How to properly evaluate your employee training program

When was the last time you conducted an honest assessment of your employee training program? The workplace has changed considerably over the past few years. Programs and content that hit the mark in 2019 may not provide the same value in 2022.

If you want to foster an employee experience that attracts and retains the right people, it’s essential that you regularly assess your training program to make sure you’re helping people build the skills they need to do their best work every day.

Steps involved in the training program evaluation process

There are numerous ways to evaluate the effectiveness of training. But no matter which method(s) you choose, the first step is going to be the same: Define your goals.

Are you trying to help the business reach a specific operational outcome? Perhaps you’re looking for ways to improve your training efficiency or eliminate unnecessary costs? When you’re clear on the goal you’re trying to achieve, you can tailor your evaluation accordingly.

As you define your goals and objectives, develop a training evaluation questionnaire to make sure you uncover key information. For example:

  • To what extent does the training satisfy our current organizational goals?
  • Which aspects of the training are most/least engaging to trainees?
  • Which skills/proficiencies are insufficiently represented in our training materials?
  • Which aspects of the training are trainees struggling with the most?
  • To what extent are trainees retaining the information after 3 months? 6 months? A year?
  • To what extent are employees applying the information learned during training?

Your training evaluation questions should contain a combination of process questions and outcome questions. In other words, you want to measure the effectiveness of the training process itself and also the outcome of that training.

Once you’ve clarified your goals and defined the questions that must be answered, you must then determine how to gather the necessary data. This can be accomplished via:

  • Post-training surveys and ratings
  • Employee observation
  • Quizzes
  • Performance reviews
  • Learning management system (LMS) analytics

Solicit ratings of your training program

One of the easiest ways to evaluate training programs is to ask the participants for their feedback. A rating system makes this quick and easy.

While ratings don’t allow for detailed feedback, they can nevertheless offer some valuable information at a glance. Consistently low ratings indicate that participants are not getting the desired value from the training. It may be confusing or overly complicated, it may be missing key information or it may benefit from being broken up into smaller chunks. Consistently high ratings suggest that the information is resonating strongly with trainees and may serve as an effective model for other training materials moving forward.

The main benefit of a built-in feedback system is that it allows you to assess your strongest and weakest training materials with minimal effort. You don’t have to sift through surveys and performance reviews to discover where potential problems lie. You can spot the red flags immediately. And that’s one of the first steps to improving your training across the board.

Conduct surveys

Surveys take the rating system to the next level. A rating system may show your strengths and weaknesses, but a survey gives you more specific insights into the reactions of trainees. That’s why it’s helpful to pair ratings with surveys. Once you identify your strongest and weakest materials, you can then discover why.

A post-training survey may include questions like:

  • How satisfied are you with the material presented?
  • Which information resonated with you the most?
  • Which (if any) aspects of the training were confusing or unclear?
  • Did you find the training useful?
  • Would you recommend the training to others?
  • What improvements would you recommend to the training material?

These surveys can be built into your LMS, or you can manually create them and push them to trainees following a live or online training session.

For best results, use a combination of binary (yes or no) and open-ended questions. For the binary questions, you can use a Likert scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree) for more precise evaluations. The open-ended questions can help you to better understand how to make the training more effective.

Note that surveys tend to have pretty low response rates, often below 30% of attendees. Axonify overcomes this by embedding surveys within microlearning sessions. Since employees already log in for daily training as part of their workflow, it’s easy to get them to respond to a few additional survey questions. This jolts response rates upwards towards 80%.

Observe & report

When evaluating your employee training program, it’s not enough to solicit feedback from employees. They may have enjoyed the experience, but employees may not be able to determine how it will impact their job performance. You have to determine for yourself whether the training is actually shifting on-the-job behavior. That’s where performance observation comes into play.

The process is as simple as watching employees complete a task. For example, if employees recently completed training on how to use the new point-of-sale system, you can observe them running transactions with customers to determine if they’re applying what they learned. Be sure to take notes, especially when employees appear to struggle with specific behaviors. Use this information to update your training program.

The more employees you observe, the better understanding you’ll have regarding the effectiveness of your training. You can also consider training managers or peers to conduct performance observations as part of their daily tasks. This will help you gather more data from across the business to accurately reflect the state of performance. Combine these observations with survey and rating data to get a more holistic picture of your training program’s effectiveness.

Use quizzes to determine knowledge retention

Quizzes are an excellent way to measure if a person retained what they learned during training. If you use an LMS or other digital learning tool, you may already have quizzes incorporated into your learning materials. That’s an excellent start, as it allows you to quickly glean the effectiveness of the training in real-time. However, post-training quizzes are just one way you can use knowledge assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of a training program.

If you want to evaluate your training program on a more comprehensive level, you’ll need to assess your employees’ knowledge and skills as they change over time. For example:

Pre-assessment

Quizzes delivered before a training program provide insight into what people already know. They also help you adapt and personalize training to fit each employee’s needs.

Post-assessment

Quizzes delivered immediately after training measure short-term knowledge growth. Compare this data to the results of your pre-assessment to get a snapshot of how effectively information is delivered during the program.

Reinforcement quizzes

Quizzes can be used in the months (or even years) after training is completed. This not only allows you to assess how well knowledge is retained, but it also acts to reinforce this critical information over time and make sure training has a sustained impact on performance.

Quizzes require fewer company resources than observation, but they can offer some of the same valuable insights.

Use performance reviews

Performance reviews provide a regular opportunity for employees to work with their managers to identify areas of development opportunity. The collaborative nature of these conversations (when done well) makes them an important input into your training strategy.

Performance reviews allow you to capture employee sentiment when it comes to how well they are supported in their work. This includes formal training programs as well as ongoing career development opportunities. The process also gives managers the opportunity to suggest new learning experiences based on agreed-upon areas of need.

Partner with HR to enable managers to conduct regular performance review conversations with their team members. Provide digital evaluation forms within your LMS or HR system to capture data from these ongoing conversations. If performance reviews are done inconsistently, left until the end of the year, or only completed as part of a disciplinary process, they will not yield the type of recurring data needed to inform your training program evaluation.

Generate detailed reports

Quality reporting and analytics will give you some of the best insights available, and that’s why it’s important to use a trusted LMS with training evaluation tools built-in. It’s estimated that 84% of companies use a learning management system, and for good reason. This type of training platform is highly effective for trainees, and it equips organizations with the kind of valuable reporting data necessary to track progress and make improvements on a micro-level.

For example, Axonify goes beyond metrics like course completions and test scores to provide data on employee engagement, knowledge retention, behavior change, and business impact. These detailed analytics can help you quickly determine which training programs are working and which must be re-evaluated.

Formal training evaluation methods

As you can see, there’s a wide variety of data you may be able to use when evaluating your training programs. Once you determine which data inputs are available within your organization, you must decide how to use these insights in order to measure your training effectiveness. There are several methodologies available to guide your efforts. Two of the most popular are Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation and the Phillips ROI Model.

Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation

Kirkpatrick’s model is a summative training evaluation model that rates training methods using four criteria: Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results.

Level 1 – Reaction

The first criterion measures user reaction to the training material. Is the material engaging? Relevant? Easy to follow? This participant feedback is often collected in a post-training survey.

Level 2 – Learning

The second criterion measures the information learned as a result of the training. Use pre-and post-training assessments to measure changes in employee knowledge and skill.

Level 3 – Behavior

The third criterion measures the extent to which the information learning during training is actually applied on the job. This behavior change is often measured via workplace performance observations.

Level 4 – Results

The fourth criterion measures the impact of training on your business KPIs. For example, did sales associates successfully upsell customers more often after completing the training?

By using the right data to assess each level of the Kirkpatrick model, you can get an overall picture of your training effectiveness

The Phillips ROI Model

The Phillips ROI Model builds on Kirkpatrick’s four-level model by adding a fifth level: return on investment (ROI).

ROI is a critical consideration because, if you want your training programs to deliver the best possible value, you must ensure that your costs do not exceed your financial or organizational impact.

To calculate your ROI, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Estimate your total training cost. Consider the cost of any training platforms and materials as well as the cost of the labor hours required for training.
  • Estimate the monetary impact of your training. There are many factors involved, so L&D should work with all relevant partners to determine the extent to which the training initiatives have impacted your bottom line. For example, if the revenue increased by 15% but there were marketing and communications initiatives alongside the training, you’ll have to look closely at your sales and behavior metrics to determine how to divide the credit.
  • Subtract the cost of the training from the total value-added.

If you’re left with a positive number after completing your calculations, that’s your positive ROI. If you have a negative number, you’ll need to consider where the training needs improvement. Review the previous four steps, and see where things fall apart. Then make changes accordingly.

You’ve evaluated your employee training program – now what?

More than half of U.S. companies dedicate less than one week every year to training each staff member. Whether you find yourself in this majority or you dedicate more time and resources to training, it’s important to know that your efforts are paying off.

So once you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, the next step is to take action. First, identify the strongest and most engaging training materials. Then deconstruct them to determine what makes them so effective.

Finally, use what you’ve gleaned to improve the training materials that don’t score as highly. Even modest improvements to your training materials can make a significant impact on your bottom line, and it all begins with a simple employee training evaluation.

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