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1.5.1 Current practices of evaluation

Instructional designers often try to work all four levels into their evaluation strategy for a programme. By progressing through each level, they can build a kind of ‘chain of evidence’ which can connect individual participant reactions with organisational performance. Having the right conditions for learning (level 1) enables the acquisition of new knowledge and skills (level 2). This lays the foundation for learning to be applied back in the workplace (level 3), which in turn should have an impact on organisational or business performance (level 4).

Although very basic (Holton, 1996), the Kirkpatrick model continues to form the basis of many decisions about evaluation. Other models have been developed more recently, and it is useful to view these as extensions or modifications of the classic Kirkpatrick approach. For instance, the CIPD recommends the ‘RAM’ approach (Bee and Bee, 2007), which focuses on the need for:

  • Relevance: how training provision will meet the actual needs of the organisation, both now and in the future.
  • Alignment: how training is linked to other key HRD activities, such as performance management and reward and employee engagement, and to other functional areas, such as finance and strategy.
  • Measurement: how training metrics can be linked to other performance metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Contemporary discussions also highlight the crucial importance of the human skills of insight and intuition in HRD (Sadler-Smith, 2008). If we can supplement the formal criteria of the Kirkpatrick model and its successors with ‘gut feel’ about what will or will not work, we can move towards a more holistic approach to evaluation. After all, theories about the way we think have evolved to incorporate both our rational and our instinctive capabilities. You may have heard of, perhaps even read, Daniel Kahneman’s best-seller Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahneman, 2011). It suggests that intuition may be fast; in other words, that it is not the result of systematic, logical evaluation, but it is a vital aspect of how we operate as human beings – a different kind of ‘expertise’. As Kahneman puts it:

[E]ach of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day. Most of us are pitch perfect in detecting anger in the first word of a telephone call, recognise as we enter a room that we were the subject of the conversation, and quickly react to subtle signs that the driver of the car in the next lane is dangerous.

(Kahneman, 2011, p. 11)

Kahneman’s words remind us that the skills of any activity of evaluation involve this kind of intuitive fast thinking, as well as the more systematic, slow kind.

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