Defining Training Success

Recently, I’ve had occasion to apply my mind to the question of what constitutes success when it comes to training employees. We are all familiar with the evaluation forms that one gets at the end of a training programme. You know the one I mean the one where they measure your reaction (Kirkpatrick Level 1) to the training by asking you about:

  • The training design: Were the objectives clear? Was the session well organized? Was the pace and content at the right level?
  • The instructor/facilitator: How knowledgeable was she? Did he answer questions to your satisfaction?
  • Logistics: How was the room?? How was the food?
  • Application : How will you apply this training?
  • Recommendation : Would you recommend this programme to your colleagues?

Here’s the thing though if all the participants give you a perfect score on all of those factors, does that mean that the training was successful? Or is there more to it?

As so often happens in life, the answer is It depends? It depends on what the purpose of the training was.Since I doubt very much that very many training programmes are organized purely to give a boost to the trainer/facilitator/designer’s ego, then we probably need to look further for proof of success.

That takes us to Kirkpatrick’s Level 2 evaluation where one measures learning  i.e. acquiring knowledge, developing / improving skills, or changing attitude. So if we ask the right questions and utilize the right pre and post-tests to show that learning has indeed taken place, then can we say that the training was successful?

By now you should know the routine, It depends In their article Ensuring Learning Transfer authors Roy Pollock and Andy Jefferson presented the following equation to define the result of training:

Results = Learning x Transfer

So, based on elementary maths (or, should that be algebra?), if you get the maximum score on learning but there is no transfer of the learning to the workplace, then the result is zero / nada / zilch / a waste of time and money. That may sound harsh.However, that’s how the folks who make decisions about how to spend the ever-dwindling budget will see it.  If you cannot show an improvement in job / business performance, you might as well put a bulls-eye on your back (or chest if you prefer to see it coming) and stand out on the firing range.

So, the bottom line is that we have to figure out how to ensure that there is a transfer of learning if we want our training interventions to be perceived as adding value. We have to begin with the end in mind. We have to be clear on the purpose of the training in the first place. Who is the sponsor/champion for the programme, and what are his/her business objectives.That’s right I said business objectives.As trainers, we understand and embrace the importance of having learning objectives.What I’m saying here is that we need to be equally attentive to business objectives if we are to improve the likelihood of training success.

Think about the last training programme that you attended or to which you sent your staff.Were you, as well as, the trainer and the participants clear on both the business objective and the learning objectives . Was there an evaluation plan to measure both?

In a survey by McKinsey & Company, only 25 percent of business managers said that training and development contributed measurably to business performance. How do your figures compare to this?

For more information on learning transfer, please click here.

(First published on

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