Learner feedback – what to do?

Gathering feedback from learners can prove very useful. Here we looks at the ways, means and reasons for implementing this invaluable tool.

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The term ‘feedback’ is used to describe the helpful information or criticism from an individual, communicated to another who can use that information to adjust and improve current and future actions and behaviors.

Effective feedback, both positive and negative, is very helpful. Feedback is valuable information that will be used to make important decisions. Top performing companies are top performing companies because they consistently search for ways to make their best even better. For top performing companies ‘continuous improvement’ is not just a showy catchphrase. It’s a true focus based on feedback from across the entire organisation – customers, clients, employees, and stakeholders. Top performing companies are not only good at accepting feedback, they deliberately ask for feedback. They also know that feedback is helpful when it highlights weaknesses as well as strengths.

Feedback is about effective listening. Whether done verbally or via a feedback survey, the person providing the feedback needs to know that their feedback provides some value. Do you explain why respondents’ feedback is important and how their feedback will be used? Do you respond to written feedback given on the evaluation/feedback form?

By asking for feedback, it can actually motivate employees to perform better, for tutors and assessors knowing that the student has the opportunity to give feedback may motivate them to give the best possible service.

Unfortunately sometimes feedback can be mistaken for criticism. In fact, what may be viewed as negative criticism could actually be seen as constructive criticism and this kind of feedback helps to formulate better decisions to improve and increase performance?

Things to consider when creating an evaluation/feedback tool

How should it be presented? Consider the benefits of an online or paper based format. Sending an email with a link to an online format may be more convenient for people, they can do it when they have time, they may feel less under pressure and be more honest with their feedback and it may be easier for you to compile reports; however if you ask for people to complete a paper version at the end of the course are you more likely to get a higher completion rate? Is it quality versus quantity?

A committee of the American Association of University Professors researched the effectiveness of evaluations for university teachers. They found that institutions that had adopted online evaluations reported much lower student return rates than those who stuck with paper evaluations: 20-40% versus 80% or higher.

“With such a rate of return, all pretensions to ‘validity’ are rendered dubious,” the paper says. “The comments coming in are from the students on either of the extremes: those very happy with their experience and/or their grade, and those very unhappy.” (Inside Higher Ed Colleen Flaherty June 10, 2015).

Other companies have looked at rewarding for responding, entry to a free prize draw for completing the evaluation etc, but again would this only incentivise a certain type of student, therefore again affecting the validity of the evaluations completed?

 What content should be included on the form?

Using the right key to get the most effective feedback is essential. Most evaluations use the following kind of key:

Please rate the following on a scale of 1 – 5, 1 being poor 5 being excellent.  If you do use this explain what 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 means.

1 (not at all effective), 2, 3, 4 (moderately effective), 5,  (extremely effective), try not to just put 1 – 5 as most people will tend to pick 3, and what is this really telling you, a scale of 1 -3 may be better, it was either 1 not effective 2 effective or 3 outstanding for example.

Try to keep it to one side of paper, or allow them to write feedback on the back; consider asking feedback for the pre-course administration, the course resources, facilities, staff, their action plan from this course, how do they plan to use this training? What other training do they need?

Should they give their name? Well, not putting their name may mean they feel able to give more honest feedback as you don’t know who said what, however how are you able to respond to their feedback? You may wish to follow up on a point they have raised or to let them know that you have taken onboard their feedback and made changes.

The right time

When is the right time to ask people to complete the evaluation, is it at the end of the day? Or after their assessments? How will it affect their feedback if they fail? Could this potentially compromise their objectivity?  A lot of people are keen to get off as soon as the course is finished, maybe they have trains to catch or children to pick up, so maybe last coffee break would be a better time, or when you’re giving 121 feedback to other learners.

A research at an Italian University even found the weather affected students’ feedback: when the weather was better the feedback was better, if it was raining the feedback deteriorated! Obviously you cannot control the weather and only ask for feedback on nice sunny days (this is the UK!), but maybe if you do receive negative feedback consider other factors that may have affected the students’ feedback such as them failing the course, rain or time of day the feedback was given.

So to summarise, is it essential to have a mechanism in place to allow people to give you feedback? Do we only need to ask for feedback if we are delivering a course but not for workshops?  I hope that your answer to these questions is yes! Feedback is invaluable for all types of training, so take the time to collate your feedback don’t just file it away. Look for recurring feedback and create a plan to change and improve the service you are offering, maybe advertise on your website how you have taken on board the feedback and the changes you are planning to make or have made.

 

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