Evaluating Training Part 2

By Phil La Duke

I hadn’t planned on writing more on this subject—that is to say the evaluation of training. Not that I don’t have more to say, much more in fact; it’s just that I saw little value in exploring Level 3 of Kirkpatrick’s model of training evaluation when so few get the first two levels correct. Level 3, which measures whether or not the learning is transferred into practice in the workplace. To be sure this kind of measurement can be tricky, and based on some of the feedback I got from the first post, many of you are skipping the first two steps in favor of jumping into the third, not only is this short-sighted, it might just be dangerous.

I won’t revisit Kirkpatrick’s model except to say that it is important to measure the first two levels for the reasons I cited last week. But once we are assured that the learners understand the point and importance of the class they have completed, and we know whether or not they acquired skills as a result of the course, you have to determine whether or not they apply those skills in the workplace.

Correct application of skills is especially important in safety because it can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Before we get into that I should clarify something. While all training does not happen in a classroom (in fact while most does most shouldn’t) all training should be evaluated. I’m afraid I may have created some confusion with last week’s post when I introduced the concept of pre- and posttesting. Sometimes, for safety sake we have to assume the worker knows nothing when we evaluate whether or not non-classroom training is effective. In a particularly cost effective way of training is demonstration and practice. In this type of training a skilled trainer or veteran employee, using either a task list or a standard work instruction sheet demonstrates the correct way to do the task while the learner watches and asks questions until he or she is ready to practice the tasks under the watchful eye of the trainer. Obviously in cases where the worker could injure him or herself by operating heavy equipment or unfamiliar machinery so administrating a pretest where you let the learner jump right in just to see if he or she can operate a CNC machine or induction molder would be recklessly and provide no value except to determine if the worker already had the skills that the shadow training was meant to be imparting. In broad strokes, we don’t care whether they NEED the training we are going to err on the side of caution (not to mention avoiding legal liability and violation of the General Duty Clause) and give the training to the person.

The tendency of trainers and especially veteran employees to skip areas of the training or skimp on the demonstration and practice because the worker seems particularly adroit at the skills makes the level three evaluations critical. I tend to wait a month and ask the worker to basically perform those tasks in which he or she was trained to see if the worker is still able to perform the skills to standard. During this evaluation I would ask specific questions that align with the course objectives to see what, if anything, has been retained.

At this point, many of you are questioning, whether or not it’s even necessary that the worker retain the information presented in an orientation. The problem with an orientation is that the learners frequently lack sufficient context to synthesize the concepts presented. This may sound like psychobabble—after all what sort of context does one need to understand that fire can burn you, electricity can shock you, and chemicals can poison you? Unfortunately, after a month on the job a worker tends to start to feel invincible and the once terrifying becomes mundane and even acceptable. By conducting a level three evaluation you can both evaluate training effectiveness and provide context and much needed reinforcement of the critical safety points the training was intended to impart, and by repeated evaluations and reinforcement the training can ultimately become internalized and hardwired into the behavior.

There is a complex connection between evaluation and reinforcement, especially when we get to level 3 (and forget 4—leave that to the training professionals to argue over) evaluation this intricate connection is especially strong, which is why I didn’t want to get into it in the first place.