By Fagiano, David
Management Review , Vol. 83, No. 4
European and Asian companies spend 5 percent of revenue on training while U.S. companies spend just 1.5 percent, claimed a recent statistic in The Wall Street Journal. Another statistic says that 1993 expenditures on training in the United States, including salaries, equipment, travel, etc., topped $45 billion.
While these statistics might make for interesting chatter at a particularly dull cocktail party, they are good for little else because they measure input rather than output. The statistics everyone wants, those that would tell us the return on training dollars spent, have proven to be stubbornly elusive.
Many attempts have been made to capture some quantifiable results of training. Pre-tests and post-tests have been around for years. Unfortunately, while these devices may measure knowledge gained, they do not measure the application of that knowledge--the change in behavior or the improved decision making that must occur in order for the organization to realize a real return on the cost of education.
Post-training personal evaluations have also been used for years at the end of instructor-led classes or seminars. Generally these forms ask the participant to rate the educational experience on a numeric scale that tries to measure, among other things, whether the seminar met the participant's expectations. Like pre- and post-tests, these evaluations measure knowledge gained, not the ability to apply what was taught. The results suffer the additional drawback of being colored by the immediately preceding experiences. If the instructor was a good showman and the class participants were enthusiastic, the experience tends to be overrated.
Not all educational experiences lack quantifiable outcomes. …