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.
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.