What’s Your Training Effectiveness Strategy? It needs to be more than a survey or knowledge checks

When every training event is delivered using the same method, it’s easy to standardize the evaluation approach and the tool. Just answer these three questions:

  • What did they learn?
  • Did it transfer back to job?
  • Was the training effective?

In this day and age of personalized learning and engaging experiences, one-size training for all may be efficient for an organizational roll out but not the most effective for organizational impact or even change in behavior. The standard knowledge check can indicate how much they remembered. It might be able to predict what will be used back on the job. But be able to evaluate how effective the training was? That’s asking a lot from a 10 question multiple choice/ true false “quiz”. Given the level of complexity of the task or the significance of improvement for the organization such as addressing a consent decree or closing a warning letter, it would seem that allocating budget for proper training evaluation techniques would not be challenged.

Do you have a procedure for that?

Perhaps the sticking point is explaining to regulators how decisions are made using what criteria. Naturally documentation is expected and this also requires defining the process in a written procedure. It can be done. It means being in tune with training curricula, awareness of the types of training content being delivered and recognizing the implication of the evaluation results. And of course, following the execution plan as described in the SOP.   Three central components frame a Training Effectiveness Strategy: Focus, Timing and Tools.

TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Focus on Purpose

Our tendency is to look at the scope (the what) first. I ask that you pause long enough to consider your audience, identify your stakeholders; determine who wants to know what. This analysis shapes the span and level of your evaluation policy. For example, C-Suite stakeholders ask very different questions about training effectiveness than participants.

The all purpose standard evaluation tool weakens the results and disappoints most stakeholders. While it can provide interesting statistics, the real question is what will “they” do with the results? What are stakeholders prepared to do except cut training budget or stop sending employees to training? Identify what will be useful to whom by creating a stakeholder matrix.

Will your scope also include the training program (aka Training Quality System) especially if it is not included in the Internal Audit Quality System? Is the quality system designed efficiently to process feedback and make the necessary changes that result from the evaluation results? Assessing how efficiently the function performs is another opportunity to improve the workflow by reducing redundancies thus increasing form completion speed and humanizing the overall user experience. What is not in scope? Is it clearly articulated?

TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Timing is of course, everything

Your strategy needs to include when to administer your evaluation studies. With course feedback surveys, we are used to immediately after otherwise, the return rate drops significantly. For knowledge checks we also “test” at the end of the session. Logistically it’s easier to administer because participants are still in the event and we also increase the likelihood of higher “retention” scores.

But when does it make more sense to conduct the evaluation? Again, it depends on what the purpose is.

  • Will you be comparing before and after results? Then baseline data needs to be collected before the event begins. I.e. current set of Key Performing Indicators, Performance Metrics
  • How much time do the learners need to become proficient enough so that the evaluation is accurate? I.e. immediately after, 3 months or realistically 6 months after?
  • When are metrics calculated and reported? Quarterly?
  • When will they be expected to perform back on the job?

Measuring Training Transfer: 3, 6 and maybe 9 months later

We can observe whether a behavior occurs and record the number of people who are demonstrating the new set of expected behaviors on the job. We can evaluate the quality of a work product (such as a completed form or executed batch record) by recording the number of people whose work product satisfies the appropriate standard or target criteria. We can record the frequency with which target audience promotes the preferred behaviors in dialogue with peers and supervisors and in their observed actions.

It is possible to do this; however, the time, people and budget to design the tools and capture the incidents are at the core of management support for a more vigorous training effectiveness strategy. How important is it to the organization to determine if your training efforts are effectively transferring back to the job? How critical is it to mitigate the barriers that get in the way when the evaluation results show that performance improved only marginally? It is cheaper to criticize the training event(s) rather than address the real root cause(s). See Training Does Not Stand Alone (Transfer Failure Section).

TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Right tool for the right evaluation type

How will success be defined for each “training” event or category of training content? Are you using tools/techniques that meet your stakeholders’ expectations for training effectiveness? If performance improvement is the business goal, how are you going to measure it? What are the performance goals that “training” is supposed to support? Seek confirmation on what will be accepted as proof of learning, evidence of transfer to the workplace, and identification of leading indicators of organizational improvement. These become the criteria by which the evaluation has value for your stakeholders. Ideally, the choice of tool should be decided after the performance analysis is discussed and before content development begins.

Performance Analysis first; then possibly a training needs analysis

Starting with a performance analysis recognizes that performance occurs within organizational systems. The analysis provides a 3-tiered picture of what’s encouraging/blocking performance for the worker, work tasks, and/or the workplace and what must be in place for these same three levels in order to achieve sustained improvement. The “solutions” are tailored to the situation based on the collected data and not on an assumption that training is needed. Otherwise, you have a fragment of the solution with high expectations for solving “the problem” and relying on the evaluation tool to provide effective “training” results. Only when the cause analysis reveals a true lack of knowledge, will training be effective.

Why aren’t more Performance Analyses being conducted?
For starters, most managers want the quick fix of training because it’s a highly visible activity that everyone is familiar and comfortable with. The second possibility lies in the inherent nature of performance improvement work. Very often the recommended solution resides outside of the initiating department and requires the cooperation of others.   Would a request to fix someone else’s system go over well where you work? A third and most probable reason is that it takes time, resources, and a performance consulting skill set to identify the behaviors, decisions and “outputs” that are expected as a result of the solution. How important will it be for you to determine training effectiveness for strategic corrective actions?

You need an execution plan

Given the variety of training events and level of strategic importance occurring within your organization, one standard evaluation tool may no longer be suitable. Does every training event need to be evaluated at the same level of rigor? Generally speaking, the more strategic the focus is, the more tedious and timely the data collection will be. Again, review your purpose and scope for the evaluation. Refer to your stakeholder matrix and determine what evaluation tool(s) is better suited to meet their expectations.

For example, completing an after-training survey for every event is laudable; however, executive leadership values this data the least. According to Jack and Patricia Phillips (2010), they want to see business impact the most. Tools like balanced scorecards can be customized to capture and report on key performing indicators and meaningful metrics. Develop your plan wisely, generate a representative sample size initially and seek stakeholder agreement to conduct the evaluation study.

Life after the evaluation: What are you doing with the data collected?

Did performance improve? How will the evaluation results change future behavior and/or influence design decisions? Or perhaps the results will be used for budget justification, support for additional programs or even a corporate case study? Evaluation comes at the end but in reality, it is continuous throughout. Training effectiveness means evaluating the effectiveness of your training: your process, your content and your training quality system. It’s a continuous and cyclical process that doesn’t end when the training is over. – VB

 

Jack J. Phillips and Patricia P. Phillips, “How Executives View Learning Metrics”, CLO, December 2010.

Recommend Reading:

Jean-Simon Leclerc and Odette Mercier, “How to Make Training Evaluation a Useful Tool for Improving L &D”, Training Industry Quarterly, May-June, 2017.

 

Did we succeed as intended? Was the training effective?

When you think about evaluating training, what comes to mind? It’s usually a “smile sheet”/ feedback survey about the course, the instructor and what you found useful. As a presenter/instructor, I find the results from these surveys very helpful, so thank you for completing them. I can make changes to the course objectives, modify content or tweak activities based on the comments. I can even pay attention to my platform skills where noted. But does this information help us evaluate if the course was successful?

Formative vs. Summative Distinction

Formative assessments provide data about the course design. Think form-ative; form-at of the course. The big question to address is whether the course as designed met the objectives. For example, the type of feedback I receive from surveys gives me comments and suggestions about the course.

Summative assessments are less about the course design and more about the results and impact. Think summative; think summary. It’s more focused on the learner; not the instructional design. But when the performance expectations are not met or the “test” scores are marginal, then the focus shifts back to the course, instructor/trainer and instructional designer with the intent to find out what happened? What went wrong? When root cause analysis fails to find the cause, it’s time to look a little deeper at the objectives.

Objectives drive the design and the assessment

Instructional Design 101 begins with well-developed objective statements for the course, event, or program. These statements aka objectives determine the content and they also drive the assessment. For example, a written test or knowledge check is typically used for classroom sessions that ask questions about the content. In order for learners to be successful, the course must include the content whether delivered in class or as pre-work. But what are the assessments really measuring? How much of the content they remember and maybe how much of the content they can apply when they return to work?

Training effectiveness on the other hand is really an evaluation of whether we achieved the desired outcome. So I ask you, what is the desired outcome for your training: to gain knowledge (new content) or to use the content correctly back in the workplace? The objectives need to reflect the desired outcome in order to determine the effectiveness of training.

What is your desired outcome from training?

Levels of objectives, who knew?

Many training professionals have become familiar with Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation over the course of their careers, but less are acquainted with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Objectives. Yes, objectives have levels of increasing complexity resulting in higher levels of performance. Revised in 2001, the levels were renamed for better description of what’s required of the learner to be successful in meeting the objective. Take note, remembering and understanding are the lowest levels of cognitive load while applying and analyzing are mid range. Evaluating and creating are at the highest levels.

If your end in mind is knowledge gained ONLY, continue to use the lower level objectives. If however, your desired outcome is to improve performance or apply a compliant workaround in the heat of a GMP moment, your objectives need to shift to a higher level of reasoning in order to be effective with the training design and meet performance expectations. They need to become more performance based. Fortunately, much has been written about writing effective objective statements and resources are available to help today’s trainers.

Accuracy of the assessment tools

The tools associated with the 4 levels of evaluation can be effective when used for the right type of assessment. For example, Level 1 (Reaction) surveys are very helpful for Formative Assessments. Level 2 (Learning) are effective in measuring retention and minimum comprehension and go hand in hand with learning based objectives. But when the desired outcomes are actually performance based, Level 2 knowledge checks need to shift up to become more application oriented such as “what if situations” and scenarios requiring analysis, evaluating, and even problem solving. Or shift altogether to Level 3 (Behavior) and develop a new level of assessments such as demonstrations and samples of finished work products.

Trainers are left out of the loop

But, today’s trainers don’t always have the instructional design skill set developed. They do the best they can with the resources given including reading books and scouring the Internet. For the most part, their training courses are decent and the assessments reflect passing scores. But when it comes to Level 4 (Results) impact questions from leadership, it becomes evident that trainers are left out of the business analysis loop and therefore are missing the performance expectations. This is where the gap exists. Trainers build courses based on knowledge / content instead and develop learning objectives that determine what learners should learn. They create assessments to determine whether attendees have learned the content; but this does not automatically confirm learners can apply the content back on the job in various situations under authentic conditions.

Performance objectives drive a higher level of course design

When you begin with the end in mind namely, the desired performance outcomes, the objective statements truly describe what the learners are expected to accomplish. While the content may be the same or very similar, how we determine whether employees are able to execute post training requires more thought about the accuracy of the assessment. It must be developed from the performance objectives in order for it to be a valid “instrument”. The learner must perform (do something observable) so that it is evident s/he can carry out the task according to the real work place conditions.

To ensure learner success with the assessment, the training activities must also be aligned with the level of the objectives. This requires the design of the training event to shift from passive lecture to active engagement intended to prepare learners to transfer back in their workspace what they experienced in the event.   This includes making mistakes and how to recognize a deviation is occurring. Michael Allen refers to this as “building an authentic performance environment”. Thus, trainers and subject matter experts will need to upgrade their instructional design skills if you really want to succeed with training as intended. Are you willing to step up and do what it takes to ensure training is truly effective? – VB

 

Allen,M. Design Better Design Backward, Training Industry Quarterly, Content Development, Special Issue, 2017, p.17.

Why Knowledge Checks are Measuring the Wrong Thing

When I taught middle school math, tests were used to assess knowledge comprehension and some application with word problems and a few complex questions requiring logic proofs. Results were captured via a score; a metric if you will as to how well you answered the questions and very appropriate in academia.

In our quest for training evaluation metrics, we have borrowed the idea of testing someone’s knowledge as a measure of effectiveness. This implies that a corporate classroom mirrors an educational classroom and testing means the same thing – a measure of knowledge comprehension. However, professors, colleges, universities and academic institutions are not held to the same results oriented standard. In the business world, results need to be performance oriented, not knowledge gained.

So why are we still using tests?

Call it a quiz, a knowledge check or any other name it is still assessing some form of knowledge comprehension. In training effectiveness parlance, it is also known as a level 2 evaluation. Having the knowledge is no guarantee that it will be used correctly back on the job. Two very common situations occur in the life science arena where “the quiz” and knowledge checks are heavily used: Annual GMP Refresher and Read & Understand Approach for SOPs.

Life sciences companies are required by law to conduct annual regulations training (GMP Refreshers) so as to remain current. To address the training effectiveness challenge, a quiz / questionnaire / knowledge assessment (KA) is added to the event. But what is the KA measuring? Is it mapped to the course /session objectives or are the questions so general that they can be answered correctly without having to attend the sessions? Or worse yet, are the questions being recycled from year to year / event-to-event? What does it mean for the employee to pass the knowledge check or receive 80% or better? When does s/he learn of the results? In most sessions, there is no more time left to debrief the answers. This is a lost opportunity to leverage feedback into a learning activity. How do employees know if they are leaving the session with the “correct information”?

The other common practice is to include a 5 multiple choice as a knowledge check for Read & Understood (R & U) SOPs especially for revisions. What does it mean if employees get all 5 questions right? That they will not make a mistake? That the R & U method of SOP training is effective? The search function in most e-doc systems is really good at finding the answers. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they read the entire procedure and retained the information correctly. What does it mean for the organization if human errors and deviations from procedures are still occurring? Does it really mean the training is ineffective?

What should we be measuring?

The conditions under which employees are expected to perform need to be the same conditions under which we “test” them. So it makes sense to train ‘em under those same conditions as well. What do you want/need your employees (learners) to do after the instruction is finished? What do you want them to remember and use from the instruction in the heat of their work moments? Both the design and assessment need to mirror these expectations. And that means developing objectives that guide the instruction and form the basis of the assessment. (See Performance Objectives are not the same as Learning Objectives.)

So ask yourself, when in their day to day activities will employees need to use this GMP concept? Or, where in the employees’ workflow will this procedure change need to be applied? Isn’t this what we are training them for? Your knowledge checks need to ensure that employees have the knowledge, confidence and capability to perform as trained. It’s time to re-think what knowledge checks are supposed to do for you. – VB

Need to write better Knowledge Check questions?  Need to advise peers and colleagues on the Do’s and Don’ts for writing test questions?