Six steps to crack learning evaluation

How do you evaluate the impact of learning, to ensure that it meets business goals and needs? Tim Drewitt shares his six step approach to help ensure that all learning is designed with the end result in mind.

“Requiring a learner to ‘know something’ is rarely a valid learning objective. Few jobs require employees to stand up and recite something they’ve memorised.”

Too often the evaluation of learning is an after-thought, even if the designer knows they will need to do it.  It’s easy to get drawn into the design and development stages and only return to the evaluation of the learning once it’s out there being delivered. But by then, you’re on the back foot if you need to revisit what’s been developed.

I’ve always believed in the mantra of ‘starting with the end in mind’ and keeping this at the forefront throughout the design and development process. That way, whenever and however you decide to look at evaluating your learning, you’ll have greater confidence that you’ll get the outcome you want.

Here’s a six step process that will help you do this.

Step one: Perform a needs analysis
For example, you could use the well-known Kirkpatrick model. First of all, think about what the business benefits should be from this learning (Kirkpatrick level 4).  Ensure whatever you decide is measurable and meaningful for your stakeholders. Ideally, they should be the ones to articulate these for you. Use the measures they will use to determine if they’re seeing the results they want.  

Have these statements of success clearly visible as you design your learning solution. At the end of the day, these are the ones that matter the most when it comes to evaluating learning.

Next, think about how the learners need to change to achieve these business benefits (Kirkpatrick level 3). What do they need to do, that they’re not already doing? What might they need to do better and what do we need them to stop doing altogether?!  It’s important to remember that requiring a learner to ‘know something’ is rarely a valid learning objective. Few jobs require employees to stand up and recite something they’ve memorised. So avoid designing learning that just presents knowledge. In most cases, learning should be about how people need to apply knowledge to perform some task.  Again, have these statements clearly visible as you design your learning.

Step two: Checks and balances 
Before you move on to create your learning, you need to perform the first check and balance. Take a look at each of your answers above to Kirkpatrick level 3. Ask yourself how these will contribute to what needs to happen to achieve the desired business benefits (Level 4). If it’s not clear, or in the worst case wouldn’t lead to the desired results, then you need to rethink each answer. When it comes to evaluation, you want learners to not only value what they’re doing, but actively know what do to with it. This will give you the confidence that you’re on the right track.

Step three: Design your learning
Now you can start to design your learning. Regardless of the method you take – be that face-to-face, a video or a piece of eLearning – keep referring back to your Level 3 and 4 statements. Learning should be focused solely around those levels. Resist the temptation to add in anything else. If you think you need to, repeat steps one and two to include the extra content.

Step four: More checks and balances 
Throughout the process, it’s crucial that you perform numerous checks and balances, especially if your content has slipped away from your vision. Keep checking that what you are including in your learning is solely focused on meeting the Level 3 and 4 requirements.

The best way to do this is to systematically stop after designing each section in the learning – for example, a face-to-face exercise or screen of eLearning – and ask yourself: how will this content provide the learner with what they need to achieve the desired business benefits? If this isn’t immediately obvious, that’s a sign that you need to rethink what you’ve just designed. Learning needs to be an efficient process for the learner, so this is your chance to ensure that every exercise or word on the screen is of value. Be ruthless here and if you’re not sure, invite a learner to comment.

Step five: Develop your learning
Now you can get on with developing your content and at the end, go back through the finished solution, referring back to your list of level 3 and 4 statements, just to be sure.

Step six: Evaluation 
How you choose to evaluate a piece of learning is worthy of its own article. By following my approach, you should be confident that the learning will have targeted those things everyone needs to do to please your stakeholders.


About Tim Drewitt

Tim Drewitt has worked in learning and development for 27 years.  As a corporate practitioner, he’s worked in financial services, legal and telecoms. On the vendor side, he’s been a consultant and product manager for a variety of leading eLearning, LMS and leadership development providers. Tim’s focus has been on transforming L&D strategies through the use of digital learning and other innovations, with a particular focus on learner experience and the measurement of the learning impact. He speaks on these topics at conferences and his work and insights have been acknowledged by his appearance in the list of Top 100 Movers and Shakers in Corporate E-learning.


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