Effective Reaction Evaluation in Evaluating Training Programs

Purposes and Dimension Classification
by Sung Heum Lee, PhD and James A. Pershing, PhD
he evaluation scheme that many corporate training programs use is Kirkpatrick's four-levels of evaluation: reaction, learning, behavior, and results (Kirkpatrick, 1994). However, surveys of the evaluation of corporate training programs show limited application of the levels other than at the reaction level (Alliger & Janak, 1989; American Society for Training and Development, 1996; Brinkerhoff, 1989; Dixon, 1990; Industry Report, 1996; Parker, 1986; Plant & Ryan, 1994). Training participants' reaction is the most commonly used criterion for determining the effectiveness of corporate training programs. Most corporate trainers evaluate their training programs by using a sim-


pIe end-of-course reaction form, often referred to as a "happy sheet" (Plant & Ryan, 1994), a "smile or whoopie sheet" (Robinson & Robinson, 1989), an "end-of-event questionnaire" (Bramley, 1996), or a "reactionnaire" (Newby, 1992). Based on a recent survey of corporate training programs using Kirkpatrick's four-levels of evaluation (American Society for Training and Development, 1996), only 4.3% of the organizations surveyed measured results, 13.7% measured behavior change, 27.9% measured learning, and 88.9% reported using participant reactionnaires. These findings indicate that the majority of the organizations evaluated the reactions and opinions of their training participants

immediately upon completion of training programs.

Reaction Evaluation of Training Program
Purposes The main purpose of reaction evaluation is to enhance the quality of training programs, which in turn leads to improved performance. The ultimate objective is to make training programs more efficient and effective for organizational performance improvement. Reaction evaluations are a type of formative evaluation when the results are used for program modification and the redesign of content, course materials, and presentations (Antheil & Casper, 1986; Robinson & Robinson, 1989). Generally, they collect information that


Performance Improvement.


a reaction evaluation will. not to trainee. there are few differselecting reaction evaluation dimensions that are valid ences in how trainers collect and analyze the data. timing and use determine whether an evaluation is forma1991). the reaction evaluation of a training program should relate to an instructor's Any aspect of a training program can be evaluated: the instruction and the impact of the training program. or adoption (Worthen. merit. value. 1991). effectiveness. expansion. or adoption tion evaluation is to deterFigure 1. and improvement (Grove & Ostroff. The kinds of questions to be addressed in to program evaluators. or quality To make decisions about a program's future or adoption Program impact Post-tests. Kirkpatrick (1994. Summative evaluations provide program uation focuses on the course instructor or facilitator decisionmakers and potential customers with judgments (Phillips. 1997). or redesign termination. questionnaires. Therefore. If participants are not satisfied with the training experience. Volume 38 • Number 8 33 . the goal of reacrevision. expansion. when. however none of the citations preterminated. This is crucial information.1996) Bloomer. not instructors or facilitators (Cangelosi. Sanders. termination. 1987). or quality To improve training program and correct errors Program process Tests. The tion. or Fitzpatrick. Both forand applicable presents a formidable problem for corpomative and summative evaluations are essential because rate training evaluation practitioners (Mattoon. Instructors are far more likely to accept als. instructor. and even the training facilities. & ever. but in how. 1992). and by whom it is used (Beer & In writing about level 1 evaluation. The evaluation of training programs can play either a formative purpose to improve the program or a summative purThere are a number of different dimensions for training pose to decide whether a program should be continued or reaction evaluations. He indicates for reaction evaluations and for the rigorous design and that ideal reaction evaluations provide the maximum development of reactionnaires. 1991) and to make decisions Dimensions to Evaluate concerning program continuation. modification. howabout a program's worth or merit (Worthen. interviews After training program Stakeholder or potential consumers External evaluators. 1986. Formative Evaluation Purpose Use Focus Tools Time Audience User Major Characteristics To determine program's worth. Reaction evaluations provide program designers with insights about participants' degree of satisfaction with a program's design and implementation. training programs is to evaluate a training program. Keller. Judgment for program continuation. tive or summative. 1990. The main difference is not in the information. The evaluation of a training program. Worthen & In some organizations the primary purpose of reaction evalSanders. Consequence such cases. impact of the training activity. they may not use what they have learned and will probably advise others not to attend the training program. 1987). merit. Summative Evaluation To determine program's worth. Identifying and ferent uses of the evaluation results. presents a few sample reaction forms but does not suggest This difference calls for the careful selection of dimensions guidelines for selecting reaction dimensions. training materithe instructor alone. Basic Differences Between Formative and Summative Evaluation. questionnaires. value. Worthen & Sanders. instructional strategies. decisions are necessary during the developmental stages of Guidelines for reaction dimensions can help practitioners a training program to improve it and-when it has been stadesign useful reaction evaluations for program modificabilized-to judge its final worth or determine its future. supported by external evaluators Timing and control for program improvement Reaction evaluations can also be summative in nature. The responsibility of an evaluator of tion. During training program Program designer or team Primarily internal evaluators. is a judgment about the quality. be linked with the Performance Improvement. value. interviews observations. of course. 1996.is specific enough to help make revisions and improvements in the training program. mine the value. termination. 1997). Reaction questionnaires amount of information and require the minimum amount of should be designed to supply valid and reliable information time to complete. Figure 1 summarizes the and make constructive feedback about what they do rather basic differences between formative and summative evaluathan who they are. effectiveness. In Diagnostic for program modification. supported by internal evaluators in unique cases Convincing information decisionmaking for observations. Although these two distinctive roles call for difsent a comprehensive set of dimensions. or efficiency of a training program (Smith & Brandenburg.

such as the size and comfort of the room and the tests or other performance measures (Wart. manipulable materials. allowing for more precise information about a program's content and process. the course materials. laboratory manuals. Considerations include how well the training materials matched the real world of the trainee. and general comments. class handouts. technological materials. but ask more general questions about whether the training participants feel that they will be able to transfer what they have learned to the work environment and whether the organization is ready to support new skills. The selection of training objective(s)/content depends on the purposes of the training program and is largely a judgment procedure (Tracey. whether the content was organized into manageable amounts. 1993). participatory materials. However. & Cook. whether the 34 Performance Improvement. level of difficulty. while others might be detailed and require a considerable amount of time to complete. effectiveness of the instruotorls). and helpfulness. level. resources. 1989. trainers. instructional activities • Program time/length • Training environment • Planned action/transfer expectation • Logistics/administration • Overall evaluation • Recommendations for program improvement Program Objective(s)/Content. A performance objective is a detailed description of what trainees will be able to do when they complete a training program. manuals. discrepancies are bound to occur. (1995) suggest some guidelines for selecting dimensions of reaction evaluation. and delivery methods. Cayer. Keller. Phillips (1996) enumerates the most common dimensions of reaction evaluations as being program content. adaptability. and value (Hellebrandt & Russell. and the learner's belief as to the overall effectiveness of the event. duration. comprehensive dimensions for reaction evaluations can be summarized as follows: • Program objective(s)/content • Program materials • Delivery methods/technologies • Instructor/facilitator. In addition. techniques. and reaction evaluations can identify these weaknesses. The areas of feedback used on reactionnaires should be directly tied to the nature and scope of the training program and the purposes of the evaluation. various delivery methodologies. individualized instruction packages. training environment/facilities. Program designers select procedures. quality of the program materials. reactionnaires inquire about participants' reactions to and interest in the usefulness ofthe program content. communication medium. 1993. and any conflicts in concepts and terminologies used. Sample reaction questions for objective(s)/content dimensions are as follows: • Did the program content meet the stated objectives? • Were the program topics effectively sequenced? • Was the program content up to date? • Was the course content at an appropriate level of difficulty? • Was the course content practical? Program Materials. objectives. and recommendation for program improvement (Basarab & Root. Answers can verify the consistency of the materials with the program objectives. 1992). the trainer. 1993). 1996. or decisionmakers (Payne. Other areas incorporate logistical concerns. and relevance to the job or to intended changes. handouts. Typically. 1994). or approaches. 1993). facilities/accommodations. gaps in content. Robinson & Robinson. content. 1996). The most important concept associated with program content is that of a performance objective. The content of a training program should be identified with recognition of some significant variables. the appropriateness. Robinson and Robinson (1989) indicate that reaction evaluations should include some questions that are specific to the particular program being evaluated. the use of media. overall evaluation. trainee. program relevance to job/work area. Faerman & Ban. Forsyth et al. SEPTEMBER1999 . The results of material evaluation can be used to revise the training materials and to make the materials as effective as possible (Dick & Carey.information requirements of program designers. During the design and development stages of training program materials. or textbooks-performed for participants. 1992. instructor. Based on the results of an extensive literature review on reaction evaluations. ease of use. such as the quality of classroom environment. trainer. The reaction questions should consider how well training materials-tutorial guides. etc. Designing a training program starts with these factors. Instructional materials include published and unpublished print materials such as textbooks. methods. They also suggest that the reaction evaluation of a training program should not only focus on the program itself. quality of materials. Schouborg. helping to improve future programs. such as objectives. The purpose of evaluating the training materials is to determine their effectiveness. content. program value. developers should make every effort to avoid unnecessary duplication of content. administrative details. Some reaction forms might be very simple. There are areas to assess during a reaction evaluation. and timeliness of the content presented can be judged by the participants' reactions. program coordinator/facilitator. Program materials are the objects the trainer and instructor use in the training environment. and planned improvements. and methods that are relevant to the training objectives. program materials. efficiency. Sanderson (1995) advocates dimensions such as the participants' opinion of the precourse briefing.

explained concepts. laboratory. Sample questions for the evaluation dimension of delivery methods/technologies are as follows: • Were the audio learning aids helpful? • Were the presentation technologies used in class effective? • Were the visual aids helpful? InstructorlFacilitator. instructional staff variables can be one of the more important factors in attempts to account for variance in program outcomes and to distinguish a program's success. as well as each aspect of the total instructional activity. written assignments. 1994). and tutorials. simulation. and instructional constraints. 1999. programmed instruction. Evaluation questions revolve around the instructor's ability to interact with the learners and his or her ability to deliver the training content in a meaningful way. and technology-based instruction (Davies. training objectives. the training situation. The designer can choose from delivery methods such as lecture. ranging from listening to the instructor. 1995). materials. To be effective in using instructional activities to enhance job performance. 1992). 1992). and equipment selected for a training program (Tracey. 1981. tutorial. Various instructional activities can take place in a classroom. An instructional activity is a set of structured experiences designed to help trainees achieve one or more training objectives. cooperative learning group. Several of these standards can be assessed using reactionnaires. and helpful. Reaction evaluation of program materials should also include gathering data regarding the relevance of reading materials. the instructor/facilitator is one of the key components of an effective training program. Classroom instruction has two distinct attributes: the teaching of groups of trainees and the physical separation of the classroom from the workplace (Yelon. participant evaluation. To evaluate the appropriateness and helpfulness of instructional activities.sequence was from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. there are 60 standards covering preparation. discovery. After using delivery methods such as audio. role play.. drill and practice. Sample questions about the instructor/facilitator dimension for reaction evaluation are as follows: • Did the instructor present content clearly? • Was the instructor responsive to participants' questions? • Was the instructor well-prepared? Instructional Activities. and whether the training materials were presented in a way that was both interesting and stimulating (Forsyth. designers adhere to many instructional principles derived from learning and instructional theories (Yelon. 1992). problemsolving. Choices of delivery methods/technologies are based on selection criteria such as whether the delivery methods are appropriate for the trainee. Consideration should be given to whether the instructor encouraged active participation through the use of examples and illustrations. the evaluation might ask questions such as the following: • Were the course exercises relevant to the program objectives? Performance Improvement. to multimedia-mediated instruction. and constraints before selecting methods or technologies. objectives. They must identify trainee characteristics. gaining participation. Seels & Glasgow. Sample questions for program materials are as follows: • Were the materials consistent with the training objectives? • Were the program materials of high quality? • Was the level of difficulty of the materials appropriate? • Was the content of the handouts easy to understand? Delivery Methods/Technologies. Heinich et al. Performance standards for instructors are the backbone of instructor excellence. demonstration. 1992). particularly for the use of class time (Dick & Carey. and course evaluation. As a manager of the training situation. Training action begins with this person. In this sense. Reaction questions should also cover how the instructors interpreted and used the training materials and whether they presented materials in a way that was stimulating. & Stevens. Jolliffe. discussion. Determining whether the delivery methods will help trainees reach the stated objectives is an important issue in selecting appropriate delivery methods/technologies for different types of objectives (Dean. The instructors must possess the required technical and pedagogical knowledge. the evaluator can evaluate the appropriateness and helpfulness of the delivery methods in helping learners understand the content of a training program. or multimedia for a training program. platform skills. case study. Volume 38 • Number 8 35 . and enthusiastically answered questions (Forsyth. The designers of training programs strive to be effective in creating each element of classroom instruction. skills. game. 1990). Another important consideration is the degree of trainee involvement in the training activity. questioning techniques. 1996). 1995). to ensure content understanding and performance change. content and sequencing. & Stevens. The selection of instructional activities for a training program has significant implications for course management strategies. interesting. The instructional designer determines method/technology options to achieve the objectives of a training program. Based on the performance standards for instructors (Powers. to group-based activities. training aids. Jolliffe. and the quality of any performance tests or examinations. and attitude and be successful in using the strategies. self-instruction. Physical separation from the workplace distinguishes classroom instruction from on-the-job training. Group teaching distinguishes classroom instruction from individualized instruction. Developers should consider several factors in selecting delivery methods/technologies that will help trainees reach objectives. visual.

Sample questions regarding the planned action/transfer expectations dimension for reactionnaires are as follows: • Was the training content relevant to your job? • Do you expect the organization to support your use of the skills learned in this program? • What factors will encourage job transfer of the training content? • What factors will inhibit job transfer of the training content? Logistics/Administration. 1988). visibility-conducive to learning? • Did the arrangements-food. reaction evaluations can include questions about operations. it may be more likely that they will implement what they learn (Sanderson. An understanding of logistical and administrative support undergirds the effective team-building effort that is necessary in conducting successful programs. or car. These questions function as a type of administrative audit that assesses administrative aspects such as personnel practices. The logistics and administrative sides of program planning are important. the program evaluator could ask participants about their plans and expectations for applying the content of the program when they return to their jobs. acoustics. developers can use program time/length as an evaluation dimension. When evaluators are considering questions in this area. they need to ask specific questions regarding learning space. adequacy of the learning environment. accessibility. heating. computer lab. kinds of activities in which people are engaged. division of duties and responsibilities. and extracurricular activities associated with the program. and program procedures and policies (Miringoff. Peterson & Bickman. 1996). noise. planned action/expectation for job trans- 36 Performance Improvement. Using this dimension. the conditions. To find and remove the barriers for planned action and transfer of training content. 1980. To help the participants implement the results of the program on the job. measuring participants' perceptions regarding the likelihood of their being able to transfer training content to the work environment may be particularly important (Baldwin & Ford. facilitator or coordinator. Sample questions for this dimension of reaction evaluations are as follows: • Was the scheduling for this course efficiently administered? • Was the process of registration for this course easy? • Was the assistance with extracurricular activities helpful? Overall Evaluation. reaction evaluation should include questions on planned actions and anticipated organizational barriers. study facility-meet your needs? • Was there enough workspace for class activities? Planned Actionlfransfer Expectation. The place could be a classroom. 1995). room temperature. 1993. Environmental psychologists recognize the environment as a persistent and powerful influence on human learning and behavior. Time-on-task and the efficient use of time are important in planning a training session. The quality of large training programs depends on how well the objectives and content of the program are marketed. 1988). If participants have to report to their managers about their training experiences and their intended transfer actions. patterns of work. and how well the program is managed once underway. Sample questions for the training environment dimension are as follows: • Was the training environment appropriate for the learning? • Were the environmental conditions-comfort. arrangements. Sample questions for the program timellength dimension are as follows: • Was the amount of time in the program sufficient? • Was the length of the program appropriate for program objective(s)? • Was there enough time for practice of course content? Training Environment.• Were the group discussions helpful to participants in exchanging ideas with each other? • Was the homework helpful in understanding the course content? Program Time/Length. seating arrangements. the evaluators of a training program can assess the length of sessions and/or entire training program and use the results for schedule changes and considerations of overall program length. SEPTEMBER 1999 . living room. social and special events. and the location of the placers) where learning occurs (Tessmer & Harris. To improve future training programs. Questions related to this fact would focus on understanding and awareness of ergonomics as applied to the logistics and physical adequacy of the training environment (Faerman & Ban. office. travel arrangements. From this point of view. and special events such as registration procedures. 1992). Broad and Newstrom (1992) report that there is a positive relationship between favorable organizational climate and management support of training and the participants' ability to apply classroom learning to the work environment. and overall flexibility in terms of training event demands. lighting. To ensure quality programs for performance improvement. This dimension of reaction evaluation is used to measure the participants' overall reactions about the usefulness of the course content. McVey. sleeping accommodation. Positive transfer is highly contingent on factors in the trainee's work environment. Training participants' perceptions of classroom environments can have a significant influence on both cognitive and affective learning outcomes (Haertel & Walberg. effectiveness of the instructor. 1988). how well pretraining enrollments are executed. The facilities of the learning environment include the furnishings. Too little time or too much time can negatively affect training effectiveness.

evaluators must decide not only what Performance Improvement. & Janak. other trainees. (1996). When the Recommendations for To receive suggestions/recommendations for improving similar or future evaluator wants more sponProgram Improvement training programs taneous feedback about participants' attitudes toward Figure 2. This approach can produce very helpful information for program improvement and decisionmaking for future training. and timeliness of the program content To determine the effectiveness. and effectiveness of the trainer or facilitator in leading the program To evaluate the appropriateness and helpfulness of in. They are the results References of many factors. throughout the training program.A. including classroom. 331-342. some being transitory in American Society for Training and Development. such as training content and methods. Therefore. Volume 38 • Number 8 37 . efficiency. and other logistical and administrative matters Administration ment of the training program and provide an open forum To determine overall participant satisfaction and feelings about the training Overall Evaluation for the participants to share program their opinions. training location. 11\ Each participant's reactions. the training program. (1989). training (Patrick. 1996). "Kirkpatrick's levels of trainee's perceived success at achieving some of the goals of training criteria: Thirty years later. reaction evaluation can be a more useful and valuable tool in the evaluation of training programs and perConclusion formance improvement programs in general. Questions Transfer Expectation applying the content of the training program on the job in this dimension collect useful information for conTo evaluate the smoothness and effectiveness of the scheduling.and/or out-of-class activities To assess the length of session and/or entire training program for schedule change and considerations of program length To evaluate the adequacy of the physical training environment.M. preparation. dining room. and the Alliger. it is best to use a series of open-ended questions that allow the aspects of these reactions are of interest. At least program improvement are as follows: a portion of each evaluation should be specific to the program it is designed to evaluate (Robinson & Robinson. as specified in the participants to express their own thoughts without being purpose of reaction evaluation. 1992). level. ing more effective in meeting customer requirements. the training context. Sample questions for recommending one reaction evaluation for all its training programs. G. Dimensions of Reaction Evaluation. forced into a set of choices (Keller. but it takes longer to It is a common mistake for a training department to create summarize the results. and quality of materials for the training program.. nature." Personnel Psychology. lodging. ventions for improving human performance. but also when they should be assessed. recognized as "customer satisfaction. Logistics! tinuous quality improveregistration. 1989). and leisure facilities Recommendations for ProPlanned Action! To evaluate the participants' plans/expectations and anticipated barriers for gram Improvement. or feelings about a specific training program are complex. E. structure. including media/technologies To rate the ability. • What would you suggest to improve the training program? Reaction evaluation. and usefulness of written material and other aids To judge the appropriateness and effectiveness of delivery methods. Participant reactions may vary 42(2). With appropriate dimensions. The idea of selecting dimensions for the reaction evaluation of A total of 11 dimensions and their purposes are summarized training programs also can be applied to evaluate other interin Figure 2.fer. Sample questions of this dimension for reaction evaluation are as follows: • Was the overall instructional environment conducive to learning? • Was there enough time to cover the program content? • Did the training program meet your intended needs? • Would you recommend this training program to others? Dimension Program Objectives/ Content Program Materials Delivery Methods/ Technologies InstructorlFacilitator Instructional Activities Program Time/ Length Training Environment Purpose To evaluate the program objectives with participants' expectations and the appropriateness. attitudes." is being used in the best-practice companies to make train• Please make any comments for changes that would improve the program.

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