model, and includes reaction, learning, application and implementation, impact, and Return On Investment. It seeks to address a key lack of attention to traditional ROI in Kirkpatrick’s model—which focuses, instead, on return on stakeholder expectations (ROE).
  • Context, input, process, and product evaluation model (CIPP): Also called the Stufflebeam model, this model for evaluating training effectiveness assesses four aspects of a training program (context, input, process, and product) to determine its efficacy in meeting business objectives.

Other relevant models include the learning-transfer evaluation model (LTEM), Kaufman’s five levels of evaluation, the success case method, and summative vs. formative evaluation. Each of these models, however, comes with its own detractors and proponents. Before selecting an evaluation model, therefore, training audit teams must weigh the pros and cons of each model as it pertains to their organizations’ training objectives and strategies.

Select The Right Tools For Data Collection And Assessment

Success in evaluating training effectiveness depends largely on collecting and analyzing relevant data—be it quantitative or qualitative in nature. The use of the right tools, such as LMS, LCMS, and data analytics and presentation tools, goes a long way in that evaluation. Learner interviews, training feedback forms, anonymous polls, and surveys are additional tools that aid in objective training evaluation. Unfortunately, while some L&D teams don’t have access to such tools, others cannot use them effectively, and still, others lack an integrated set of tools and use what they have as “standalone” solutions.

Choose The Right Evaluation Tools (Observations, Assessments, Surveys, Interviews, Focus Groups)

Typically, organizations rely on traditional post-implementation reviews (PIR) to evaluate the effectiveness of training program outcomes. While PIRs are an important tool to measure training effectiveness, they are often a lagging indicator. The best way to gauge whether training is, and continues, meeting its objectives, is to use ongoing surveys, user satisfaction assessments, focus group feedback, and learner interviews to trigger proactive changes in learning programs.

Evaluate The Effectiveness Of Training

  • Review performance data
    Internal training tools, such as LMSs, LCMSs, and social media training portals, generate volumes of training performance data. Though it’s easy for L&D teams to feel overwhelmed by huge amounts of data, it’s important to have a strategy in place to review those data points.
  • Review key metrics and KPIs
    When evaluating training effectiveness, it’s important to also beware of contradictory business KPIs and training metrics. For example, training aims to reduce customer interaction during customer service calls—so, longer-duration calls may signal the ineffectiveness of training. However, operational metrics encourage long calls and view longer-duration calls as conversion opportunities. It’s vital to, therefore, keep these two measurements in perspective.
  • Assess the business impact of training
    Are training programs benefitting your remote employees? Are knowledge and new skills learned during training effectively transferred into the workplace? Are our training investments (ROI) justified, based on business performance improvements? Has training led to identifiable behavioral changes? These business-impact questions must be answered to evaluate the effectiveness of training program implementations.
  • Identify areas to improve
    It’s not enough to simply answer the above questions. As part of a training effectiveness review, audit teams must also highlight weaknesses in training programs and provide actionable recommendations on how to improve key areas of the program.

Parting Thoughts

To evaluate the effectiveness of training program results, it’s imperative that training audit teams cast their attention beyond the endpoint—i.e., results achieved. It’s important to start at the beginning, with an in-depth Training Needs Assessment, and use data-driven metrics to evaluate whether training objectives are linked to the business’s strategic vision.

I hope the strategies mentioned in this article will help you successfully evaluate the effectiveness of your training programs.

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