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.


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

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

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

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

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

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