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Asking The Right Questions at the Right Time

How to Get Useful Feedback from Your Learners

Soliciting helpful feedback after a course is over is a crucial step in the design process, because it lets you know what worked well for learners and what needs to be revisited. But there are plenty of factors that affect the success of course evaluations, including the questions asked, learner enthusiasm, and timing of the feedback process.

Here are three pieces of advice to help get the best feedback from your learners.

Solicit responses midway through the course.

Knowing when to ask for feedback is almost as important as knowing how to ask. While many instructors typically send out a smiley sheet or evaluation form at the end of a course, those who drop mini-feedback opportunities throughout the course end up with a richer, more authentic response from learners. This is partly because by the end of a course, learners consider their participation over (this is especially true of mandatory corporate training). They’re less enthusiastic to spend time giving feedback, which feels like more work. On the other hand, learners who are asked to check in mid-way have more incentive to give helpful feedback—since they still have time in the course, it feels like their voice might have an impact on their own experience.

Experiment with the way evaluation might fit into your particular course or training—a mid-course evaluation form might work well for some, while others may get better results from brief questions sprinkled in after each major interaction or lesson. The latter method gets learners while the content is still fresh in their minds, though they haven’t yet had time to fully understand how this new information will be integrated into their lives.

Identify targeted questions that require specific answers.

It’s a safe bet to assume that most learners are going to take the easiest route through evaluations—and that means giving the least amount of feedback required. So yes-or-no questions may be helpful for some aspects of the course (such as “Would you recommend this course to a colleague?”), but they are best followed up with short-answer questions that require the learner to explain their answers.

Questions that begin with how, why, and in what ways encourage learners to offer more responsive feedback than a simple assent. You don’t want to go overboard with these questions, which ask the learner to spend a fair amount of thought and energy. Stick to just 3 or 4 of these questions that require a more thoughtful written response—and make sure those are the right 3 or 4 questions. Which brings us to the next point…

Align evaluation questions with desired learning outcomes.

You don’t want to waste your learners’ time during the evaluation process (their annoyance might influence their perception of the overall course, after all), so make sure you’re questions that will help you understand if your original learning objectives are on target. Assessments are good ways to determine learning effectiveness, but some course outcomes are more subjective and better measured through evaluations.

For example, let’s say the desired learning outcome of your emotional-intelligence training is to cultivate more positive conflict management at work. A specific question on the course evaluation can help measure whether that outcome is manifesting—and how it is doing so. Rather than asking, “Has this course improved your conflict management skills?”, instead invite the learner to “Describe one way you have used the course content to manage conflict at work.” Questions like these offer credible evidence as to whether the learning outcomes are landing—or whether they need to be reconsidered.

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As you can see, successful course evaluations are about asking the right questions at the right time. The importance of getting honest, thorough feedback from learners should not be undervalued. Creating an environment in which learners feel motivated and comfortable enough to offer their sincere perspectives on the course can be the key to getting the feedback you need.

For more tips on designing effective courses, check out these blog posts:

The 3 Writing Skills You Need to Create Effective Lessons

6 Ways to Create Authentic eLearning

4 Tips for Building Successful Courses with Articulate Storyline