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Posted by on Aug 4, 2014

Levels, levels everywhere and not an ounce of clarity anywhere!

DonkeyKongAbout once or twice a year, I find myself sitting in a meeting with clients and colleagues, and I suddenly realize that confusion has ensued without people realizing it. I specifically remember one meeting where, despite that fact that we were all training and learning experts in our own right — we began to talk past each other.
The discussion was on “levels.”  A few of us had confused looks on our faces. The discussion continued as each person tried to explain and re-explain the points they were trying to make.

After several painful minutes, I realized that the confusion was due to a communication problem. One person was talking about Blooms Levels, but instead of saying Blooms Level she simply said Level. Another person heard Level and assumed that she meant Certification Level. Someone else heard Evaluation Level. And confusion ensued.

Now, that I’ve learned the lesson of Level Confusion, I know to keep an eye out for it. I can more quickly recognize when it happens. I even try to head it off by using the specific term that I mean. Sometimes, I ask someone to clarify what they meant when they use Level.

What are all these Levels? Let’s take a quick look at what the most common Levels are in the training and learning field. Of course, many other Levels exist.

Blooms Levels refer to levels within Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. Typically, when people refer to it, they are talking about different objectives that a training course could have. The levels begin with Knowledge and then build on each other:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

For example, there are many ways to train employees to communicate better. The training could teach them to memorize different theories of communication or facts about effective communication (Knowledge). After teaching them basic knowledge, they could be taught to compare and contrast different communication theories (Comprehension).

Next, the training could ask employees to solve a problem by applying one of the communication techniques in a role play (Application). It could have them identify different ways of effectively communicating in a new situation (Analysis) or require them to compile different elements of communication theories to come up with alternative ways of approaching a conversation (Synthesis). Finally, they could observe other students in a role play and judge their effectiveness at using communication techniques (Evaluation).

Many agencies and fields have Certification Levels, which indicate that an individual can competently perform a job. A certification is typically attained by passing a certification exam (such as a Project Management Professional certification) or taking and passing a series of classes (such as the Federal Acquisition Certification for Contracting, or FAC-C). In some cases, experience and education requirements also must be met.

Different certification levels represent increasing degrees of competence within the field or area. For example, both FAC-C and the newly refreshed FAC-C® has three levels—Levels I, II, and III—each of which requires progressively more years of experience doing contracting work as well as more training.

Evaluation Levels refer to levels in a training evaluation model, such as the Kirkpatrick® Model or the Phillips Model. There are many different ways to determine whether a training event was effective. The Levels describe different ways to evaluate training and include:

  • Level 1 is the students’ reaction to the training.
    Did the instructor engage students during the class so that students were able to learn communication techniques? Did the course materials help students learn tips for effectively communicating?
  • Level 2 is learning.
    Did students learn the principles of effective communication? Were they able to recite the principles of effective communication? Did they demonstrate the principles in a role play?
  • Level 3 is application.
    Although students may have done a great job in the role play, we want to know if they used the communication principles to do their job better. We can check back with students a few weeks after the class to ask them students if they used the principles. We could ask their supervisor, or we could even observe them on the job to see if they are using them.
  • Level 4 is impact.
    Presumably, the students were sent to training because they needed to become better communicators to help the agency better achieve its mission. Perhaps the agency has inspectors that interact with business owners or call center representatives who field calls from the public. Metrics can be created and tracked to determine whether the communication training led to fewer complaints by business owners or fewer repeat calls to the call center to answer the same question.

The next time you are in a meeting and someone says, “I think we need a higher level,” stop for a moment and think about what Level they might be referring to. You might need to ask a clarifying question, such as “Did you mean that the training should cover a higher Blooms level, employees need to reach a higher certification level, or we should conduct a higher level of training evaluation?”

Even if you are not a training and learning professional, you may find yourself in a discussion one day about how your employees could develop. If you are, be sure to keep an ear out for miscommunication! And let me know if there are other Levels out there that cause confusion!

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