Evaluation of training and other learning interventions (e.g., coaching, Web-based programs, mentoring, internships), when done well, enhances learning. The very act of asking questions about what someone knows or what they have applied reminds learners about the content and what they had intended to do with the content. A New York Times article by Benedict Carey that I cited in my recent blog post about learning styles, also addresses the value of causing the brain to re-examine content that had been learned but then forgotten. Carey writes:
No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.
“The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning,” said Dr. Kornell. “When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.”
That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.
This observation argues for follow-up evaluation. Evaluation is not only a way to judge the quality of the learning intervention; it is essential for retaining learning and being able to apply that learning when it is needed. If you want to get the most out of programs intended to improve leadership and management, the evidence suggests that you must follow-up with an assessment of learning and of the application of that learning.