Training Tips for Ship #13: How's Your Training? You Can't Know Unless You Ask!
We have all heard it a thousand times: “If you do not measure it, you cannot manage it”. This is especially true with training because the inputs (the training provided) are often far removed in time and apparent direct causality from the key output (performance). Therefore, it is important that we measure everywhere we can. One universal form of measurement is the requirement for exams at the end of the course. But why stop there when there is much more to easily be learned, and where those learnings can benefit the quality of the training experiences and outcomes greatly?
It turns out that if we want valuable additional information on how well our training is working and how to improve it, all we need to do is to ask. The insights are there for the taking – we just need to know how to ask for them.
The idea of asking trainees for feedback is neither new nor unknown; every trainer is familiar with the idea of asking trainees to provide assessments at the end of a course. Sadly, however, we don’t often ask trainees the right questions. And when we do, we almost never ask the right way nor employ the results to their greatest effect.
What to Ask Your Trainees
My first encounter with gathering student feedback was when I worked as a university lecturer teaching Computer Science. End of term evaluations were a departmental requirement. I soon discovered, however, that if I provided my own evaluations, I could ask more useful questions, and could do so part way through the term when the results would still be actionable for the students who submitted them.
Thus, the first and most important recommendation is about *what* to ask. The key here is to make the questions you ask actionable. For every question we present on an evaluation, we need to be sure there is an obvious course of action to take if the responses to that question indicate a problem. Most evaluations ask questions such as “Is the material presented at the correct level of difficulty”, or “Was the pace of the lecture appropriate”. Responses to these are not easily actionable. Instead, ask specific questions about specific parts of the course. For example, ask the trainees to identify the topic in the course they found the most confusing. Ask them to indicate which topics required more illustrative examples. Ask trainees to identify what they felt to be the most beneficial and the least beneficial aspects of the course (lectures, office hours, assignments, etc). Never ask a question unless it will produce a clearly actionable result if the responses identify a problem.
When to Ask Your Trainees:
It is excellent practice to distribute evaluations at least twice in the course. Once roughly one-third of the way through, and once at the end. This provides incentive to your students to answer thoughtfully because they know that their responses might make their lives better – not just the lives of the next cohort to come through.
Additionally, this provides the opportunity to make a change in response to the first evaluation, and then ask the same cohort at the end of the course whether that change produced a positive effect. This is the core of effective continuous improvement.
How to Ask Your Trainees
Too often, evaluations are done on paper and then provided to the trainer and administration as a pile of papers. This leaves so much of the valuable data untapped. Instead, collect trainee evaluation responses electronically so that meaningful reports can be generated over time to show not only performance, but trends in performance. Even if you have no mechanism to run reports now, collecting the data electronically now will enable such analysis in the future.
Other Forms of Feedback!
Student evaluations as described above are tremendously useful. However, there is much more we can do, easily and to great effect. Watch for this and more in the next edition of Training Tips for Ships!
Until then, sail safely and keep healthy!