Evaluation - Between the Happy Sheets

I consider myself, above all things, a learner.  A recent graduate, I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in an educational environment, to the point where I feel, rightly or wrongly, somewhat of an expert in learning as a process on the participatory level.  And, above all – I love to learn. Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to take my classroom learning as a benchmark, and from it, learn about (and attempt to become an expert in) something completely foreign to me.

As a newcomer to any industry, there is always a lot to learn; and the L&D world is absolutely no exception. Evaluation is something I’d only ever experienced as a learner, a happy-sheet-ticker if you will. It had never really crossed my mind that an incredible amount of thought goes into designing those tick-boxes, and indeed that a lot can (and should!) be done to evaluate past this point. I’d considered that the comments I’d written on programme evaluations might help to build and positively affect future programmes, but I never looked beyond that at evaluation from the wider viewpoint of view of a university, or any organisation- and how to measure not only the reaction of a participant but the subsequent learning, behaviour change and impact that learning can have.

I can honestly say that while I may have experienced materials, educators and even programmes that I have not enjoyed, or that haven’t been right for me - I have never had an overall negative learning experience.  However, I’ve also never really considered any impact further than knowledge acquisition, perhaps as behaviour change and results are far more transient concepts at University than in a business environment. Thinking about this and attending programmes with learning and development professionals really brought to light for me the relative fragility of L&D- and with this, the absolute necessity to justify training programmes and prove the validity and necessity of development from a business perspective. After a couple of months working in an L&D environment, I became increasingly aware that I’d only experienced one side of evaluation; so when I was offered the opportunity to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the topic, I was excited to explore the value it could provide- not just for the participants, but all the way down to real business impact and positively affecting the bottom line.

My official introduction to evaluation, and the first programme I attended, was the New World Four Levels Kirkpatrick Model. I’d read about the model- and how it  been updated from the original 1950s model to apply directly to a contemporary learning environment- but experiencing the programme first-hand really brought to life to me the absolute essential that is effective evaluation at every level. The 2-day programme was split into a day of theory with activities and exercises, and a second thoroughly interactive day. There was a lot to learn in day 1, but having a good group size and more than just one facilitator meant that is was all very engaging and genuinely interesting.  Having learned all about taking evaluation from reaction, through learning, and all the way to behaviour change and results, day 2 of the programme was a fantastic opportunity to spend some time in small groups and work one-on-one with the facilitators. Each attendee put together and presented a business case for their respective organisations, working through the leading indicators to show training effectiveness and demonstrating the value of their training programmes, from reaction to results. For me this was essential because it really focused on the practical application of the methodology – using it to justify the value of and need for learning and development programmes within any organisation.

As well as leaving the 2-day programme with a tangible and effective business case, I found that I was also armed with a bank of very transferable knowledge and skills.  I really appreciated how the Kirkpatrick Four Levels model, rather than focusing solely on Return on Investment (which can lead to a side-lining of the Learning and Development department, and an implied loss in its intrinsic value) really emphasised L&D in the context of a business as a collaborative entity. Learning and development in isolation is not an effective way to implement change or a cost-effective way to deliver training that works. The collaborative approach of the Kirkpatrick model showed me how much effective training can occur when individual department/s work together for the greater good of an organisation. 

Essentially, the Kirkpatrick Four Levels model is more than just a ‘learn to evaluate’ methodology; it is a consultative tool to help learning and development add maximum value, and it carries through on this promise with each attendee leaving the programme with a bespoke business case proposal to show the real impact of training. To me, that is valuable in ways that discussions on numerical returns alone can’t always be; evaluation of effective training is fundamentally about working together, starting with the end in mind and working collaboratively. The Kirkpatrick model comes through on all these promises and more, and has got me really excited to delve deeper into the world of evaluation- in my next blog I’ll be talking about my experiences on the Phillips ROI programme, and if you have any thoughts or things you’d like to share in the meantime I’d love to hear from you!

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  • Hi Lucy,

    Thanks so much for sharing the link to this in our other discussion. I'm really pleased to hear that you found this course useful. I have this earmarked as one of my potential next moves in my future development and have wondered whether it's worthwhile or not. It sounds like you found it very valuable and has certainly given me more reason to look at this closely.

    Thanks for sharing


  • Thanks for sharing Lucy, you've raised some great points and it's refreshing hearing this from someone who is relatively new to Learning & Development. For a couple of years I was a Delivery Trainer and I have to admit that my role in evaluation was handing out a happy sheet at the end of any session and I remember looking through the comments looking for things relating to my performance and how I had done as the trainer.

    How does this help organisational performance? It doesn't, sure it made me feel good when I got positive comments but in the grand scheme of things it didn't impact behaviour or performance as after the training that was my role done and dusted. They went back in the operation and I fed back the results that they had either enjoyed the training or they didn't feel it met their needs.

    There were a few things wrong with this scenario. As a Delivery Trainer I didn't understand the wider implications of training, effective evaluation and how this transfers in to performance. ALL training needs to translate in to performance otherwise it's a waste of time and energy and L&D alone cannot be the custodians of performance improvement and accountable for learning in organisations. As you rightly put it the Kirkpatrick model provides a collaborative approach between L&D and which ever area of the business is in need of support and it's not a case of L&D turning up to deliver a course and then disappearing. Behaviours change over time and with on-going support, coaching and performance aids and this can't be done with L&D working alone in isolation. L&D need to be drivers for organisational change and performance improvements and help the businesses understand whether or not training alone will meet their needs.

    In most cases it won't but in most organisations training is the solution that most problems are looking for and may favourite line is "if you walk around with a hammer then you'll see everything as a nail". This really brings to life for me the need for L&D to really add value in organisations through other means that just training. The KP model sets out an approach for L&D to work collaboratively and effectively with stakeholders and to start with the end in mind and to truly understand what the expectations are of any intervention.

    Only when you've established exactly what the solution needs to be can you then work on understanding how this will translate in to performance and measured and the leading indicators are an excellent way of doing this.

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