Exploring the Brinkerhoff Method for Effective Learning Evaluation

While some learning programs are resounding successes and others are total flops, they usually fall somewhere in the middle.

Regardless of your overall training program's success, there will always be a few outliers: those learners who performed or scored exceptionally well and those for whom the program did not work.

And that's where Brinkerhoff comes into play. Let's explore this method, how it compares to other learning evaluation models, and how you can apply it in your own organization.

What is Brinkerhoff's Success Case Method?

Created by Robert Brinkerhoff, the Success Case Method identifies the most and least successful cases within your learning program and studies them in detail.

By comparing the successes to the failures, you learn what to change to ensure successful future endeavors. Based on what you learn, you can also write and publicize success stories to show the value of your program.

Furthermore, this method isn't restricted to learning. You can use it to analyze any significant business change—such as a new equipment purchase or a new process implementation.

Kirkpatrick's evaluation model is typically implemented following quantitative research methods. Survey and assessment data are captured, aggregated numerically, and evaluated.

By contrast, Brinkerhoff's SCM focuses on qualitative analysis—crafting stories from discussions with a small number (i.e. about two to six) of affected parties.

It's based on the assumption that any initiative, no matter how successful or unsuccessful, will always include some success and some failure.

It also seeks to uncover an initiative's most impactful achievements and failures and then tell the stories behind them, backed by evidence. Your organization can use these stories to identify how to be more successful in the future.

How do I evaluate learning with the Success Case Method?

Part 1: Identify Cases

The first stage of the Success Case Method identifies an initiative's success and failure. The beginning of this step is gathering the kind of quantitative data and surveys you might collect as part of a Kirkpatrick-style evaluation model.

Data is collected to illustrate how well an initiative's business goal has been met across an organization. This data is used to find the outliers—cases where the initiative has been particularly successful or unsuccessful—to study them in more detail.

For this reason, you can use the Success Case Method alongside, rather than in place of, a Kirkpatrick-style evaluation model.

We're advocates of both quantitative and qualitative research to support decision-making. Ongoing quantitative analysis of big data provides up-to-the-minute indicators of your initiative's success and learning and performance related trends within your organization.

Qualitative analysis lets you dig into these results and explore their potential causes. You may have heard the saying, "Correlation does not imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there.'"

And the kind of qualitative analysis suggested by the Success Case Method helps you "look over there."

Source: xkcd.com

Part 2: Investigate Further

The second stage of the Success Case Method involves interviewing people involved in these cases (i.e., the most and least successful stories). These interviews first seek to establish if there's sufficient evidence to verify each story.

Once verified, the interviewer will gather additional details and facts to produce a small number of comprehensive, evidence-based stories. There will be many more interviews than actual success cases in most instances.

However, the stories should cover all four of Kirkpatrick's levels of evaluation with evidence at each level to show the progression from the learning experience to learning and job application to business impact. These stories are then shared with the organization to applaud success and apply lessons learned to help improve and ensure the success of future initiatives.

To Brinkerhoff or not to Brinkerhoff?

Remember, Brinkerhoff's Success Case Model is not designed to help judge the overall success of an initiative. Rather, it's to help you learn from the most and least successful cases.

We're not sure if Brinkerhoff would agree, but we recommend using his method alongside other learning evaluation methods to paint a complete picture. However, the Success Case Model will help you dig deeper, learn lessons, and shout about successes when it comes to particularly important or innovative programs.

Up Next: Anderson's Value of Learning Model

We discuss Anderson's three-stage learning evaluation cycle that's meant to be applied at the organization level rather than for specific learning interventions.

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