Most would simply define learning as the acquisition of knowledge. While that may be technically accurate, in my experience true learning is something that changes behavior. My father used to say that “people change, but not very much.” So the question is: how do we facilitate more positive behavior change in the workplace?

You may take a class on how to use a spreadsheet to track income and expenditures, but it’s not true learning unless you actually track your income and expenditures in a spreadsheet. You may understand how the American Electoral College works, but you haven’t truly learned how it works until you explain the importance of voting to someone else. Likewise, in corporate training, you may take a class on the importance of correct ergonomics in your desk setup but you didn’t truly learn anything unless you configure your desk so that it is ergonomically correct. True learning can only be quantified – and that can only be done if behavior changes.gps

Measuring learning is not always easy, but is almost always necessary. Often in professional learning and development we refer to Donald Kirkpatrick’s levels of training evaluation (Kirkpatrick and Partners, n.d.) – levels one through four. Over the years support for Kirkpatrick’s model of evaluation has waxed and waned, but it’s still one of the most robust models available.

  • Level one refers to training participants impressions of the training (for example it asks questions like “how was the training?” and “Did you like the room?” and “Was the instructor knowledgeable?” for instructor-led training or “how easy was it to navigate?” for eLearning). This isn’t a measure of behavior change. I’ve encountered some who insert questions like “how much will this training improve your job performance.” I’m skeptical that predictive self-evaluation is something that should inform actual behavior change judgments because the most reliable way to predict future behavior is to look at past behavior (Franklin, 2013).
  • Level two is a participant’s score on some sort of training test or quiz – it could be multiple guess or even some sort of application-based assessment, but usually takes place right after training. Level two evaluates knowledge and answers the question “did the participant memorize what we wanted her to learn?” But it doesn’t measure behavior. For that, one must look beyond simple assessments. Level two assessments are more effectively used as a tool to reinforce what has been learned, which requires prompts, coaching, and flexibility thus eliminating any objective statistics.
  • Level three is where, I argue, the most value comes from evaluation and training assessment because it measures behavior change. For example, let’s say an insurance company is struggling because its entry-level claim adjustors continue to miss state department of insurance (often referred to as “DOI”) deadlines for communicating to their customers who are involved in an accident. The training department does some analysis and finds that adjustors miss the deadlines because they’re not aware of two thing: 1) the deadline itself and 2) the negative implication missing those deadlines has for the company and the customer. To overcome this problem, the training team designs a three-minute video that illustrates both points. In the background, they measure the adherence of that particular DOI rule after the video is pushed to the adjustors. The comparison of how well adjustors adhere to the rule after the training to compliance rates before the video is Kirkpatrick’s third level of evaluation – behavior.
  • Level four measures impact to the business, based on potential behavior changes (level 3), and is useful when determining the worth of training – was it worth the effort in time, money, and labor. Ultimately, if one can prove positive level four results, it’s clear that the training was a success.

Using Kirckpatrick’s model, it’s clear that training which only addresses knowledge issues is likely a waste of time. But that is how most training is developed. The table below lists corresponding good and bad examples of how a training approach can either impact behavior or only address the basic knowledge level.

Modality Typical (bad) example Atypical (better) option
Asynchronous eLearning The situation: Pager-turner compliance training about information security awareness.


Why it’s a problem: It’s boring and except for those who are looking for ways to avoid actual work, they’re not going to learn anything or change their behavior.

The situation: A short email to employees with a brief warning that the IT department is going to send faux malicious email to see who falls for the trap, and then follow-up with those individuals.


Why it’s a benefit: other than being just another email to deal with, this solution saves time and cognitive energy while accomplishing the same goal – making sure people employ tactics to avoid malicious software being installed on their computers. It is an instant application of skills and knowledge. It includes information but quickly evaluates behavior change and reinforces appropriate behavior by leaving those employees alone who don’t fall for the fake malicious email but also coaches those who do.

Synchronous learning The situation: Subject matter expert speaking to a power point about a new troubleshooting application for a customer service team


Why it’s a problem: Nobody learns this way. Nobody. Participants will retain very little of what is explained, especially if they don’t proactively try to apply it right away. And there is no way to observe behavior change until participants are back on the job.

The situation: Instructor scaffolds context and understanding with contextual explanations, asks for audience input on why learning this new application is important, primes learners by listing steps to resolving a common problem, demonstrates how it’s done, and then allows time for participants to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom while the instructor answers questions and coaches with helpful feedback.


Why it’s a benefit: This is how people learn. They need to know why it’s important, understand the context, and get a chance to apply what they’ve learned with a coach nearby to help answer questions.