Stand-up comics and IT trainers have a lot in common. To be successful, both must always strive to connect with their audiences. A stand-up performer collects audience feedback by observing facial expressions and body language. The comedian will often ask questions—and then use the responses as part of the act. IT trainers can also collect valuable feedback from students by listening carefully to the types of answers students give to questions in class. Those responses can help trainers better understand how to explain the subject matter and adapt their training style.

Now imagine for a moment how difficult it would be for a stand-up comedian to deliver a monologue over the Internet. Instructors teaching online courses also find it challenging when they can’t interact with their audience and adjust the presentation as needed. In this article, I’ll describe how an IT manager or training supervisor should manage an online training program to ensure that employees are learning the skills they need.

How to increase feedback
Online training is a trade-off—you gain the convenience of distance education but you lose valuable personal interaction. Therefore, you should insist that online trainers create procedures that increase feedback opportunities. An online training initiative should:

  • Collect preliminary information before students enroll for training.
  • Receive students’ perspectives as they participate.
  • Record feedback at the end of the course.
  • Assess student achievements.

Your organization or training vendor may already have one or more of these activities in place. You record this information and keep an ongoing record of this data to ensure that your students are involved.

Before the class starts
Step one is a screening process. The online training supervisor should interview each prospective student to determine his or her educational goals and current level of proficiency. Make certain the prospective student is taking a course that is appropriate for his or her skill. Obviously, a student should be challenged by the course but not overwhelmed by it. You might use a skills assessment test to help you evaluate a student.

Next, determine which skills the students need to learn. Educational jargon uses the term “behavioral objective” to describe what we want participants to master by the time the course is completed. This means users should gain specific skills that will help them do their job, and these skills should be measurable.

A prospective student’s supervisor should be involved in this process to determine whether the student’s goals are relevant and realistic and to help prioritize the learning process if several skills are necessary.

Solicit feedback during the class
Most online programs encourage students to communicate with their instructors. To help you track communications, ask the online instructor to send you copies of e-mail exchanges with students.

You can also ask students to send you feedback about their classes by e-mail. These progress reports will alert you to any problems, such as the student who may need extra assistance or additional reference material. Some students may feel that the class is inappropriate or does not meet expectations. If you stay in contact with the students, you can quickly work to solve problems and address concerns. Participants need to take the initiative in an online class and make their voices heard. By eliciting their responses, you will be encouraging their participation.

Follow up when the class is over
When a training program has been completed, ask each student to assess the experience. If your class vendor posts evaluation forms, ask that he or she send you copies. You should also conduct an exit interview with each participant, asking open-ended questions:

  • “Describe your experience and rate it according to your standards.”
  • “What type of student would be best suited for this class? Is it geared for more advanced or introductory levels?”
  • “Is there much contact in class with other students? If so, was it helpful?”
  • “Which learning activities did you find most instructive?”

After you collect anecdotal information, the person who is supervising the training program should use formal assessments such as a quiz, a series of observed tasks, an examination of written assignments completed during the course, or other methods appropriate to the subject matter. The results should be used to measure the outcomes you had recorded during the preliminary phase. Then, you can save that data for future reference.
How do you evaluate a training program before you spend money on it? Post a comment or send us a letter.

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