Precourse Expectations vs Post-course Feedback.

© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporationA common problem for many trainers is how to get valid and useful feedback from the trainees about the different elements of the course: objectives, speed of delivery, good points vs those that need to be improved, usefulness & relevance of the material taught, etc. Since this is an integral part of the training process and a way of assessing training & training providers, it is usually a part of the training & development policy of the organization. Since it is policy, it should be applied to everyone who receives training – without exception!

The traditional solution has been to give the trainees and “end-of-course” evaluation sheet immediately before closing the course. However, this has the disadvantage of being suscuptible to the “Halo vs Horns” effect: If the last activities have been light, fun, participative and entertaining, there is a tendency for the results to be skewed in favor of the trainer. This is known as the “Halo effect” and is is caused, in part, by the “Recency effect” – people tend to remember most clearly the most recent activity or input – which can cause doubts about the “face validity” of the results. If, on the other hand, the last activity has been a difficult test or some activity which might be considered, by the trainees, to be “heavy”, boring, etc., the opposite might occur: the “Horns effect” which is once again based on the “Recency effect” and often results in a greater number of negative evaluations.

Nowadays, there is a growing tendency to (try to) have on-line feedback from the trainees however, there appear to be many trainees who, for one reason or another, do not complete the on-line evaluations. In fact, some organizations and/or trainers have even gone to the extremes of try to bribe trainees to complete the assessments by offering different types of rewards or inducements. This is, to our way of thinking, totally incorrect and creates a bad precedent in that if feedback is part of the training policy, the trainees are obliged to comply with it like any other company policy.

In order to provide alternative solutions to the problem of obtaining useful trainee evaluation of content, applicability, relevance, etc, at the end of the course,  I would like to propose using one of the two following systems:

Initial steps: Alternative 1.
– Ask the trainees to individually write down on a sheet of paper 5-7 things that are important for THEM and that they want, or expect, to get from this training. Tell them that the course will be evaluated on the elements that they write down. The should limit themselves exclusively to the area of the training course. Give them 5 minutes to complete the task.

– Then, tell them to work with the person sitting beside them and standardize & unify their answers to ensure that there is no duplication. Give them another 5 minutes.

– Select each pair, but NOT in turn, to read out their comments and then you, the trainer, write them all on a flipchart. (We recommend starting with the most junior member of the group and work your way up to the more “powerful” people in the group.) You can also ask for a volunteer from the group to act as the scribe and write the results on the flipchart for you!  If there is something that is unrelated to the prepared course content or is otherwise inappropriate or unexpected, the trainer can tell the trainees that this area will not be covered during the course. On the other hand, if there is something that the trainees are interested in that CAN be easily fitted into the course, why not include it, if possible?

– Take each flipchart sheet and use “Blutak” or sellotape and stick them on the wall so that the students can see them. Tell the trainees that they may amend (delete, add or modify) these elements during the course. These are now the trainees course objectives and become the way that they will evaluate the course at the end of the training.

Initial steps: Alternative 2.
For this activity you will need one flipchart and pens (that write!) For every four or five trainees.

– Form groups of 4-5 trainees and assign each group to a flipchart. Do NOT name a group leader!

– Tell them that they have 15 minutes to write down on the flipchart the group’s expectations, needs and wants from this training session – these areas can include content, techniques, behaviour, etc., within the context of the training topic – and that you expect a minimum of 20 items per group. Also tell them that the results from this activity will form the basis for THEIR evaluation of the training.

– Ensure that each group stays “on task” and keep them informed about the time remaining.

– Once the time has expired, ask each group to choose a representative or representatives to present their work to the other participants. After each presentation, take the flipchart sheets and fix them on the wall so that the students can see them. Tell the trainees that they may amend (delete, add or modify) these elements during the course. These are now the trainees course objectives and become the way that they will evaluate the course at the end of the training.

Final steps: both alternatives:At the end of the course, the trainer should go through each of the elements indicated on the flipchart sheets and check that the trainees agree that each once has been covered appropriately during the course. The objective is to obtain feedback from the trainees about whether their expectations had been covered. This activity is normally perceived as having “face validity” by both the trainees an other trainers.

If desired, the trainer can then distribute a paper-based evaluation (after the previous step) which the trainees are required to complete. These are then placed in an envelope which is then sealed and sent to the sponsor – possibly via one of the attendees.

We have found over many years that these activities motivate the students because they become aware that their opinions & expectations count. Obviously, this creates interest and leads to buy-in. The first exercise is a “Primacy effect” activity – it isn’t feedback. It could, however, be defined as “feed-forward” in that is taking the learners into the future and not looking back at past activities.

Additional activities.

Pre course Email:
The trainer can also send out pre-course emails about 2-3 weeks before the course (when possible) to find out about the attendees experience, needs, wants and lacks. We use a maximum of 6 items so that it is fast and easy for them to complete. We tell them in the email that the reason for the email is to ensure that the course meets their expectations + Needs/Wants/Lacks, If they don’t respond, it is their problem, not yours so they can’t legitimately complain afterwards. Our policy, and that of our clients, is to ALWAYS send out a pre-course notification with a basic guide to course content and a list of learner-centered objectives: What they will be able to do after the course. If their concerns are different from those agreed with the sponsor (the person who pays) and listed in the email then something has gone wrong! Best to contact the sponsor immediately and sort it out. However, the world is not perfect so try to build in a certain agree of flexibility when possible.

Verbal feedback session (Based on Alternatives 1 / 2):
– The trainer could invite a training colleague or H.R. representative to join the group for a live feedback session where the trainees are asked to verbalize their feedback and the “guest” takes detailed notes about the feedback. We recommend that the course trainer(s) leave the room so that the trainees can give honest, confidential feedback.

Post-course report:
– In Brownlee & Associates we always prepare a post-course report for the client / Sponsor containing details of :
– Who actually attended the course (logistics: where, timetable, etc.)
– What was done & how (pedagogic details).
– Any special activity or occurrence, etc. (Problems, high-achievers, unexpected incidents, etc.)

We do NOT normally provide confidential individual reports on each student. However, if the sponsor requires this type of report we will comply with their request. In these cases, we usually give the trainee the same feedback in a face-to-face session so that they know, indirectly, what is going to be conveyed to their course sponsor.

This report is usually sent to the client as soon as possible after the course has finished (not later than five days).

I hope that the points covered in this article help you to obtain the desired feedback from your trainees in an interesting and elegant manner.

© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain. December, 2012.
Bilingual web page (English & Spanish)


About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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