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Learning Evaluation Traps, How to Avoid Them and Best Practices

The art and science of figuring out if your training program actually worked has been at the forefront of our hearts and minds for the better part of the last decade. It sounds straightforward, but anyone who's been down that road knows it’s not always the case. From setting the right objectives to collecting data and decoding feedback, there's plenty of room for slip-ups. That's why today, we want to spotlight common pitfalls in learning evaluation and offer our expert advice on how to avoid them.

Whether you're an L&D pro, a manager responsible for team development, or a curious consultant, there's something here for everyone. So, let's dive in and make your next evaluation not just effective but exceptionally insightful.

Learning Evaluation Traps, how to avoid them and best practices

Table of Contents:

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

When it comes to evaluating your efforts, there are some common pitfalls. Here they are with some tips on how to avoid them:

Lack of Alignment with Organizational Goals

Before starting, make sure you have aligned your evaluation criteria with your organization's overarching objectives. If the business wants to improve customer satisfaction scores by 15%, you don’t measure how many people completed the training, but focus your efforts on Level 4 evaluation, where you measure any changes to customer scores before and after the training, the average time it takes to resolve customer issues and the number of repeat customer interactions.

Data Overload

Prioritize which metrics are crucial to your evaluation goals. Don't collect data for the sake of collecting data. There are some vanity metrics, like attendance, but you need to measure things that make a big impact on the business, like employee performance improvements, customer satisfaction rates, or even increased sales that can be attributed to the training program.

Ignoring Stakeholder Input

Involve key stakeholders early and often, from defining objectives to analyzing results. If you evaluate a new sales training program based solely on metrics you think are important—like the number of closed sales or how quickly deals are made—you might miss what your stakeholders actually care about. They may be more interested in other factors like the quality of customer relationships, customer retention, and upselling success. So, it's crucial to consult with your stakeholders first to make sure you're measuring what really matters to them.

Inadequate Pre-Training Baseline Data

Collect baseline data before the training begins so you have a point of comparison for evaluating effectiveness. You roll out a new software training program aiming to improve employee productivity. If you don't measure how long tasks take or the error rates before the training, you won't know whether the training actually improved productivity or if any changes were just natural fluctuations.

Poorly Designed Evaluation Tools

Test your surveys, quizzes, or other evaluation tools to make sure they're clear, concise, and relevant. Avoid using a post-training survey with complicated language and too many questions. This will make participants rush through it without understanding what's being asked, rendering the feedback unreliable.

Poorly Designed Evaluation Questions

Your questions need to be simple, clear, and precise. If you ask, "Did you find the training useful?" but don't specify what "useful" means, participants might have different ideas, making it hard to gauge the training's actual effectiveness.

Timing Issues

Don't evaluate too soon or too late; give learners time to apply new skills but not so much that other variables come into play. Imagine you assess the impact of a leadership training program just one week after completion. The short time frame doesn't allow participants to implement what they've learned in real-world scenarios, making the evaluation premature.

Failure to Follow Up

A single evaluation point isn't sufficient. Make it an ongoing process to capture long-term effects. As the different levels of Kirkpatrick’s Model suggest, you need to evaluate before, during, and after a learning event. If you evaluate a conflict resolution training immediately after it ends but never re-evaluate 6 months, you won’t be able to see if employees are still using and benefiting from the skills they learned.

Overlooking Qualitative Data

Quantitative metrics are important but don't forget to gather qualitative insights through interviews, open-ended questions, or observations. Let’s say that after a communications workshop, you only measure the number of employees who completed the course and their test scores. Thus, you’ve ignored feedback and discussions among participants where they talk about how the training helped them better articulate their ideas, missing out on rich qualitative data.

Neglecting to Communicate Results

Share the evaluation results with stakeholders, including what actions will be taken based on those results, to close the feedback loop. If you don't share the results after thoroughly evaluating a major customer service training program, no one will know what actions to take next. They won't know what to keep doing, what to stop, or even whether to cancel future sessions.

There might be other pitfalls you get trapped in. But if you can recognize these and take proactive steps to avoid them, you will be able to do the same for others.

Best Practices for a Smooth Evaluation Process

We’ve been doing evaluations for many years now. And we’ve discovered there are some good practices which we’d like to share with you:

Set Clear Objectives that Align to the Business

We have to start with this, as it’s the single most important criterion for learning evaluation success. Make sure the learning outcomes align with organizational goals. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and effort doing things that shouldn’t be done. If your organization's goal is to improve customer satisfaction, design your training around enhancing customer service skills.

Involve Stakeholders

The sooner you can involve your stakeholders, the better. They should help you align with the broader objectives of the business (see the point above). For example, if you’re evaluating a new sales training program, consult with the sales team to ensure it meets their specific needs.

Use Multiple Evaluation Tools

You have at your disposal many different tools. Use them! Utilize a mixture of surveys, quizzes, interviews, and observations. For example, you can use a post-training survey for immediate feedback and do some interviews and observations as a follow-up for deeper insights.

Collect Baseline Data

To know how far you’ve come, you need to know where you’ve started. Measure any relevant performance metrics before the training for comparison. For instance, if you’re delivering training on a new software, note the proficiency levels of employees before and after the training begins and note the difference.

Test Evaluation Tools

If something can go wrong, it will. The same is true for your evaluation tools. Pilot-test your evaluation tools to ensure they're effective – check the links, the questions, the structure and the completion time. For example, test your post-training survey on a small group before rolling it out to everyone to ensure the questions are clear and the questionnaire works.

Timely Evaluation

Timing is crucial for learning evaluations. Don’t evaluate too soon or too late after the training. In most cases, you’d need to wait at least two weeks after a training session to evaluate its effectiveness, allowing time for application but not enough for skill decay. Continue to collect data at multiple points over time. Sometimes, it is a good idea to re-evaluate participants’ skills six months after training to measure long-term retention.

Quantitative and Qualitative Data

When you evaluate learning, you want to collect both quantitive and qualitative data for a fuller picture. Quantitative data refers to numerical information (i.e. numbers) that can be measured and analyzed using statistical methods, while qualitative data encompasses non-numerical information (i.e., text) that provides insights into behaviors, opinions, and attributes. A simple example is when we ask trainees to rate their satisfaction with the session on a scale from 1 to 5. This is quantitative data. If in the same survey we also ask them to tell us how to improve the session, that would be qualitative, as it cannot be put into numerical values. Interviews and observations are another example of qualitative data.

Primary and Secondary Data

Primary data is original information collected directly from sources such as surveys or experiments for a specific research purpose, while secondary data is information that has already been collected and published for other purposes and is reused in a new analysis. For example, after a training program, you can collect primary data through surveys, interviews and observations, and secondary data – through performance reviews and employee engagement reports.

Use Control Groups

A great way to learn what the impact of a learning event was is to compare the trained group with a similar group that did not receive the training. For instance, you can compare the sales figures of the team who received the training to those who did not.

Contextualize Data

Data doesn’t live in a vacuum. There are many forces at play when it comes to learning impact – the facilitator, the environment, other participants, the line manager, the organization, etc. Your task is to put the evaluation findings into the context of business results. For example, just because the quarterly sales numbers after a training don’t show a significant increase doesn’t mean the session was bad. You need to find out what else influenced the numbers – could it be a new software people are getting used to? Market downturn? Or even higher staff turnover?

Use Standardized Metrics

When it comes to evaluations (just like most things in life!) consistency is key. Using standardized metrics allows you to make apples-to-apples comparisons, whether it's assessing the same program over time or different programs against each other. This uniformity helps in generating more reliable and valid data. For example, don't change the questions on your post-training surveys every time you conduct a training session. Stick to a standard set of questions year over year, making it easier to track progress, identify trends, and even compare one training program to another.

Cross-Reference Findings

Verification strengthens the credibility of your evaluation. When your data comes from a single source, it's like having only one witness in a court case. But when you have corroborating evidence from multiple sources, your case becomes stronger. For example, if your post-training surveys indicate that participants feel more confident in their skills, but performance metrics in the workplace don't show any improvement, it's time to dig deeper. Check if the skills learned are being applied at work, or whether external factors like a change in management or new company policies might be affecting the performance metrics. Cross-referencing helps you understand the full story and substantiate your findings.

Use Third-Party Evaluators

Sometimes, it's hard to be objective when you're too close to the subject. Using third-party evaluators adds an extra layer of impartiality to your assessments. This is particularly important for high-stakes or sensitive programs where internal biases could skew the results. For example, if your organization rolls out a new leadership training program, consider contracting an external L&D consultancy to perform the evaluation. They can offer an unbiased perspective, free from any internal politics or preconceptions, giving you more reliable insights into the program's effectiveness.


And there you have it—a roadmap for avoiding common pitfalls in learning and development evaluations, backed by years of collective wisdom and hands-on experience. From the importance of aligning with organizational goals to the nitty-gritty of data collection and interpretation, we've covered the spectrum of challenges that can make or break your evaluation efforts.

But remember, recognizing these pitfalls is just the first step. The real test comes in actively avoiding them in your next evaluation. Put these best practices to work. Consult with your stakeholders, be discerning with your data, and never underestimate the power of a well-timed, well-executed evaluation.

So what's your next move? Are you ready to make your learning evaluations more effective, insightful, and aligned with business goals? We challenge you to apply at least one of these best practices in your next project. Trust us; you'll thank yourself later.

Until next time, keep evaluating, keep learning, and keep growing. Cheers to your future success in making L&D as impactful as it can be!


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