Evaluation can tell us whether we’ve got it right
My father used to work for a builders merchant. The company decided that all its office staff needed to learn how to use computers, (this was some time ago). My dad and a colleague headed to a depot in Kent which was the first to introduce PCs. They sat in a room with a load of other people in front of banks of clunky brand new IBM PCs. The course was a day long and involved an instructor talking at the trainees. The day ground to an eventual end and the trainer asked if there were any questions. 'Yes' my dad’s colleague said, “How do you turn these bloody things on!?”
The emphasis of training evaluation is now firmly on outcomes: what difference has the training made? In a perfect world, a cash amount can be put on the answer, although as we know we rarely live in a perfect world. But we should not forget that evaluation can be used for a lot more than just assessing a return on investment.
Here is a list:
(1) Evaluation can be used to assess what learners think of a programme as you go along. Feedback allows you to adjust material or delivery style and pace - or, in the case of my dad’s story, make sure you tell people how to turn their PCs on.
(2) & (3) One of the reasons there is not as much evaluation activity as there should be is because L&D professionals do not think it’s worth the effort or feasible. Answer? Do a small scale evaluation first and see! This may even provide you with another insight: is training the right response to the perceived issue. I think we too often see training as a panacea and forget there are other ways to improve performance. Evaluation can help.
(4) Selecting people to go on a training programme is not always an exact science. More than once I have met learners who do not know why they are on a programme. Evaluating prior to the start of training 'learning readiness' can give you an insight into whether you have the right people. Gathering information about trainees pre learning self-efficacy (see a previous blog) is a reliable way of predicting the future success of the training.
(5) I have often been critical of Happy Sheets but let's not forget that happy learners are good ambassadors for training and L&D more generally.
(6) Trainers need to know if room is right, materials good, refreshments acceptable and so on. One of the factors that contribute to successful training is a conducive learning environment. Evaluation can tell us whether we have got that right.
Return on investment evaluation is aimed at stakeholders outside of the training function. The list above, what I call 'training control evaluation', are of help to trainers. In fact, I would go further than that and say that they should be a core part of training activity.
Richard Griffin is director of the Institute of Vocational Learning and Workplace Research. His first book Complete Training Evaluation has just been published. He can be contacted at: Richard.Griffin@bucks.ac.uk
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