Learning to create a favorable climate for education, creature comforts such as good food and accommodation may help. But if you want to be in the ‘Good Learning Guide’ you will also want feedback on some of the questions listed below.
Evaluation learning methods are tools for change. If they are simply used as score sheets or as pats on the back, evaluation tools can lead to complacency – rather than to change and innovation. End of course learning feedback can play an important part in designing an evaluation strategy – but it is by no means the only part.
This page lists some of the ways in which you can generate rich learning insights, creative ideas, evaluative discussions and other useful responses at or near the end of a course. Many of these ideas can also be used for ‘formative’ mid-course evaluation.
Learning Evaluation Advice
Don’t bombard learners with a huge list of questions. Work out what you really want to know. Then work out the best way of finding out.
Form-filling is not fun (however much people may have enjoyed your course). So don’t expect people to conscientiously work their way through a long, complex evaluation form (even if it is on colored paper!). And don’t read too much into the results of a rushed process. The more care people take in providing feedback, the more notice you should take of what they have to say.
Why not create an evaluation activity that is itself engaging and enjoyable! Create evaluative processes that will fully engage learners and provide you with the feedback that you want and that you will be able to use.
Researchers will be quick to point out the flaws in almost any process you might use. Be clear about whether you want something scientific and flawless (and expensive), or whether you want something approximate but nonetheless informative and useful. If you are after some ‘fundamental insights’ or ‘irrefutable proof’ then you will need to invest in a research study that digs deeper than the trowels and spades of ‘useful’ evaluation.
If all you want is a pat on the back and some good quotes to promote what you do, then be honest and plan it all as a public relations exercise. If you want to learn from the process and improve what you do, then plan it as an evaluation exercise.
You may end up with a standardized evaluation process so that you can monitor results over time. But beware of applying ‘production line’ thinking to what is a highly variable and very human process. If you always ask the same questions, you are always looking at courses from the same perspective. Why not adopt a compromise that gives you the best of both worlds? Try combining a standardized element that allows you to make comparisons over time, with a random or changing element which allows you to get feedback from a new perspective on each occasion.
After a course in which people have been through a whole range of experiences, and have been communicating in many ways, and have been learning at many levels, it is not realistic to expect anyone (perhaps not even a great poet!) to express their true evaluation of a course on a piece of paper. Paper exercises can be very useful but they should be seen as part of a much wider evaluation process that includes dimensions of learning that are less easy to capture on paper.
Traditional evaluation methods tend to dehumanize the process – partly in an effort to minimize the ‘Hawthorne effect’ (the evaluator unwittingly influencing the process) – and partly due to a mistaken belief in what is and what isn’t ‘scientifically’ respectable. A ‘human’ multi-perspective evaluation that involves a wide cross-section of significant people in the participant’s life/work is likely to have far greater credibility and value for all concerned. A post-course get-together involving such people can provide an excellent forum for useful evaluation. If face-to-face meeting is impractical then consider using tele/video-conferencing or the latest internet capabilities! (How’s that for ‘future-proof’ advice?)