Feedback / Evaluation

Beyond the ‘Applause Meter’: Did Your Training Make a Difference?

How do you know whether your training made a difference or had an impact? It’s a foundational question for anyone involved in training and development, and there is no single answer. Much depends on exactly what it was you hoped your training outcomes would be. As Stephen Covey said, “Start with the end in mind.”

Employee Training concept. Magnifying Glass on Old Paper with Red Vertical Line Background.

‘Liking’ Doesn’t Equal Results

For instance, if your training effort is designed to educate employees about some new policy, procedure, or process, you will want to have some means of determining whether or not they’re more informed after the training session than before. If your training is designed to reduce errors in manufacturing, you’ll want to have some means of measuring whether errors are reduced following the training and to what extent you can point to your training intervention as the causal factor in reducing errors, which is not always an easy task.

Training effectiveness is not measured based on how well attendees at a training session liked your training. That type of evaluation is often referred to, in a somewhat dismissive way, as an “applause meter.” Today, if ratings are any indication, people really like the HBO series Game of Thrones—that favorability, however, is unlikely to be tied to any specific behavioral outcome.

Four Levels of Evaluation

Donald Kirkpatrick, PhD, defined four levels of evaluation for training initiatives back in the 1950s, that have become an often-used means for training and development professionals to measure their effectiveness. While they include an element of “liking” (Level 1), they go beyond audience reaction to delve deeper into learning outcomes.

Level 1: Reaction. Here trainers will measure how well the training effort was received. Was the delivery method appropriate? Was the instructor credible? Was information conveyed in a manner that attendees found useful? This feedback is certainly appropriate, but is only one facet of evaluation.

Level 2: Learning. Did learning take place? That’s the crux of most training efforts, and you’ll want to build in some means to measure learning. This is often done through some sort of pre- and posttraining evaluation.

Level 3: Behavior. Did something materially change in terms of the trainee’s behavior when back on the job? This is often an assessment that is done by the trainee’s supervisor or manager. Is the employee better able to perform his or her tasks? Does he or she communicate more effectively with peers? Is he or she better able to serve customer needs?

Level 4: Results. This level of evaluation is designed to determine the overall impact of training at an organizational level. Have quality, efficiency, productivity, sales, retention, etc., improved? Can that improvement be tied back to the training?

These four levels of training should be taken into account when training is being developed to ensure that means of evaluation are considered and incorporated.

Did your training make a difference? You can really only know for sure if you “start with the end in mind.”