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Don't ditch the happy sheets
7 ways to get valuable feedback

By Karen Roem of Roem Limited

The usefulness of evaluation forms (or so-called happy sheets) has been a hot topic for years. Some experts even challenge us to ditch them completely. Of course you will always have attendees who use happy sheets to make comments about the trainer's accent being too strong (accent, moi?) or that the trainer was sitting on the arm rest (when training in a rather health and safety conscious refinery). But with the right questions, happy sheets can be extremely useful to redefine your course content. It can help find out what people truly want or need to know about a subject and give you ideas on how you can help them to learn the topic for themselves. So don't throw out the baby with the bath water!

Why not?


  1. Because itís low-fuss, quick and easy. Even if you have limited time and budget, a simple feedback form can be used to check whether the first step of the learnerís road towards mastering the new topic has been successful.

  2. Because it doesnít have to take place when purposefully dashing for the door. If you feel uneasy to ask the student to fill out an evaluation form at the end of the session, experiment e-mailing the form the evening of or the day after the training event. Using this method people allow themselves more time to consider the questions and give useful feedback. It even challenges them to investigate "unlocking" the electronic evaluation form, as one proud student demonstrated sending back the modified form.

  3. Because feedback can be given anonymously. Not everyone has the ability to express his or her opinions in writing. Others might be afraid to "speak" up and share their ideas, so feedback can be given anonymously.

  4. Because you can get feedback in other ways. Consider building in interim sessions throughout the day. Ask the learner to reflect on and write down what they are taking away from each section and what made that section so powerful. Brainstorm whether the learner understood the material and encourage them to tell you whether you should stop doing, continue doing, or start doing something. Again, this can be done anonymously and dropped in a box during the various breaks.

  5. Because you simply might need to redesign your form. Paul Clothier gave some excellent examples in his book "The Complete Computer Trainer". He suggests the form should include a list of topics covered in the class, with check boxes for the learner to indicate the level of understanding for each topic, such as "very clear", "clear", "a little confusing", "very confusing" and "not covered". Focus on the learner, not the trainer. If you want applause, sign up for Sylvia Young's Theatre School.

  6. Because youíre not super (wo)man. Just because getting negative feedback isn't easy, it doesn't mean we shouldn't ask for it. (I always tell them the Dutch are known to be uninhibited, which often gets them to open up, which in turn will help me shape course content when certain aspects seem less relevant.) If all we're after is getting "fives" and a few feel-good comments, then the questionnaires are extremely limited in value.

  7. Because it can make a real difference! For every completed evaluation form I pledge to donate three pounds to "Children of Nepal", a small British charitable organisation that has the aim of extending and improving educational opportunities for children living in Nepal. It gives the learner an incentive to return the form - or ask for 10 more, as happened recently.
Roem Limited
Cambridge, UK
tel: +44 (0)1223 - 214177
mobile: +44 (0)7941 - 848326
email: karen@roem.co.uk

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April 2005