Ensuring Your L&D Program is Addressing Your Training Needs
Being an up-to-date, web-savvy HR professional, you've scoped the latest trends in workplace learning. You're on board with onboarding, you've moved ahead with mobile learning and partied down on socially-shared knowledge. But is your Learning and Development (L&D) program doing what it's supposed to be doing? Is it responding to your organization's training requirements?
In this article, I'll discuss some criteria that you can use to determine if your L&D program is addressing your training needs.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your L&D program?
Professor Emeritus Donald Kirkpatrick first published his ideas about the evaluation of training in 1959. And, like many things that originated in the late 1950s (myself included), the model has been updated a couple of times and is still relevant and widely used today. In simple terms, the model is a four-level system of evaluation that takes into consideration:
- Reaction: Asks how trainees feel about the training. What did they like or dislike? Was the training valuable? Was the training a waste of time?
- Learning: Asks what was learned and how much. Is there notable improvement in the learners' knowledge because of the training?
- Behaviour: Addresses the application of the training. How are learners using what they have learned? Have behaviours changed because of the training?
- Results: Looks at outcomes of the training. How has the training affected employees and the business in terms of production, employee morale, customer satisfaction, sales?
An alternative point of view
I wondered if there was another school of thought on evaluating training or even a different way of interpreting the Kirkpatrick model. Then, I came across an article on the Optimus Learning Services website that provided me with new insights. The unnamed author of the article suggested that there are five levels, or metrics, to consider in evaluating training:
- Skills attainment
- Workplace application
- Individual behaviour change
- Team behavioural change
- Meeting goals or targets
The author acknowledges that this list is their interpretation of the Kirkpatrick model mixed with a healthy dose of Brinkerhoff's Success Case Method, which involves identification and detailed study of the most and least successful cases within a learning program and comparing the two to discover what needs to change.
Let's discuss each point.
Five points to consider
1. Skills Attainment
Skills attainment is a reflection of Kirkpatrick's "Learning" level, but adds another level of depth to the data. Here, we measure the learner's knowledge and skill prior to the learning and then again once the learning has been completed. Unlike competency-based learning, where the measure of success or failure is a yes or no answer to the question, "Can the skill be performed to the prescribed standard?", this evaluation looks at how much learning was successful and works to pinpoint areas where the training can be improved. Visual confirmation of the skill and skill assessment can be used to determine whether the skill has actually been learned.
2. Workplace Application
Workplace application asks the question, "Is the learning being applied at the workplace?". It looks for evidence of the new skill or knowledge being used at work and to what extent it is being used. A trainee who uses the new skill only when reminded is a lot different than one who uses that skill whenever it is required. Here, observation of workers is important in assessing the workplace application of the learning.
This type of measurement indicates the training that is hitting home with the learner, and can be used to upgrade and improve the training program.
3. Individual Behaviour Change
How has the learner's individual behaviour changed as a result of the training? This is a key indicator of the effectiveness of the training. Is the worker more productive? Has his or her job satisfaction increased? Does the individual's attitude and behaviour align with the expectations of the organization?
It is generally accepted that a well-trained employee will be highly productive and happier at work than those who have not been as well trained. These traits should be apparent in workers who have been through an effective training program.
4. Team Behavioural Change
In looking at the effect of training on team behaviour, one has to rate the team's performance after training against its past performance. Is the team working more cohesively as a unit? Is there a change in the way they treat each other? Are they applying what they've learned in ways that benefit the team rather than only themselves?
You might think that evaluating learning effectiveness based on team behaviour would apply more to the workplace culture and soft skills. And these are important indicators of what individuals have learned. But the nature of the workplace has to be taken into account. At some workplaces, where the emphasis is on team productivity rather than on the team's soft skills application, the evaluation criteria will differ. For example, teamwork in a mobile home assembly plant would be more focussed on how many homes were pushed out the plant door rather than ensuring an all-inclusive work environment. However, in all cases where teamwork is a component of the work being done, change in team behaviour remans a key indicator of the effectiveness of training.
5. Meeting Goals or Targets
With training, the bottom line is always meeting goals or targets. They may be individual goals, such as mastering a software program, or they may be organizational goals, such as a 20% increase in sales closings.
Whatever their nature, attaining goals is a measurable outcome that can, and should, be directly linked to training effectiveness.
This article started out with the idea of creating a checklist of effectiveness indicators for training programs. But, as I researched, I found that determining the effectiveness of training goes much deeper than that. To truly measure whether your training program is doing what it was designed to do, you need to look at what has been learned and how that knowledge is being applied at the workplace. Then, you need to take behaviours, individual and group, into account and see if the training has affected those behaviours. And, if it has, you need to ask, "How?".
Finally, you need to determine if the goals (both of the learners and the organization as a whole) that the training was designed to meet have been reached. These models (or any combination that best suits your needs) can be the key to ensuring your L&D is effectively meeting your training needs.
Sarah is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems and is currently completing a PhD in Educational Technology. Her research focuses on implementing competency-based learning systems in all types of organizations. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.