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April 13, 2004 - How to Design Better Training Evaluation Forms

One of training and development's dirty little secrets that no one seems to want to talk about is how instructors and programs are evaluated. For some reason, it's a subject that gets brushed aside as being unimportant. Our position is that evaluations are extremely important to your training operations, and how you construct them is critical.

Before we get into the construction, please keep in mind that the effectiveness of evaluations also lies in the hands of the students. They are rarely thoughtful when filling them out, and few students use the open-ended question section to express their opinions of the course or instructor. Instead, they use the 1-5 section to indicate their opinion and leave the rest of the form blank. Obviously, this behavior only makes your job more difficult. So, in addition to designing better evaluation forms, we must focus part of our efforts on encouraging students to answer questions thoughtfully. Instructors and the companies for whom they work read these comments very carefully and take every comment into account.

In most cases, generic evaluation forms are used. We propose steering away from this practice. We suggest either asking the vendor to write the evaluation form and have it authorized by the training officer or use a collaborative approach. In either case, the evaluation should be focused on the specific topic being taught, with questions about the results derived from skills that were emphasized in the course objectives.

When the evaluation form is handed out to students, the instructor and/or the training coordinator should give a short talk about why complete, thoughtful evaluations are necessary and how everyone should do their best to answer every question. When students are told why and how, it's amazing how much better the results are.

Another good way to improve evaluations is to put the open-ended questions (not "yes" or "no" questions) at the beginning of the form. Leave the 1-5 section until the end. This increases the possibility that the questions will be answered honestly and thoughtfully.

It's a reality that with most soft-skills trainings, it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of the teaching (and consequently the learning) with a post-class evaluation. But since many organizations prefer this "Level 1" approach, we need to make the best of it. So, your evaluation forms should allow for the students to say what they will do with the skills on the job. If you can get some decent responses to what they see themselves gaining from the skills, then it will be easier to check up on their progress later. And, it will tell you whether the training is being done for the right reasons. Knowing this will help you make smarter purchasing decisions down the road.

If you have the luxury of time and effort on your side, designing "Level 2" evaluations is helpful. These are evaluations given to students at a set point in time after the course is completed, usually 90 days hence. Again, design these evaluations with a focus on progress; what specifically the training helped them do better and the degree to which they have seen improvement. It's not an exact science, but using a Level 2 evaluation will increase your understanding of a program's effectiveness.

Lastly, instead of merely mailing the vendor copies of the completed evaluations, schedule a short meeting with them to review the results. This will help the instructor fine-tune the course objectives for future sessions, and it will improve your personal relationships with the people whose job it is to not only make your employees more effective, but to make you look good in the process.

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