Let’s be honest. People often sing the praises of training. But when times get tough, the training budget is usually the first to be slashed.

Why? Because although training may receive nice ”smile sheet” feedback, it often provides little if any measurable return on investment. It doesn’t stick.

ATD, the world’s leading group of workplace learning and performance professionals, says employers are spending record amounts on training. Yet Quality magazine reports that less than 30% of all training is being used on the job a month later

Wouldn’t you like for your people to receive training that’s more than just good edu-tainment? Wouldn’t you like to have a way to ensure that training makes a quantifiable contribution to the success of your enterprise?

You can get great results by following a simple model called the 4Es for Change.

My colleagues and I have conducted countless training events over the past four decades. We appreciate the high marks we get up for presentation. But we’re mostly interested in impact. We want to make a difference, and we want to help our clients make a difference in their own organizations.

Many years ago we organized a five-day retreat for senior executives. The retreat focused on many contemporary leadership ideas. Much of the content was presented by the original thought leaders. To our horror, we discovered that only a week after the retreat most of the participants had retained very little of the training. They knew more about the wine list at the hotel where we stayed than they knew about the principles and practices that had been presented. Return on training investment was virtually zero.

The good news is that the experience spawned a better way. My colleague Dr. Brent D Peterson, former head of research for a worldwide training organization, carefully study the impact of more than 3,000 training courses. From that study has come what we now call the 4E Learning Model. We’ve since used it hundreds of times to ensure strong ROI for training.

Here are the basics:

Our research shows that only about 25% of real learning transfer occurs in the classroom. In other words, no matter how entertaining and engaging the workshop or retreat may be, only about a quarter of the benefit comes from that part of the training/learning process.

Unfortunately, 100% of the focus of most instructional designers is on the classroom experience. The same can be said for most trainers and training directors, as well as the senior executives who sponsor training.

We’ve discovered that the impact of a learning or change intervention is determined by all four stages of the 4E Learning Model:

  • the Excite Stage contributes 25% of the total learning impact
  • the Experience Stage contributes 25% to the total learning impact
  • the Execute Stage contributes 50% to the total learning impact
  • the Evaluation Stage contributes and all of the first three stages

In practical terms, here’s how we’ve used the 4E Model.

In the Excite Stage, which is prior to anyone setting foot in a classroom, we have participants do some pre-work. This often includes taking a simple online self-assessment to provide some base data on their current behaviors and practices. This helps introduce some of the language patterns that will be used in the training. We also ask them to read a couple of chapters from a book, or read an article or white paper related to the workshop content. These are simple but all-important tasks. If participants fail to complete them, they’ve already squandered 25% of the learning impact.

The Experience Stage is the workshop or retreat itself. No matter how engaging this stage may be, it typically provides no more than about 25% of the measurable learning impact. It’s of course an absolutely necessary and very visible part of the process, but it’s by far not the only part.

The Execute Stage is what happens after the workshop or retreat. This is when people are asked to use the principles and skills they learned in the previous two stages. They’re asked to put their learning into the real world practice. They’re asked to hold themselves and each other accountable for “new” behaviors that produce consistently better results.

The Evaluate Stage is less linear then constant. Evaluation should be done continuously. This can include before-and-after culture assessment to determine the impact of certain behaviors and practices, and it can include 360-degree feedback assessments to help hold individuals accountable for personal improvement.

Without strategic design and delivery, training programs can waste time, budget, and human energy. Even with positive feedback (the typical ”smile sheets” that often address the little more than the facilitator’s presentation style), training can be a silent killer of morale and productivity.

To help ensure that training makes a quantifiable contribution to your organization’s vitality, have your training personnel use the 4E Learning Model.

This column by Dr. Duncan was also published by Forbes where he is a regular contributor. Follow on Twitter @DoctorDuncan

Rodger Dean Duncan