How to Evaluate Employee Training Programs (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Two focused businessmen analyzing data on a laptop in a bright office.

Training programs can be hefty investments for companies of all sizes, but the general consensus is that training is important, and thus, worth taking the time and resources to implement. How should companies view the training process? And how can they improve upon their current training program?

The answer is evaluation, and this article will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to evaluate the efficiency of your training program.

Step 1. Choose Your Method

There are several means of evaluating your team’s training procedures, and each has its own set of pros and cons. Generally speaking, there are two styles of evaluations that can be performed: formative and summative.

The Formative Style
A formative evaluation is ongoing, and aims to correct training program issues before they occur. An example would be hiring a subject matter expert on a given topic to examine your materials to make sure the information is current.

The Summative Style
A summative evaluation is one that occurs after a given training curriculum is finished, with the goal of making the next curriculum a better one.

Including both formative and summative evaluations is a wise choice when devising your training program plan.

Here is a look at four of the most common and successful methods for workplace training evaluations.

Kirkpatrick’s Four-level Training Evaluation Model

Self-described as “the standard for leveraging and validating talent investments,” Kirpatick’s Model uses four levels of evaluation to determine the success of a given training curriculum.

  • Level 1 – Reaction – This level of evaluation determines how much those being trained are engaged in the training material. Job relevance is a big factor in whether or not employees stay focused on training, so be sure to lay out the “why?” very clearly for your team. They need to feel the information being taught is useful and will benefit them in their roles. If trainees aren’t interested in the courses, you may need to change the curriculum or course structure.
  • Level 2 – Learning – People can be engaged in material and still not retain it if it’s not taught the right way. Evaluating the level of learning that has been done following a given training session can help you determine how well your material “sticks.” You can measure retention through testing.
  • Level 3 – Behavior – Measuring individuals’ behavior after training is important to see if they are actually implementing their learning. Even if you determine that teams are retaining knowledge, they must implement it or the training will be a waste of time (and company money).
  • Level 4 – Results – If it’s determined that the team is engaged, is retaining information, and is properly implementing their education into their jobs, next is to evaluate the company as a whole, relative to the training. For sales training, for example, you can determine the results by looking at individuals’ sales numbers.

Who It’s Best For:

Teams of any size can benefit from the Kirkpatrick Model, but as it is a summative practice, it’s not the best for a team who may have just implemented a new training style or even third-party service, as formative evaluations can begin at any point.

The Phillips ROI Model

The Phillips ROI Model builds heavily off of the Kirkpatrick Model. The first four levels are similar to the levels in the Kirkpatrick Model, even using similar nomenclature: reaction, learning, application/implementation, and impact. Where the Philips Model takes things a step further is relative to the monetary side of things, specifically the fifth step: Return on Investment (ROI).

The ROI step implements cost-benefit analysis technology and strategies. This is designed so that managers can better report the measurable monetary results related to training.

Who It’s Best For: Teams who need to determine the monetary value of their training modules.

Kaufman’s Five Levels of Evaluation

Kaufman’s evaluation model also borrows from the first four levels of the Kirkpatrick Model, but includes behavior (3) and results (4) in one level and adds two more.

Here is what it looks like:

● Input
● Process
● Micro
● Macro
● Mega

The input and process levels are the same, and the micro level measures how the training has affected those who have taken the training. The fourth level of the Kaufman Model, macro, aims to evaluate how the training has affected the business, as a whole, and the fifth level, mega, aims to evaluate if and how the training has affected society as a whole. For instance, if training is on corporate social responsibility (CSR), the mega evaluation would be seeing how that training has encouraged trainees to volunteer in their communities.

Who It’s Best For: Companies looking to evaluate all parts of training, not just those related to monetary ROI.

Anderson’s Model of Learning Evaluation

The Anderson Model also takes a higher level look at the effects of training initiatives. It aims to evaluate how much training aligns with company goals, both monetarily and those relative to company culture and the overall success of the company, beyond money. This is frequently used to measure the success of training in nonprofits and other organizations, whose main goal may not be financial profit.

Who It’s Best For: Organizations looking to evaluate their training relative to their company goals and culture.

Step 2. Decide What to Measure

Though many of the model choices were created to measure the monetary aspects of training, they are also applicable to things like levels of knowledge, cultural impact, and employee happiness (which leads to higher retention rates).

Here are several major measuring points many companies use when evaluating their training.


    • New Skills

Upskilling is a major focus of training in 2021, and is continuing to trend upward. This includes industry-focused skills for a given job, but also includes things like tech usage, business acumen, cybersecurity, and other things employees can use beyond the walls of the office.

    • Learning Experience

As touched on when discussing the models, employee learning experience is important because it helps spark retention, which ultimately leads to real-world implementation of what was learned during a given training module. If your team isn’t enjoying their training, you’re fighting a losing battle.

    • Employee Happiness

It’s important to evaluate what your team wants to learn. Allowing them to have a say in what will be trained makes the training process more successful. There obviously needs to be some give and take, but a robust training program should allow for some employer compromise when it comes to material. An enthusiastic learner is a happier (and more productive) employee.

    • Cultural Impact

Corporate social responsibility is the term used when large corporations make major changes in how they help their communities. No matter the size of your company, if you have a dedication to cultural impact, evaluating it is just as important as evaluating your ROI.

    • Financial Impact

At the end of the day, money does run the business world, and is (and should) be something that is measured when determining how well a training program is serving employees and the company as a whole.

Step 3. Observe and Assess

What all the models have in common is an emphasis on the importance of assessment. Here are several ways to measure the success (or failure) of your training initiatives.

    • Written Observations

Reporting on how training is implemented is simple if you have the correct resources, but finding those can be a challenge. If you choose this means of assessment, you need to have someone very familiar with the training material who has also witnessed the material being implemented. Third-party training services often offer this, and other outsourcing is available if there isn’t a qualified team member with some extra capacity.

    • Tests

Tests are a great way to measure immediate levels of knowledge, and can even be revisited, but they don’t actually show how training is being implemented and thus are best used as a complimentary option alongside one or more of these other tools.

    • Surveys

Surveys are ideal for assessing things like cultural influence and employee happiness, but they are less effective at measuring training ROI. When properly crafted, surveys can measure knowledge as well as how team members are implementing training, and simple questions like, “Are you engaged in the training?” can be added to further evaluate the training on the whole.

    • Interviews/Focus Groups

Interviews are a hybrid solution for observations and surveys. You can observe and then ask individuals why or how they did certain things during your observations. They also allow for a more personal feel when discussing employee happiness, as sometimes employees can be fearful and simply check a box on a survey because they are hesitant to say how they really feel.

Focus groups are mass interviews that allow multiple people to comment on a given set of questions, making for great opportunities for discussion and open evaluation.

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