Five Uneasy Pieces in the Training Evaluation Puzzle

By McEvoy, Glenn M.; Buller, Paul F. | Training & Development Journal, August 1990 | Go to article overview

Five Uneasy Pieces in the Training Evaluation Puzzle


McEvoy, Glenn M., Buller, Paul F., Training & Development Journal


Five Uneasy Pieces in the Training Evaluation Puzzle

For the last 30 years, a steady stream of articles has lamented the shortage of regorous training evaluation efforts. Some recent popular publications have even made it appear that evaluation is relatively easy and inexpensive to do, and that recent advances in evaluation technology have significantly eased the process for training and developpment practioners.

But such advances in evaluation technology are not readily appparent in the literature of training evaluation. Written guidelines for evaluation have, in fact, remained quite consistent over time and across authors.

The standard "textbook" coverage of training evaluation starts with the topic of criterion development. That encompasses criterion relevance (including deficiency and contamination), levels (such as reaction, learning, behaviors, and results), time frame, and reliability. Typically, a discussion of internal and external threats to validity follows, as well as an examination of the pros and cons of experimental and quasi-experimental designs.

Anyone who conducts a training evaluation effort should be familiar with these issues, but our experience suggests that other, less well-examined issues are equally important.

Furthermore, evaluating training is definitely not easy, at least not in our experience. It is easy to write about evaluation and to exhort others to undertake the task, but it is not a simple matter to conduct a training evaluation. Our training work has led us to explore some of the problems and examine some of the key decisions that must be made in training evaluation.

OMT as a case example

Outdoor management training, or OMT, is a good example. OMT is an outgrowth of Outward Bound training, which was founded in Britain by Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt as survival training for naval recruits in World War II. Outward Bound spread to the United States in 1962 and gained popularity as a means of developing character, self-confidence, and leadership among young people.

Management trainers have adapted the Outward Bound experience because of its emphasis on such areas as risk taking, challenge, teamwork, problem solving, self-confidence, and trust.

OMT programs typically consist of a series of perceived high-risk activities or "initiatives," most requiring teamwork and problem solving skills. Interspersed with the activities are debriefing sessions in which participants analyze their feelings and experiences and share their learning with colleagues. Most programs also provide short lectures on management skills and action planning to help participants transfer their newfound knowledge and skills back to the job.

Over the past two years, we have been involved in the implementation and evaluation of a university-based OMT program for a client in the aerospace business. The conclusions we have drawn about the difficulty of training evaluation come primarily from that experience.

The five pieces of the

puzzle

We have identified five levels of issues in training evaluation. They exist in a hierarchy in a sense; you must resolve issues at the top before you can move on to issues at lower levels. Here are the five levels in order: * work versus perk * substantive versus symbolic * external versus internal * behaviors versus outcomes * self-ratings versus ratings from others.

Work versus perk

The first issue is the extent to which the training program is truly an attempt to improve work performance, rather than a perquisite for job performance that has already been judged successful. Off-site programs, in particular, run the risk that organizations will select participants on the basis of prior achievement rather than the expectation of improved future performance.

Such objectives are seldom stated for a training program. Rare indeed is the executive as honest and direct as the one who said, "To tell you the truth, I send my people to those things as a reward - a chance to get away for a few days of R&R on the company's money. …

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