How To Evaluate A Training Session - Online or Off

 How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Training

Training of any type - good or bad - is expensive, time consuming and demanding. So it is essential to be sure that the results are worth the effort. Most of the formal evaluation will take place, after the training event is over when you will be able to see the results of the training in use back in the workplace. Although this post-training evaluation is vital and will help to ensure that you get an appropriate return on your investment in training, it is also carried out too late to alter the results of any particular training session. You must therefore be prepared to continually assess how the training is going during the sessions and to adjust your approach accordingly. Although questionnaires, tests and surveys carried out when the delegates have left the training venue will help you to prove whether or not the training has been successful (and can be used to improve training events in the future and to influence decisions as to the training policy of your organization), evaluation while delegates are still in front of the trainer is also essential.

If you can develop strategies and methods that will help you, as the trainer or the training co-ordinator, to assess the effectiveness of your training sessions during the event, you will have the opportunity to put right some of the problems you may discover. You should be able to note where extra attention is needed and then to tweak your summing-up sessions so that the problem areas are reinforced. There are many ways in which you can evaluate during training sessions ranging from informal methods, such as observing the delegates, to more formal testing methods. We will look next at some of the ways in which you can assess progress while you still have the chance to put things right.

Appropriate questioning
The development of an evaluation strategy, including appropriate questions to be planned in advance of the session, should take into account the type of training being given and also the type of skill being trained. For instance, a functional skill such as product assembly or driving a forklift truck will be tested at the end of the session using a practical test and perhaps just a few questions will be needed. During the session you may ask a driver about maintenance procedures, for example, or an assembly worker may be questioned about the various product faults he may encounter. However, the most important aspect of this type of training is that the trainee develops a practical skill that can be tested in practical ways. In the case of more academic training sessions, there will usually be plenty of opportunity -and need - for questioning throughout the training.

The type of training also dictates to some extent the appropriate time and way to ask questions. A trainer conducting training sessions involving slides will need to have questions prepared for the end of that session so that he can evaluate whether or not the delegates have taken in the important points in the slides and that they will be able to use the knowledge in the future (thus showing that the session has met its objectives). A different type of training - for example, online training to improve customer service skills - will demand a different way of assessment. Training using a PC can be used to repeat a point as often as necessary and a way of assessing whether or not the point has been assimilated will be built into the software program. This will mean that questions from anyone else during such a session are often unnecessary.

Questions during training sessions are mainly used to evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of the training but they can also be useful in maintaining the focus of the session (and of the delegates!), encouraging thinking, delving deeper into the issues under discussion and in providing a link to the next topic in the session. However, by far the most important use of questions is that of evaluation, so here are some tips on developing and using appropriate questions:

- Prepare your questions in advance. As you plan each training session, think of questions that will test your delegates' understanding of the principles you are trying to convey.
- Ask open questions. Don't ask, 'Do you understand that?' or 'Is that clear?' but instead ask, 'What do you understand from that?' or 'How will that affect the way you do your job?'
- Make your questions specific and make sure that you ask the right question. You must be clear exactly what information you are trying to extract from your trainees and tailor your question to fit the situation.
- You may need to prepare a series of questions that will lead you and the delegates to the correct conclusion. Each question can further the delegates' understanding and reinforce their learning at the same time as finding out whether or not the learning objective has been achieved.
- If the answer you get is not absolutely clear, be prepared to rephrase the question.
- Feed back the answer to the delegate by paraphrasing their answer to ensure that you have correctly understood their response and also to reinforce the point.
- Try to avoid adopting an aggressive, interrogational approach to asking questions. Aim to lead a discussion involving all the delegates by the use of questioning rather than concentrating on one or two people. In this way you should be able to assess the group's understanding.

If your questioning uncovers a real flaw in your materials or the session's approach, make sure that you make a note for yourself. You can then rewrite the materials so that you don't make the same mistake in the future. In this way, you can continually improve your training and the results that you get from it.

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