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Miriam Boudreaux


Are Attendance Sheets Appropriate for Measuring Training Effectiveness?

Beware of sacrificing results for complacency

Published: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 - 09:52

You’ve heard about “measuring training effectiveness” but aren’t quite sure how to do it. You’ve been filling out training attendance sheets for as long as you can recall, and they have served the purpose. So why is training effectiveness all of the sudden a topic of discussion, and what exactly is required to demonstrate it?

Attendance sheets are the bare minimum

When it comes to assessing training effectiveness, training attendance sheets are the bare minimum. If you think about it, all they indicate is that a person attended the session on whatever topic was taught. But did he understand, comprehend, or even listen to the information? An attendance sheet attests that there was a warm body present during the training, but that’s about it. You have yet to determine if this person’s competency was enhanced by the training or if it improved his performance and really benefited his position and the organization.

Why have they been relied on for so long?

If you have solely relied on training attendance sheets to measure training effectiveness, you are not alone. They have long served as the line of least resistance in many organizations. Although this may be acceptable in some cases, it should definitely not be the norm or the standard.

Many organizations started using training attendance sheets when they began their journey toward improving quality. This tactic may have been good initially, but it was definitely not meant to be a long-term solution. Think about going from 0 to 60 mph: Wouldn’t you say it’s easier, and even necessary, to go from 0 to 30 mph first and then accelerate to 60 mph? That’s how an organization with no training program at all would reason. If it establishes a training class, that’s great, and so is the attendance sheet. They are magnificent improvements over nothing but never meant to be the end of the process.

So what’s behind the sudden interest in measuring training effectiveness? Is it because the new revision of ISO 9001 will require it? Or is it because auditors are getting asked to look for it? Well, yes and yes. To revisit the speed metaphor, many companies just never left the 30 mph speed and have used training attendance sheets as a measure of effectiveness ever since. However, whatever category you think your company falls under, you should definitely consider enhancing the way you measure training effectiveness because it will indeed help your organization improve as well as obtain more out of its current training program.

Are performance reviews acceptable training measurements?

Yes and no. To a certain extent, performance reviews measure training effectiveness because you can see if the employee’s performance meets the job requirements. But a performance review is a reliable training-assessment tool only if the training you provided was directly tied to enhancing the employee’s knowledge of her job. Moreover, because performance reviews are not always conducted right after training (in fact, sometimes months or years might elapse between the training and a performance review), then it is hard to tell whether a specific training class was effective in improving the employee’s performance.

But, you argue, if the performance has improved, then surely the training was effective regardless if it was conducted one month or one year ago. Not so fast. It could also be that the person learned by trial and error—i.e., after 12 months of mistakes, she has finally learned the process, and her performance is now acceptable. The problem is you might not have been aware of all those errors. They might have shown up as slow task completion, a higher rework rate, or a lower yield—none of which can be directly attributed to the specific employee. If your performance review process is robust, then you may catch this; otherwise, you might give this person high marks when in fact she was trained by accident.

Other ways to measure training

There other ways to measure training effectiveness besides attendance sheets and performance reviews. They range from simple to complex, but overall, they are much better than the options presented above.

For classroom or web-based training, evaluate after the training is completed. If you’re considering web-based training, pay special attention if your software can change questions for each user. In our web-based QMS learning module, we are able to create tests with multiple questions and show each user only a portion of them; thus, each test rotates the questions being shown.

For hands-on training, require a demonstration of skills gained after the training. Hands-on training is particularly good for manual tasks and even some computer tasks. You can build this into a web-based training so that an employee must test his skills in real time as he learns them.

Pre- and post-training evaluation. This is helpful for any training, and in my view is the optimum way to measure training effectiveness. You measure what the employee knew before the training and what she knows after it. Because this method gives you a before-and-after picture, you will not only be measuring how much the employee learned but also just how good the training materials or the instructor were. This method works for both hands-on and classroom- or web-based training.

Training certificate for off-site or outsourced training. Of course, if the organization providing the training doesn’t measure training effectiveness, then a training certificate amounts to an overrated training attendance sheet. Whether there were warm bodies or zombies, everyone gets the same certificate. So this metric must take into consideration the quality of the training supplier.


What method of training effectiveness should you use?

Your choice depends on your organization’s processes and what best suits your company to ensure that employees retain the topics being taught. However, I urge you to pick from the enhanced methods discussed here and give training attendance sheets and performance reviews a supporting role. It’s important not to sacrifice results for complacency. You must be convinced—and have the metrics to back you up—that you are providing not only great training but also measuring how good it was. That way, both the company and its employees can improve. So don’t be shy: just pull out your evaluation test and remind everyone that it is a measurement of effectiveness that will help your company reach its goal of world-class status.


About The Author

Miriam Boudreaux’s picture

Miriam Boudreaux

Miriam Boudreaux is the CEO and founder of Mireaux Management Solutions, a technology and consulting firm headquartered in Houston, Texas. Mireaux’s products and services encompass international standards ISO and API consulting, training, auditing, document control and implementation of Web QMS software platform. Mireaux’s 6,500 square foot headquarters, located in the northwest area of Houston, houses their main offices as well as their state-of-the art training center. Mireaux itself is certified to ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 27001:2013. To get in touch with Miriam Boudreaux, please contact her at info@mireauxms.com.


Webinar attendance

For the purpose of documenting the fact that I actually sat through an online Webinar (e.g. for ASQ certification purposes), I photocopy the first page of my handwritten notes onto a printout of the event title and the agenda. This way there can be no question as to whether, for example, I just printed out the event description and then did something else entirely. "If it isn't written down, it didn't happen."

The training itself is only a small factor in its effectiveness

True, attendance sheets have nothing to do with effectiveness.  Evaluations often measure something other than effectiveness, mainly how enjoyable the class experience was.  Pre- and post-tests generally are more about finding questions participants cannot answer until they have taken the class, rather than effectiveness from learning those answers.

The biggest factor affecting training effectiveness has nothing to do with the training itself.  The ability of a training participant to apply training lessons is largely determined/limited by the work environment to which the participant returns, especially the knowledge and attitudes of the training participant's managers and to a lesser extent of co-workers.  Since the managers seldom attend the training, they are highly unlikely to know or understand most of the training's lessons; and therefore they often albeit unconsciously prevent the participant from applying the training lessons.  Adults quickly forget training lessons they are not able to apply within a day or two of the training.

If an organization truly wants to get value for its training dollars, make sure the managers and co-workers get the training too at the same time; and hold the managers accountable for making sure the training lessons are applied immediately upon completion of the training. 

Author of the recent Artech House book: Discovering REAL Business Requirements for Software Project Success