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Five pitfalls to avoid in evaluating training

Brian O’Hara joined Alcohol Focus Scotland as our new Senior Coordinator (Learning and Development) in December 2018. Here he shares his experience and reflects on the importance of evaluating training.

5 pitfalls to avoid in evaluating training

So I’m two months into my new role as Senior Coordinator (Learning & Development) for Alcohol Focus Scotland. There’s been a lot of interesting stuff to get my head around and a lot of exciting work ahead to get my teeth into.

One of the things that has really struck me about the organisation is the care and attention that has been given to evaluation of all the learning interventions they offer. As I familiarise myself with session plans, trainer’s notes and activities, I also have one or more comprehensive evaluation reports to go alongside them.

I shouldn’t be surprised really. One of the organisational values is: evidence-based and this great practice in evaluation certainly demonstrates that. It did get me thinking though about some of the pitfalls organisations fall into when it comes to evaluation.

Here are 5 to avoid

1. Not bothering to do it at all

It happens! In the heat of battle, under pressure to deliver, training gets done and its mission accomplished - on to the next job. But wait a minute, it takes time, effort and even money to get training done. How do you know all that was worth it? Presumably, there was a reason or a need for doing the training? How do you know that need was met?

 Make a point of bothering – evaluation is a key part of the training cycle and can help the wider goals of a Learning & Development function such as increasing customers, attracting funding, demonstrating the functions value to the organisation, and more.

2. Not thinking about evaluation until the training is underway or finished

Again, it happens! Training is all organised, underway and suddenly it occurs that a senior manager or funding body needs an evaluation report. Hasty plans are drawn up on the back of a napkin, something gets produced but is there any real value in it?

Although it comes toward the end, we should be thinking about and planning evaluation at the start of the process. I’ve taken to using a session plan that includes a section covering evaluation strategy so it can be developed at the design stage

3. No Structure

Let’s throw a quick questionnaire together. A survey monkey. Google some questionnaires. Quick feedback session at the end of the training.

Stop! There are years of work out there about evaluation and plenty of models that can help you to take a structured approached. I’ve always worked with Jack Phillip’s modified version of Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation model:

         i.      Reaction

         ii.      Learning

         iii.      Application on the job

         iv.      Business impact

         v.      Return on Investment

It’s a clear model; easily followed and explained to stakeholders.

It can get trickier as you ascend the levels however, as Roosevelt said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…” Being able to evidence business impact and return on investment is solid gold.

4. Using the same evaluation for all training

This worked for this course, let’s use it for them all!

There’s a big difference between a few hours Fire Safety training to meet regulatory requirements and a few days coaching training to embed a coaching culture in an organisation. We need to take account of this when planning our approach to evaluation and adjust our approach accordingly. 

 5. Doing nothing with the evaluation information

When you’re asking your participants for feedback you’re setting their expectation that something will be done with it. If participants don’t see anything changing – particularly when they’ve given the same feedback more than once – they’ll quickly disengage with your evaluation – or worse, your training or organisation.

Review your evaluation information regularly. Take action on it and publicise what you’ve done. This will help engage your participants and gain their support in developing your training to its maximum potential.

 

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