by Bill Flury

Things Change

“There’s always something!” You get new designs or standards for our products, better ways to do things, or maybe you need to correct a problem. These and many more things spark the need for individual or team training. In response, you develop a set of training materials, find a room, and invite the people who need to know the new material. The big day comes. The invitees show up – an instructor shows up – and the course materials, including exercises are delivered. At the end of the day the participants fill out an evaluation form with questions on the quality of the instruction and the relevance and usefulness of the course. 

Then, that’s it. — Do and Done!

You expect all the participants to have absorbed the delivered content and integrate what they learned into their work process. They go back to their job assignments, and the instructor moves on to other assignments.

Reality

Unfortunately, good evaluations don’t guarantee that the training succeeded in meeting your goals. There are many studies that suggest the amount of material people truly absorb from traditional classroom instruction is very limited. This is exaggerated if the course content is not very directly relevant to the attendees’ current work. Carefully tailored, clever exercises using materials from the attendees’ current work may help get the messages across. But you can never be sure.

Without follow-up, you will never know if the training was worth the cost. Also, if you don’t follow-up, the participants are likely to get the idea that you really don’t care if they do what was taught. They will consider the course to be just one more interruption in their work.

Three Questions

Here’s a simple, straightforward way to find out if the training achieved its goals and, if not, what you need to do to remediate that. You could start with face-to-face discussions with a good sample of the participants. In those visits, you only need to ask three key questions. These questions are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. The participant’s answers provide clear evidence of the degree to which the training achieved its goal and the need for any remedial follow-up action. For more about Bloom’s Taxonomy, see: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom%27s_taxonomy)

Here’s what you should ask:

1. Can you describe what we were trying to teach?

Just asking this question clearly indicates that you care about what was being taught and really want to be sure that the messages got through.

The answer indicates the degree to which the participant heard and understood the messages you were trying to get across. Based on the participant’s answer, you can discuss the need for any further action of the types described below.

2.  Can you show me how what was taught fits in with what you do?

The answer to this question will indicate the degree to which the participant has been able to relate what was taught to his or her current work. Again, based on what you hear, you can discuss the need for and degree of any further action.

3. How could we improve on what was taught?

The answer to this question indicates the degree to which the participant has taken ownership of the ideas, has fully grasped and understood them and, might even be able to improve upon them. A participant who answers this question with some new ideas will be providing strong evidence that the messages of the training package were not only heard and understood but have been related to the participant’s work. A person giving a strong answer might also be qualified to help coach others in the work group.

What Comes Next

Based on the results of the interviews, here are some follow-up options to consider.

On-Line Refresher

For those individuals who did not clearly hear the messages, you can provide an on-line ability to ‘retake’ the whole course, or individual modules. An on-line delivery will never replace the traditional instructor-led course but is the most practical for personalized topic-specific refresher.

For those who you found had difficulty in understanding the messages, individual coaching by someone from the training staff. might be arranged. Or, the “coach” might be someone from the same participant group who has demonstrated mastery of the messages (i.e., gave strong answers to Questions 1and 2) and is willing and able to coach.

Facilitated Workshop

When remedial action is needed for several participants, you could send the instructor back in the participants’ workspace to facilitate a more hands-on, very topic-specific workshop. This would require significant interaction with the participation to target the priority issues and topics.

Coaching

Within most work groups there are individuals who act as champions and change agents for new ideas. If the any such person was a participant in the course, some personal coaching and professional guidance, would likely help them be more effective in spreading the messages throughout their workgroup.

Direct Support

For the more ‘tactical’ type material (e.g. Earned Value, Critical Path calculations) the answers from many participants may indicate that they are unable to successfully apply what was presented to them in the course – thus missing the ultimate objective. For them, an offer of direct hands-on support, providing elbow-to-elbow assistance might be in order. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to develop their work products for them or with them until they are able to do it by themselves.

A Pop Quiz for You

Now that you have read this “lesson”, let me ask you the three questions.

1. Can you describe what this article is trying to teach?

2.  Can you tell me how that fits in with what you do?

3. How could that be made to work even better for you?

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