Engaging Participants 7: Evaluating for Engagement

There are many ways to determine if learners have been engaged in training programs and the accompanying materials. But among the most important ways to measure engagement is through efficient evaluation at all levels. In this discussion, evaluation refers to both evaluating participants and stakeholders for knowledge retention as well perception of training programs.

First, the testing component of evaluation can be part of your measurement for engagement. If you build tests or exams into training programs, quite simply they should match the engagement you’ve attempted to create in the program. For example, experiential learning interventions should be tested experientially. If you’ve provided case studies in class, the test of knowledge should be via case studies. On the other hand, if learning occurs through group work, testing should occur through group work. It’s sometimes easier to create a written test that is easily graded, but this way you may not know if learners were actually engaged. You may be able to see knowledge retention, but the engagement component may be a mystery. The key here is to make the testing as applicable to the learning as possible, even mirroring the methods that were used in class.

When it comes to a lower level evaluation of the course or class, we are also prone to creating a “flat” smile sheet. But remember that you want to see if participants became engaged in the content along the way, so write your low level perception evaluations to include engagement items. One way to do this is to use the keys to engagement we discussed at the beginning of this series to write evaluation questions. For example, you could simply ask participants how applicable they felt the training is to their current job and their overall career progression within the organization. You may be surprised at the amount of useful feedback you’ll receive.

You may already be in the habit of evaluating participants at certain intervals after training, such as 30 or 90 days. These evaluations may also ask participants if they are using the knowledge they gained on the job. If so, consider going just a little deeper into that line of questioning. Ask participants what components of training did not help them on the job and what can be done to make these components more useful. Another way to do this is to ask participants what components of the job have been more difficult for them – if they were less engaged in the material when it was presented then they may have trouble applying the information later on. In addition, be sure to evaluate the materials that were provided as part of the training. For example, ask participants if they have used job aids or tutorials on the job and whether those materials helped them quickly and efficiently. As you start to evaluate in this way, you’ll notice that the process of evaluation is creating engagement both before and after training. As new participants understand that their feedback is valuable, they may become more engaged in learning overall.

We discussed engaging learners through development programs such as curricula and career paths. Don’t forget to evaluate these components, as well. When participants receive their certificate of curriculum completion, consider evaluating their entire experience. As participants use the career paths that the training and HR departments have created for them, evaluate on a regular basis. And each of these evaluations should measure engagement using the keys to engagement we discussed at the beginning of this series.

The key to evaluation is to ask for feedback and use it to improve programs. Evaluations that go in a file will not help improve the program for engagement components. And beyond that, as participants learn that their feedback is not being used, they will disengage – and future learners will disengage as well.

In this series, we discussed overall keys to engagement as well as methods for engagement throughout the learning process. Remember to use these keys to measure participant engagement and as a guide when developing new training programs or redeveloping existing ones. As you build engagement into training programs as well as pre- and post training, you’ll find that learners will also become engaged in both the short and long term.

Copyright 2010 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.