In this day and age, we have all heard the mantra of how important training and mentoring is to our workforce and ultimately to the success of our organizations. The message is clear to us all, and many accept this without question; however, many of us who are responsible for budgeting and coordinating training of our staff may wonder how effective is the training that we are paying for? The benefits of employee retention through increased morale notwithstanding, we need to know what return on investment we are receiving for those invested dollars.
In the professional training industry, the accountability of budgeted training funds is a fact of life, and plays as important a role as designing and delivering the training, and rightfully so. To address this requirement, the training industry has a knowledge area devoted towards the study of return on investment, and the cornerstone of that is evaluation and assessment. To date, there has been much research done in this area, which has been translated into best practices. One well-known researcher on the subject is Donald Kirkpatrick.
Donald Kirkpatrick outlined a four-level model for evaluating training, which is commonly applied in business today. Each level involves a means of measuring training, with each more complex than the preceding level. The outlines of the four levels are as follows:
Level One - Measure training participantís reactions to training.
Level Two - Measure learning content of the training material.
Level Three - Measure the use of skills on the job.
Level Four - Measure business results or ROI of training.
In level one of this evaluation model, a participant may be asked informally for their thoughts on the course and what they felt they had learned through either interviews or post-event questionnaires, also known as a smile sheets. The evaluation of results using this method, apart from making everyone feel good, is anecdotal at best.
In level two, there are comprehension checks and assessment measures that occur during the training delivery. These are accomplished through testing or observance of demonstrated skills and knowledge.
In level three, the knowledge, attitude, and skills that were learned are measured in terms of transference to the job with changes in behavior and performance. Most businesses are satisfied with evaluations up to this level. Observing a learned skill in action on the job is generally regarded as sufficient proof that a defined gap in skills was covered. This level however does not address the question of ROI.
In level four, or the bottom line measure, the success of the training is measured in terms that managers and executives can understand. Is there a noticeable increase in productivity, improved quality, decreased costs, reduced frequency of accidents, increased sales, all of which are areas that result in higher profits or return on investment.
Levels one and two are usually accomplished by educational providers. The third and fourth levels are ones that must occur post-event and as a result are seldom done by educational providers, unless of course they are in-house or contracted to provide these evaluations. This fourth level of evaluation, while providing the most benefit, is also the one that requires the most effort and cost, and consequently is seldom done.
Rethinking Training Evaluation
The cornerstone of ROI is measuring and evaluating. For evaluation to be effective, there needs to be a partnership between employers and the education providers (whether they are in-house or outside) that endures through all levels of evaluation and beyond, not just the first two.
Fortunately, businesses are coming to this realization and are taking steps towards adopting this or other similar models, especially when it involves sizeable training initiatives.
For those businesses contemplating embarking on a major training program, or who are planning and budgeting for extensive training, it would be wise to consider measuring ROI and the necessary evaluations that are required in order to measure it effectively. An important element of that process is to establish enduring partnerships with educational providers who will work with them to reach their goals.