The Effectiveness of Training: Seeking Measurable Results

Training plays a vital role in building and maintaining an effective, high performing workforce.  NZ organisations invest thousands of dollars each year in ensuring their employees are continually learning and developing to improve their performance and reach their goals. Organisations also face the challenge of retaining talent and there is pressure to promote learning and provide opportunities for employees to grow and develop, and progress their careers.

So to what extent do organisations actually benefit from the many training courses they sign their employees up to each year? The real impact of training extends beyond the classroom or training environment but how much of this learning is applied back on the job? The generalisation of learning, the application of skills and behaviours learned in a training environment to work, and the maintenance of these skills and behaviours over time can be a major challenge for organisations. This is where training evaluation becomes such an essential activity.

Evaluating training can inform on ways to improve the transfer of skills and behaviour learnt through training. Kirkpatrick’s (1994) training evaluation model is the most common and widely recognised model of training evaluation and evaluated training across four levels:

  1. participants’ affective reactions
  2. knowledge acquisition or learning
  3. behaviour change or application of training on the job
  4. and organisational results

All four of Kirkpatrick’s levels can inform decisions about how to redesign and improve formal training programmes. How are participants reacting to the training material itself? How much are they actually learning? Is behaviour changing as a result of this? How is training impacting on the organisation’s bottom line?

With budget cuts and change rife in NZ’s public sector organisations, seeing measurable results and a return on investment from employee training becomes even more important.  So, why is it consistently reported that organisations evaluate affective reactions and learning, with very little focus on behaviour and results criteria? The world around us continues to evolve and become more scientific, yet how we measure training still remains largely anecdotal.  There are important influences on transfer of learning back to the work environment, such as trainee characteristics (self-efficacy, motivation), supervisory support and post-training environment (e.g., feedback and reinforcement). However, measuring behaviour change back on the job creates a culture of learning and a sense of accountability. If trainees are expecting some kind of follow up activity or assessment they are held accountable for their own learning and application (Saks & Burke, 2012).

There is no doubt that new scientific and technological advances in HR and I/O Psychology will play an increasingly important role in how we learn. The question is how do we “up the ante” on how we evaluate training effectiveness to keep up?

Saks, A.M., & Burke, L.A. (2012).  An investigation into the relationship between training evaluation and transfer of training. International Journal of Training and Development, 16 (2), 118-127

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