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.


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

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

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

it may be more likely that they will implement what they learn (Sanderson. 1993. and overall flexibility in terms of training event demands. The place could be a classroom. effectiveness of the instructor. 1995). Peterson & Bickman. and special events such as registration procedures. 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. arrangements. To improve future training programs. seating arrangements. or car. patterns of work. Training participants' perceptions of classroom environments can have a significant influence on both cognitive and affective learning outcomes (Haertel & Walberg. Positive transfer is highly contingent on factors in the trainee's work environment. and the location of the placers) where learning occurs (Tessmer & Harris. From this point of view. 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. the program evaluator could ask participants about their plans and expectations for applying the content of the program when they return to their jobs. living room. 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. Sample questions for the training environment dimension are as follows: • Was the training environment appropriate for the learning? • Were the environmental conditions-comfort. accessibility. and extracurricular activities associated with the program. 1992). facilitator or coordinator. sleeping accommodation. division of duties and responsibilities. Too little time or too much time can negatively affect training effectiveness. The logistics and administrative sides of program planning are important. The quality of large training programs depends on how well the objectives and content of the program are marketed. reaction evaluations can include questions about operations. To find and remove the barriers for planned action and transfer of training content. An understanding of logistical and administrative support undergirds the effective team-building effort that is necessary in conducting successful programs. 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. lighting. kinds of activities in which people are engaged. reaction evaluation should include questions on planned actions and anticipated organizational barriers. This dimension of reaction evaluation is used to measure the participants' overall reactions about the usefulness of the course content. Time-on-task and the efficient use of time are important in planning a training session. travel arrangements. social and special events. Environmental psychologists recognize the environment as a persistent and powerful influence on human learning and behavior. how well pretraining enrollments are executed. acoustics. 1988). The facilities of the learning environment include the furnishings. 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. If participants have to report to their managers about their training experiences and their intended transfer actions. visibility-conducive to learning? • Did the arrangements-food. 1988). office. These questions function as a type of administrative audit that assesses administrative aspects such as personnel practices. 1980. the conditions. computer lab. 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. heating. and program procedures and policies (Miringoff. adequacy of the learning environment. SEPTEMBER 1999 . noise. 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. McVey. and how well the program is managed once underway. planned action/expectation for job trans- 36 Performance Improvement. 1996). 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.• 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. Using this dimension. room temperature. To ensure quality programs for performance improvement. 1988). study facility-meet your needs? • Was there enough workspace for class activities? Planned Actionlfransfer Expectation.

. and effectiveness of the trainer or facilitator in leading the program To evaluate the appropriateness and helpfulness of in. and usefulness of written material and other aids To judge the appropriateness and effectiveness of delivery methods. 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. some being transitory in American Society for Training and Development. 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.A. and timeliness of the program content To determine the effectiveness. the training context. recognized as "customer satisfaction. reaction evaluation can be a more useful and valuable tool in the evaluation of training programs and perConclusion formance improvement programs in general. E. This approach can produce very helpful information for program improvement and decisionmaking for future training. or feelings about a specific training program are complex. (1996). and leisure facilities Recommendations for ProPlanned Action! To evaluate the participants' plans/expectations and anticipated barriers for gram Improvement. dining room. "Kirkpatrick's levels of trainee's perceived success at achieving some of the goals of training criteria: Thirty years later. Participant reactions may vary 42(2). but it takes longer to It is a common mistake for a training department to create summarize the results. 331-342. They are the results References of many factors. forced into a set of choices (Keller. 1989). ventions for improving human performance. such as training content and methods. level.M. Logistics! tinuous quality improveregistration.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. the training program. throughout the training program. 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 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. ing more effective in meeting customer requirements. structure. Volume 38 • Number 8 37 . & Janak." is being used in the best-practice companies to make train• Please make any comments for changes that would improve the program. it is best to use a series of open-ended questions that allow the aspects of these reactions are of interest. but also when they should be assessed. including classroom. (1989). including media/technologies To rate the ability. 11\ Each participant's reactions. G.fer. Dimensions of Reaction Evaluation. With appropriate dimensions. training location. • What would you suggest to improve the training program? Reaction evaluation. and the Alliger. preparation." Personnel Psychology. 1992). and quality of materials for the training program. as specified in the participants to express their own thoughts without being purpose of reaction evaluation. lodging. Sample questions for recommending one reaction evaluation for all its training programs. Therefore. evaluators must decide not only what Performance Improvement. training (Patrick. efficiency. 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. nature. attitudes. 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. other trainees. 1996).

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IN 47408. Amherst. 27-30.R (1987). Worthen. Room 101. New York: Longman.L.V. His research focuses on the fields of performance analysis.).. Smith Research Center. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Instructional Systems Technology and Director of Education and Training Resources at Indiana University He teaches courses and conducts research in the areas of performance technology. Z. the International Society for Development.R. computer-based several topics in professional Educational Performance Communications Improvement. and the business impact of training and development. Tessmer. (1991). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. D.e. (1990). (812) 855-8545. (1992). Bloomington. 383-411. Oxford: Blackwell. Robinson. PhD. (1995). & Ryan. Yelon. Schouborg. M. & Sanders.R (1990). (1993)..). RA. 4(2). B. Handbook of human performance technology: A comprehensive guide for analyzing and solving performance problems in organizations. 42-47.I§. Sanders. S. for and and theory of instructional and performance technology. & Brandenburg.lspl..L.E. "Who is evaluating training?" Journal of European Industrial Training. He may be reached at the Office of Education and Training Resources. & Glasgow.R. (1989). J.R. & Robinson. W. Sanderson. G. Seels.D. D. M.). email suhlee@indiana. & Harris. Worthen. D. New York: AMACOM.edu. Bloomington. Wright Education Building #2230. He may be reached at Wendell W. (1997). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Pershing. New York: Longman. training evaluation. Houston.org Performance Improvement. He holds a PhD in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University. 201 North Rose Avenue. Volume 38 • Number 8 39 • . Educational evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines. B." Performance Improvement Quarterly. J.).. MA: HRD. Tracey. or fax: James A. G. B. or fax: (812) 339-8792.D.pn? • Check Out the ISPI Bulletin Boards at WWW.). 18(5). 2805 EastTenth Street. "Objectives and evaluation. N." In H. S. (1992). (1994). Exercises in instructional design. the Worthen. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (1993). IN 47405-1006. 113-14. Handbook of training and development (znd ed. "Classroom instruction. 35-58..J. New York: Pergamon. and the International Federation of Training and Development Organisations over the last three years. "Summative evaluation.G.J. Flex: A flexible tool for continuously improving your evaluation of training effectiveness. Keeps (Eds. The international encyclopedia of educational evaluation. London: Kogan Page. training evaluation. "Program evaluation. Truelove (Ed. Handbook of training and development for the public sector: A comprehensive resource. Designing training and development systems (3rd ed. Pershing was selected to replace Martha Dean as the new editor of Performance Improvement." In H. Analyzing the instructional setting: Environmental analysis.. associations the American instruction/training.surement methods: Proven models and methods for evaluating any HRD program (3rd ed. & Cook. Plant. J. J. He has presented such as the Association Society for Training & Technology.). (1992). Wart. B. is a Research Associate with Education and Training Resources at Indiana University. B.R (1992). email: pershin@indianaedu. & Fitzpatrick. Powers.e. Instructor excellence: Mastering delivery of training. TX: Gulf. J. Cayer.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Smith. Training for impact: How to link training to business needs and measure the results.. Haertel (Eds. Columbus." In S. PhD. Got a Performance Qu. Stolovitch & E. Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines (2nd ed. M. OH: Merrill. RJ. This article was accepted for publication before James A. Walberg & G. Sung Heum Lee. needs analysis.

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