2 Proven Ways to Assess if Training Participants are Learning

Assess if Training Participants are Learning

How to Assess if Training Participants are Learning
Too many instructional designers and trainers forget to assess if training participants are learning what they are supposed to be learning along the way.

Why Are There So Little Training Needs Assessments Done?
While it is more common for quizzes and tests to be built into online learning, we are continuously surprised by the lack of testing and assessments that occur during onsite training workshops.  We find the problem stems from instructional designers and trainers who are good about creating learning objectives, but who are not so good at defining business objectives and learning activities to test skills, knowledge, behaviors or attitudes.

Learning Objectives Defined
Instructional designers and training practitioners have been creating learning objectives for decades.  We define learning objectives as:

  • What do you want the participants to DO that they cannot do now, and
  • What do you want the participants to KNOW that they do not know now

Examples of Learning Objectives
For example, common learning objectives for management training include:

  • Identifying key responsibilities and challenges of the Supervisor role
  • Understanding the difference between leadership and management
  • Holding constructive performance conversations

Common learning objectives for sales training programs include:

  • Understanding customer business goals, problems and needs
  • Linking solutions to customer priorities
  • Articulating your value proposition in a way that resonates with target buyers

Regardless of the topic area, clear learning objectives are necessary to design an effective and meaningful training program.

Business Objectives
While clear business objectives are common for line leaders, training practitioners sometimes struggle to link learning directly to the business.  We define business objectives as:

  • The desired impact on the business if the learning objectives are accomplished

Examples of Business Objectives

Management Training Example
For example, if managers improve their skills and knowledge, they should have a positive impact on:

  • Employee engagement
  • Productivity
  • Retention
  • Employee relations

RELATED: The 4 High Performance Management Metrics that Matter Most


Sales Training Example
If sales reps improve their performance, they should have a positive impact on:

  • Revenue
  • Margin
  • Win-rates
  • Portfolio-mix
  • Cycle time
  • Deal size

Done right, each business objective should include the current state, the desired state and the value of closing the gap.  The value of closing the gap tells you how much to invest in training design, delivery and reinforcement.

Learning Objectives without Business Objectives
Learning objectives without business objectives have very little “teeth” and are likely to be treated as “training events” instead of change initiatives to improve on-the-job behavior and performance.

How to Assess if Training Participants are Learning
Once your learning and business objectives have been identified, the format you choose to assess if training participants are learning is critical…it needs to be in sync with the business objectives of the program. Consider two proven training assessment types to determine skill proficiency and knowledge gain:

  1. Short- and long-answer tests
  2. Performance tests

Short- and Long Answer Tests
These assessments test one’s “declarative” knowledge and are practical to both administer and score. They are given in paper form or on a computer or tablet and are typically composed of four different types of questions: matching, true or false, multiple choice, and essay. Simple answer tests are most appropriate when you are testing for “knowledge about something”, rather than “knowledge of how to do something.”

Performance Tests
This more complex type of assessment tests the performance (or application) of the skills in real-world simulations. Some of the ways to test whether a subject can actually perform on the job are through observation, scenario questions, or simulations. This is the better way to test if the target audience will be able to transfer the learning to the workplace.

Performance Test Example
Here’s an example of a recent performance test.

  • We  designed a management certification program for new managers.  One of the learning objectives was to teach new managers how to better empathize and communicate with their direct reports and external clients.
  • The related business objectives were to increase levels of employee engagement by 2% and to improve customer satisfaction scores by 7% over a 12-month period.

We designed the performance test as follows:

  • The performance test contained scenarios and role plays based upon the top five challenges faced by new managers at the company. The performance test presented unpredictable situations from different styles of employees and customers.
  • The new managers performance was evaluated through an objective checklist that was created with the client and their customers based upon research into their highest and lowest performing managers.
  • With practice, feedback and coaching, each manager had to “pass” each scenario to be certified as a new manager.

The Bottom Line
To help ensure the transfer of training from the classroom to the job, be sure you match your business objectives, learning objectives and performance tests.

To learn more about effective training assessment and measurement, download Connecting the Disconnects – How to Achieve the Real ROI of Learning

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