Measuring Training Effectiveness: A Practical Guide

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Every year, U.S. businesses collectively spend more than $80 billion on training their employees, and global spending on training and development has increased by 400% in 11 years. But it’s not about how much money you spend; what matters is how effective your training is and how well your employees receive it. Therefore, measuring training effectiveness is vital for all companies and organizations of all sizes.

Evaluating training effectiveness shows you how useful your current training offerings are and how you can improve them in the future. What’s more, effective training leads to higher employee performance and satisfaction, boosts team morale, and increases your return on investment (ROI).

As a business, you’re investing valuable resources in your training programs, so it’s imperative that you regularly identify what’s working, what’s not, why, and how to keep improving.

Contents
What is training effectiveness?
Why measure training effectiveness?
How to measure training effectiveness?
Best practices for measuring training effectiveness

What is training effectiveness?

Training effectiveness measures the impact of training on the trainee’s knowledge, skills, performance, and the company’s ROI. The training’s goals and objectives should be determined before training occurs, allowing these to be clearly and accurately measured.

For example, the trainee’s productivity, sales numbers, and overall mood and happiness might be measured before the training occurs, and then once again after it has taken place. This demonstrates the quality and effectiveness of the training provided and enables businesses to either continue doing more of the same or pivot their approach. 

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Using scientifically validated techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of training programs is known as training effectiveness management.

Why measure training effectiveness?

There are many reasons why organizations (large and small) consistently measure training effectiveness. 

1. To determine if the training benefits employees.

Perhaps the most important reason for evaluating training effectiveness is to see if it benefits your employees’ skills and performance. Additionally, it provides them with a clear idea of what they’ve achieved and the path they need to take to get to the next level. 

When it comes to learning and development (L&D), feedback and encouragement are crucial. Virtually all employees need positive encouragement for the things they’ve done well and want to know how to improve.

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Without measurements in place, your employees are likely to feel that their learning at work is purposeless. Evaluating your training effectiveness helps you communicate to your employees where the company is today and where it aims to go, along with the skills necessary to get there. Consequently, managers and employees can come together and discuss the results, helping employees feel empowered and part of the broader vision. 

2. To see the effect on business performance and determine the training’s ROI.

The ultimate goal of all training programs is to boost business performance and see a return on your investment. Changes in productivity, sales, and profits can all be tracked and measured, and you would hope to see an increase in all of the above. 

Studies have shown that organizations who regularly invest in training perform higher than those who don’t, but it must be the right type of training, and it must be meticulously tracked and measured. 

For example, it’s difficult to determine whether the training in question was responsible for an increase in sales, or if it was the result of something else, like a marketing campaign or a boost in the economy. This is why it’s important to examine things like learning transfer and noticeable behavioral changes that may have taken place since the training program.  

3. To uncover issues in the training process and improve it.

When you invest valuable resources like time, money, and energy into your training programs, it’s essential to measure whether they’re working or not. But your intentions for your training will be unique to your business and your long-term goals. This is why you need to define clear objectives at the start. If you fail to do this, then any results you receive will be meaningless because you don’t have a target in sight. 

Once you know where you’re heading and your desired outcome, measuring training effectiveness will help you see if you’re on the right track or if you need to make any adjustments. 

If a particular training program is highly effective, it can be implemented across the board, from executives to managers and new hires. This helps unite the company with shared goals. And if training fails to produce any desirable results, you need to determine why and where this breakdown happens and then make adjustments accordingly. 

How to measure training effectiveness?

Measuring training effectiveness can be conducted through 1:1 discussions, surveys and questionnaires, post-training quizzes, assessments, and examinations. Before training commences, it’s essential to decide how you will measure and assess the data you collect. 

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Here are five proven evaluation models that are most often trusted by companies today:

  1. Kirkpatrick’s Four-level Training Evaluation Model
  2. The Phillips ROI Model
  3. Kaufman’s Five Levels of Evaluation
  4. Anderson’s Model of Learning Evaluation
  5. Summative vs. Formative Evaluation

In this article, we’ll be focusing on the Kirkpatrick model. This is based on a four-level approach, which we can use for measuring any course or training program’s effectiveness.

Here’s what it looks like:

  • Level 1: Reaction – The first step is to evaluate the learners’ reactions and responses to the training.
  • Level 2: Learning – The second step is to measure the knowledge and skills learned during the training. 
  • Level 3: Behavior – Step three assesses the behavioral change (if any and to what extent) due to the training. 
  • Level 4: Impact – The final step is to measure the training’s impact on business goals and results. 

Some professionals have suggested that this model can be reversed by beginning with the desired impact and results you wish to achieve and working backward.

Kirkpatrick's Four-Level Training Evaluation Model

Regardless of how you wish to approach it, variations of the Kirkpatrick model can be used to build a KPI (key performance indicator) framework for your training.

Let’s explore each level of the model in more detail, including examples of goals, KPIs, and how best to measure these.  

Level 1: Reaction

Goals

The goal of the reaction stage is to get a good grasp of how satisfied your participants are with your training. In the process, you also notice recurring themes or patterns and potential areas for improvement. 

Example KPIs

  • Participation rates
  • Completion rates
  • Net promoter score

How to measure 

Qualitative data: Survey questions for training effectiveness, with open-ended questions. 

For example:

  • If you could improve anything about this training, what would it be and why?
  • What topic/section did you find the most valuable?
  • Would you recommend this training program to colleagues?
  • What resources or support do you need to apply what you’ve learned? 

You may also conduct an interview with learners to field similar information. 

Quantitative data: Surveys and/or questionnaires using a scale method. 

For example:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how valuable did you find this training?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how likely would you be to recommend this training program to a colleague?  

Level 2: Learning

Goals

The learning stage’s goal is to ensure your training has met its intended objectives, identify the skills that your training can develop within learners, and note any knowledge and/or skills that have been learned as a result.

Example KPIs

  • Acquired knowledge and/or skills
  • Transfer of training into daily performance

How to measure 

It can be useful to test learners in the key areas you want to evaluate before the training commences and after. This will bring clarity to what the training has specifically contributed to your learner. 

Qualitative data: Pre- and post-interviews with employees. Questions might include: 

  • How confident are you in your ability to perform in your job since your training?
  • What did you learn from your training to help you perform at a higher level in your role? 

A peer review would be another way to measure at this level. The trainers or other participants could do this. 

Quantitative data: This could include tests and examinations after the training (paper or digital ones) or assessments of learning projects.

Level 3: Behavior

Goals

The behavior stage’s goal is to see whether or not the employee’s behavior has changed due to the training received and to what degree. In particular, how has the training influenced their performance and general attitude? 

Example KPIs

  • Employee engagement 
  • Higher morale

How to measure 

Behavior change is most commonly measured through observations and reviews, pre- and post-training. 

Qualitative data: This would include open-ended questions from observers such as: 

  • How have you put what you learned in training to use in your job?
  • How confident would you be teaching your acquired knowledge and skills to someone else?
  • Do you feel like your behavior is different now than it was before the training? 

Quantitative data: This may include third-party observation and text mining or analysis from email conversations or personal development plans. 

In this stage, the work environment the trainee returns to plays a large role in whether they can apply their newly acquired skills. If the management and culture don’t support the new behavior, it will likely revert and be lost. 

Level 4: Results

Goals

The final stage’s goal is to evaluate how effective the training program has been in driving results in your business. In this stage, it’s common to measure results like productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

Example KPIs

  • Employee retention
  • Increased productivity and quality of work 
  • Increased sales
  • Customer satisfaction

How to measure

Qualitative data: This may include interviews or focus groups. 

For example, customers might be brought in for a focus group and asked about their customer experience and how this has changed over time. 

Managers may be interviewed to determine whether they feel their employees are noticeably more productive or producing higher quality work since the training. 

Quantitative data: This includes surveys to measure the perceptions of customers and stakeholders, comparing data on employee turnover and retention rate, and analyzing sales and profits before and after the training.  

Best practices for measuring training effectiveness

1. Have a reasonable number of KPIs

Be selective when making your choice. The more measures you include, the more information you’ll have to work with. But don’t overwhelm yourself with too many.

2. Identify your KPIs before the development phase of your training

Knowing what you want to measure first will enable you to select the most suitable measuring effectiveness method. You may want to consult with key stakeholders first to know which metrics are most important to them. 

3. Plan your data collection schedule in the design phase of your training

Know when you want to measure effectiveness and how you will do this, and build it into your training timeline to ensure you stay organized and manage stakeholder expectations.

4. Customize your evaluation framework

It might not be necessary for you to measure all four Kirkpatrick model levels; plus, this can be a lengthy and expensive process. Spend time conducting your training needs analysis, and choose the training effectiveness evaluation model that best suits those. For example, you might find that it only makes sense for you to measure the second and fourth levels of the Kirkpatrick model.

Do what you need to make a confident, informed decision on the effectiveness of your training. 

5. Act on your findings

Perhaps the most important practice for measuring training effectiveness is to make sure you put your findings into practice. That means making changes and improvements where necessary and being quick to take action. 

Over to you

Training centers on improving employees’ overall performance, and therefore boosting the success and results of your business. Evaluating your training’s effectiveness helps you understand whether your goals have been met and shows you how to improve.

Whether you choose to discontinue a training or dramatically change another, it’s vital to continually notice what’s working and what’s not and respond. 

Remember, this is not a one-off event. To sum up, measuring training effectiveness should be a continuous process, enabling your employees to feel supported and empowered at work. A big-budget doesn’t always ensure that learning and development are effective, but measuring effectiveness and acting accordingly will set you up for success.

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