In a recent study appearing in the International Journal of Training and Development, researchers Saks and Burke discovered that the frequencies of behavioral and results-based training evaluation were related to actual transfer of training material. Or in other words, organizations that evaluated behavior changes and monetary benefits resulting from training tended to have better results from that training. In their words:
Overall, the results of this study suggest a training evaluation-transfer of training paradox: organizations are most likely to evaluate trainee reactions and learning, and yet only behavior and results criteria are significantly related to higher rates of training transfer.
The authors investigated this by surveying 150 members of a T&D association in Canada. They asked respondents to identify the extent to which employees actually made good use of organizational training initiatives and respond about the degree to which their organization evaluated their training programs. Kirkpatrick’s 4-level training evaluation model (reactions, learning, behavior, and results) was used as a framework for these questions. On a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always), consistent with prior studies, the researchers found that evaluation of trainee reactions was by far the most common (M=4.08), followed by learning (M=2.85), behavior (M=2.59) and results (M=2.22).
Frequency of training evaluation predicted immediate transfer and far transfer (6 months and 1 year later). Correlations generally decreased with later evaluations, as would be expected. When looking at specific types of evaluative criteria, only behavior and results were statistically significantly related to transfer variables, with moderate effects (r = .28 to .43). Relationships with reactions and learning were much lower (r = .02 to .18).
This indicates that organizations that evaluate behavior and results tend to have better transfer, at least as rated by those responsible for implementing those training programs. As a survey study, these results do not speak to causation. While the act of evaluating may improve transfer, organizations that evaluate may simply pay more attention to their training programs in general than organizations that do not evaluate. The researcher controlled for organizational age and the size of the firm, but this would not address this issue. More in depth consideration of the source of variance in transfer is needed. This study also relied solely on T&D professionals’ impressions of their organizations, which may not reflect actual transfer. Research with real organizational transfer data is needed to address this limitation.Footnotes: