Beyond Learner Surveys: 8 Better Ways to Evaluate Learning

Surveys are ubiquitous, popping up seemingly every time we interact with a business. And in eLearning, things are no different. Many L&D teams and eLearning vendors deploy surveys to evaluate their materials. But this common method of soliciting feedback and evaluating eLearning is probably not effective in gathering meaningful data that tells instructional designers whether their training is effective or helps learners meet performance goals. Several alternate ways to evaluate learning could provide this missing data.

It’s easy and inexpensive to survey learners at the end of an eLearning course, and many learners (and consumers) are conditioned to respond. These responses, though, are not all that useful. Surveys provide only the learners’ perceptions: A survey can tell you whether learners found the course engaging, entertaining, and informative, and whether they anticipate that the course will improve their work performance. They capture what learners are thinking and feeling at the moment of the survey, usually at the conclusion of an eLearning module or training course.

However, learner surveys do not actually show that learning is effective, job performance has improved, or the company is affected in any significant way by virtue of employees having completed the training. Knowing whether learners enjoyed the training might be helpful to instructional designers, but the other data would be a lot more effective in honing training and showing its value.

Most L&D professionals know this; according to Evaluating Learning: Insights from Learning Professionals, a new Guild Research report written by Will Thalheimer, a majority would like to change the way their organizations measure and evaluate learning, “with many people frustrated that their organizations don’t go beyond surveys and knowledge checks.”

There are better ways to evaluate eLearning than “smile sheets” or learner surveys. Here are eight:

  • Embed mini-scenarios in learning evaluation questions to probe learners’ ability to apply learning to theoretical incidents that mimic situations that are likely to occur on the job.
  • Test learners’ knowledge. Don’t rely on simple multiple-choice questions, though; either put some effort into creating high-quality multiple-choice questions or use open-ended questions that ask learners to reflect on their training; a manager can review the responses and even follow up with learners in one-on-ones.
  • Include scenario-based learning in eLearning programs; evaluate learners’ responses in branching scenarios and provide feedback and opportunities to explore the ramifications of each option.
  • Enlist the aid of chatbots to guide learners as they apply learning, encourage them to set and pursue goals, and test and improve their recall of information
  • Reinforce learning by posing questions to learners in the days and weeks following their training; this can refresh the learning and even test their ability to make appropriate choices regarding the application of new knowledge and skills. This can be done using chatbots or discussion forums set up on a social collaboration platform like Yammer or Slack.
  • Ask learners to send evidence to their managers that shows how they are applying their training and new knowledge on the job: Comcast has new engineers send photos or video of themselves completing the installation process once they’ve completed their training, for example.
  • Evaluate learning against job skills by measuring task performance or comparing performance evaluations completed by peers and managers prior to and post training.
  • Evaluate learning against business performance by measuring key metrics over time and correlating changes with workforce training.

Move evaluation to the next level

“Smile sheets” that ask learners whether they enjoyed the eLearning or think it will help their work are easy. But they’re also ineffective. It is possible to create more rigorous surveys; it’s also advisable to explore a variety of ways to evaluate learning. The Evaluating Learning report offers additional guidance and suggestions; download yours today!

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