Training evaluation and validation options

The following summarizes a spectrum of possibilities within these dependencies.

1 – do nothing

Doing nothing to measure the effectiveness and result of any business activity is never a good option, but it is perhaps justifiable in the training area under the following circumstances:

    If the organization, even when prompted, displays no interest in the evaluation and validation of the training and learning – from the line manager up to to the board of directors.
    If you, as the trainer, have a solid process for planning training to meet organizational and people-development needs.
    If you have a reasonable level of assurance or evidence that the training being delivered is fit for purpose, gets results, and that the organization (notably the line managers and the board, the potential source of criticism and complaint) is happy with the training provision.
    You have far better things to do than carry out training evaluation, particularly if evaluation is difficult and cooperation is sparse.

However, even in these circumstances, there may come a time when having kept a basic system of evaluation will prove to be helpful, for example:

    You receive have a sudden unexpected demand for a justification of a part or all of the training activity. (These demands can spring up, for example with a change in management, or policy, or a new initiative).
    You see the opportunity or need to produce your own justification (for example to increase training resource, staffing or budgets, new premises or equipment).
    You seek to change job and need evidence of the effectiveness of your past training activities.

Doing nothing is always the least desirable option. At any time somebody more senior to you might be moved to ask “Can you prove what you are saying about how successful you are?” Without evaluation records you are likely to be at a loss for words of proof…

2 – minimal action

The absolutely basic action for a start of some form of evaluation is as follows:

At the end of every training programme, give the learners sufficient time and support in the form of programme information, and have the learners complete an action plan based on what they have learned on the programme and what they intend to implement on their return to work. This action plan should not only include a description of the action intended but comments on how they intend to implement it, a timescale for starting and completing it, and any resources required, etc. A fully detailed action plan always helps the learners to consolidate their thoughts. The action plan will have a secondary use in demonstrating to the trainers, and anyone else interested, the types and levels of learning that have been achieved. The learners should also be encouraged to show and discuss their action plans with their line managers on return to work, whether or not this type of follow-up has been initiated by the manager.

3 – minimal desirable action leading to evaluation

When returning to work to implement the action plan the learner should ideally be supported by their line manager, rather than have the onus for implementation rest entirely on the learner. The line manager should hold a debriefing meeting with the learner soon after their return to work, covering a number of questions, basically discussing and agreeing the action plan and arranging support for the learner in its implementation. As described earlier, this is a clear responsibility of the line manager, which demonstrates to senior management, the training department and, certainly not least, the learner, that a positive attitude is being taken to the training. Contrast this with, as often happens, a member of staff being sent on a training course, after which all thoughts of management follow-up are forgotten.

The initial line manager debriefing meeting is not the end of the learning relationship between the learner and the line manager. At the initial meeting, objectives and support must be agreed, then arrangements made for interim reviews of implementation progress. After this when appropriate, a final review meeting needs to consider future action.

This process requires minimal action by the line manager – it involves no more than the sort of observations being made as would be normal for a line manager monitoring the actions of his or her staff. This process of review meetings requires little extra effort and time from the manager, but does much to demonstrate at the very least to the staff that their manager takes training seriously.

4 – training programme basic validation approach

The action plan and implementation approach described in (3) above is placed as a responsibility on the learners and their line managers, and, apart from the provision of advice and time, do not require any resource involvement from the trainer. There are two further parts of an approach which also require only the provision of time for the learners to describe their feelings and information. The first is the reactionnaire which seeks the views, opinions, feelings, etc., of the learners about the programme. This is not at a ‘happy sheet’ level, nor a simple tick-list – but one which allows realistic feelings to be stated.

5 – total evaluation process

If it becomes necessary the processes described in (3) and (4) can be combined and supplemented by other methods to produce a full evaluation process that covers all eventualities. Few occasions or environments allow this full process to be applied, particularly when there is no Quintet support, but it is the ultimate aim. The process is summarized below:

    *Training needs identification and setting of objectives by the organization
    *Planning, design and preparation of the training programmes against the objectives
    *Pre-course identification of people with needs and completion of the preparation required by the training programme
    *Provision of the agreed training programmes
    *Pre-course briefing meeting between learner and line manager
    *Pre-course or start of programme identification of learners’ existing knowledge, skills and attitudes.
    *Interim validation as programme proceeds
    *Assessment of terminal knowledge, skills, etc., and completion of perceptions/change assessment
    *Completion of end-of-programme reactionnaire
    *Completion of end-of-programme Learning Questionnaire or Key Objectives Learning Questionnaire
    *Completion of Action Plan
    *Post-course debriefing meeting between learner and line manager
    *Line manager observation of implementation progress
    *Review meetings to discuss progress of implementation
    *Final implementation review meeting
    *Assessment of ROI

Whatever you do, do something. The processes described above allow considerable latitude depending on resources and culture environment, so there is always the opportunity to do something – obviously the more tools used and the wider the approach, the more valuable and effective the evaluation will be. However be pragmatic. Large expensive critical programmes will always justify more evaluation and scrutiny than small, one-off, non-critical training activities. Where there’s a heavy investment and expectation, so the evaluation should be sufficiently detailed and complete. Training managers particularly should clarify measurement and evaluation expectations with senior management prior to embarking on substantial new training activities, so that appropriate evaluation processes can be established when the programme itself is designed.

Where large and potentially critical programmes are planned, training managers should err on the side of caution – ensure adequate evaluation processes are in place. As with any investment, a senior executive is always likely to ask, “What did we get for our investment?”, and when he asks, the training manager needs to be able to provide a fully detailed response.