How will I know? An evaluation mindset

(Yes, you should watch the original video. You deserve it.)

I can’t be the only one who hums Whitney Houston when thinking about evaluation. How will I know that this investment in workshops, trainings, conferences, etc. yields anything different for the people learning or for our organization? How will I know if I gain the feedback I need to make the training better or provide the right follow up tools? How will I know if they really loved me?

I don’t know about the love part, but I can answer the other questions because I’ve adopted Will Thalheimer’s evaluation approach. Will will be leading our second session in the Fall Trainer Series on October 24. Just like Whitney, Will wants to get to the bottom of “How will I know?” when it comes to learning, and he has developed tools and strategies to get there.

I appreciate Will’s approach for 3 reasons:

Will’s Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model (LTEM) reminds us to keep our eye on the prize, which is a sustained change in performance. For example, we lead board trainings so board members act on their fundraising responsibilities or ask different questions in finance conversations. They aren’t learning just to have general knowledge about their roles and responsibilities. When we are clear on the behaviors we are aiming for, we can reverse engineer how to get there—and better measure the difference we made.

Will’s survey method makes more practical sense too. Instead of a Likert scale, he guides us to use clear descriptions so we remove the ambiguity over what “4 out of 5” means to you vs. the next person. Ask baseline questions so you have a sense of what people who came to the training knew or were able to do at the start. Ask yourself what acceptable is. For example, someone who knows nothing about finance may come to Let’s Talk about Money and learn a lot. Great! A CPA may come to that same training and learn a little. Also great, particularly if what they learned involves how to engage more people in finance conversations.

It was in reading Will’s book, Performance-Focused Learner Surveys, that I began to see a survey as a significant learning tool for our own program development. A survey helps us to improve the training itself, of course. It can also give us the opportunity to ask about their confidence taking the next step and what kind of help they might need to take that next step. A survey can inform what kind of job aids or technical assistance we might offer beyond the training. It can show gaps in what is otherwise available.

Ultimately, “How will I know?” is a mindset. Whitney doesn’t find out by the end of the song if the boy loves her, despite her multi-octave attempts. For many of us, we may never know for sure if the people we teach applied what they learned and changed their organizations because of it. Fortunately, because of the research-to-practice tools developed by people like Will Thalheimer, we can approach evaluation with a clear understanding of what outcomes we hope to achieve and solicit feedback in ways that help us to better measure performance and create opportunities for our own improvement.

That’s enough to make me wanna dance with somebody!  💃

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

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