Education optimize

Don't cut corners by skipping (or not paying attention to) your training evaluations

To become the best trainer you can be, pay close attention to your evaluation forms.

You’re wrapping up another class and, as usual, it’s gone well. You’ve gotten some nice comments during breaks, and the students have been attentive for the most part. Of course, that one guy in the back seems a little wired and you’re not sure why, but anyway, it’s Friday—time to fly home.

Anxious to cut some time off this class and maybe catch the early flight home, you stop and think as you begin to hand out the evaluation forms. Do you:
  1. Bag the evals and save enough time to catch the early flight and get a cup of Starbucks on the way?
  2. Give out the evals and ask everyone to “just fax or mail them or whatever you want to do?”
  3. Have everyone fill out the evals, but let them know you’re in a hurry?
  4. Sigh, hand out the evals, and give everyone in the class plenty of time to fill them out?

Assuming you chose 4 (you did, didn’t you?), what do you do with the evals once you get them? Do you:
  1. Toss them in your briefcase, never to be seen again until you mail them to the broker?
  2. Scan through them as they come in, just to make sure the ratings are all up around 5?
  3. Glance through them while sipping your Starbucks in the airport, looking at the comments and chuckling? (Because you did the right thing in the first answer, you were rewarded with no traffic on the way, so you still got your cup of joe.)
  4. Enter the results into a spreadsheet or database when you get home before you send them to the broker?

Guess what? The right answer was 4, again! Bet you got them both right! No? Well, let me tell you why I think the 4s win.

Evaluations – key to improvement
If you’ve been doing the training thing for a while, two things are probably true of you. One, you consistently get high ratings on your evals. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t still be getting training work, right? And two, you consistently don’t pay attention to the evals past the end of the course.

If we want to be the best trainers we can be, it is critical that we collect our class evals, enter the ratings in some sort of analysis tool, and then be honest with ourselves about what the ratings show.

The key is not what happens in one class. The key is trends over time. Numbers from a single class can be skewed for any number of reasons. Numbers from 10 classes, especially if they are consistent, are indicators of areas that need work.

Do you have an area on the eval that is consistently rated lower than the others? How do you know if you’re not keeping track?

What you can learn
I have begun plugging my evals into a spreadsheet, and already I am identifying some areas to work on. I need to be more visual in my approach. This makes sense to me, as I tend to teach like I learn—aurally, that is, through speech. I am not first a visual learner, and my teaching style reflects that.

Without doing the work to enter and track the data, I would not have seen this. Or I might have seen it, but not as soon. It is already making a difference in my classroom presentations.

You may find that you need to give more examples. Or you may need to simply speak up. On the other hand, the class may have really enjoyed your examples, but they were put off by your lack of classroom organization.

Some analysis tips
If you are now convinced that you should track your evals, then let me offer a few tips.
  1. No matter how you store the eval ratings, be sure also to store the course name, the course number, the basic subject, and the date of the course. This will allow you to check improvement over time or analyze whether certain low marks are confined to certain courses, for example.
  2. Some trainers will enter all the ratings and do an average function on each column. While this is valid, be aware that one low or high mark can skew your results. Become familiar with other statistical functions, especially median. If you are really ambitious, learn to apply other analysis tools (look in your help file under Statistical functions).
  3. Do some graphs. They may show you something you wouldn’t have seen in the raw numbers. Graphs are especially good for spotting trends over time. Sort the ratings by date, then graph your lowest median one and see if you are getting better or worse.
  4. Finally, be sure to file your evals. I file mine by date and class name. Not only do you have hard copies for sending to that new broker, you can also pull them out a year later and see if you have grown any since then.

No one is perfect, but most of us try not to face that fact head-on. In the training room, though, if you and I don’t face our weaknesses, our students will. Use your evaluations to help you confront your shortcomings, deal with them, and be the trainer you want to be.

Bruce Maples is a trainer and writer living in Louisville. He trains on a wide variety of applications and technologies, and is currently part of a team writing a book on Microsoft Solutions Framework. Follow this link to write to Bruce.