Your Training Participants Are Probably Not Telling You the Truth

September 19, 2018

As training professionals, most of us will admit that when we scoop up a stack of evaluation forms, our eye goes first to one place: the questions where participants tell us how we did teaching the class.

This is just human. We all want to know if people liked us, if they thought we did a good job and if we accomplished our goals. But what if I said that much of the feedback you are getting isn’t true?

Now, don’t think that I am calling the people you train liars. Most of them probably are good and honest people. But are you asking them questions that they can answer accurately with their background? And is it comfortable for them to be totally open and honest in their responses?

If you are asking the typical questions we see on evaluation forms every day, the answer is no. Many questions are phrased from the perspective of the trainer, and ask the participant to make a direct judgment of the trainer’s performance. These trainer-centered questions pose two problems:

1. The participant is likely not qualified to answer the question

A question we see all the time is something like, “The instructor possesses good knowledge on this topic.”

The problem with this question is that presumably the participants do not know about this topic. So, how would they know if what the instructor taught is actually correct? It is someone else’s job to figure that out before the instructor is teaching the class.

2. The participant may not be comfortable providing an honest answer to the question

When we ask our training participants to directly rate the performance of the instructor, this creates anxiety for many people in most cultures. It is akin to walking up to someone and asking them, “Do you like me?” In most cases, you would probably just say yes, because you do not want to hurt the person’s feelings, and you certainly do not want to risk retribution.

We need to ensure that we are asking “learner-centered” questions that are phrased from the perspective of program participant, in words they understand, with responses that relate to their own feelings and experience.

For example, instead of asking the training participant to rate the knowledge of the instructor, you could ask the participant to rate their own learning experience in the class:

“I understand what I was taught today.”

This question doesn’t ask exactly the same thing as the first one, but it also provides valuable information about the instructor. If numerous program participants emerged from training without a good understanding of the content, there is a problem. From there, you can explore if the wrong people were sent to the class, the content was too advanced, the program design was not good, the instructor wasn’t clear, or some combination of these factors. Over time and through comments, you will find out the truth and be in a position to fix the problem.

With enough evaluation data, you will also clearly see if the problem is indeed the instructor.

For more information about learner-centered questions, click here.

Join the Discussion

Do you use trainer-centered language, or is your focus more learner-centered? What are the ways learner-centered questions made your evaluations more honest? Share your story. Here are some ways to join the conversation:

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Additional Resources

Kirkpatrick Four Levels® Evaluation Certification Program – Bronze Level

Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation

Kirkpatrick Foundational Principles

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