Friday, 20 July 2012

Happy sheets

For years the Industrial Society (an independent charity until 2002, now the WorkFoundation, part of Lancaster University) used to conduct an annual survey of what was happening in training in the UK.  Every year they asked the question “what did you like most about the training?” and every year, without fail, the most popular answer was “the friendliness of the trainer”.  Not their competence, effectiveness or relevance – how friendly they were.
 Proust-like, I’ve been pondering what this means for years, and I’ve recently had a new thought about it.  I don’t know whether the Industrial Society asked what was the one thing people disliked most about training courses, but I think I know what the answer would be.  At least for those who attend courses frequently, it must surely be the dead ten minutes or so at the end of the day when the trainer passes out reaction sheets and asks people to fill them in.

Learners rarely see the results of these sheets, and truth be told organisations rarely make much use of their findings either.  Not really surprisingly, since most reaction sheets are poorly designed, with little thought for how they may be analysed and what will be done about the results.

Astonishingly, organisations continue to distribute these sheets regularly and routinely to everyone who takes a course.  How do I know this?  I have asked this question of six separate audiences recently, and almost everyone in each audience confessed to “regularly and routinely using reaction sheets”.  I wasn’t just following a hunch, check the footnotes on page 1 of the latest Airthrey paper, Making Evaluation a Priority.

I would go so far as to guess that immediate post-course reaction sheets are the most commonly completed surveys in the world.  And yet all to so little avail!

Here are some suggestions to vary your practice:

1. Put your reaction sheets online (many have already done this)
2. Even if they’re not online, don’t distribute them until a short time after the course (what’s so valuable about immediate reactions anyway?)
3. Consider breaking them into two sheets, one on issues about the quality of the learning and one on the hygiene factors (comfort, catering, etc)
4. Review your scales – are they biased? (in my experience, most are)
5. Review your questions – are they biased? (in my experience, most are)
6. Try using ballot boxes instead of survey sheets for the novelty factor
7. Consider who is responsible for reaction testing – is the trainer the right person? (probably not)
8. Think about what the sheets are for (quality testing? gauging learner satisfaction?), and only ask questions you think you may follow-up with action for change
9. Consider sampling: if you have an annual throughput of hundreds of learners on courses, a lot of your effort is wasted, when you could get as much useful information from a judicious sample
10. Consider getting rid of them altogether, which should prompt you to focus on the real value they provide

Any other suggestions?

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