“You can’t know too much, but you can say too much.” Calvin Coolidge
There is no reason why a trainer should bore trainees and waste valuable training time by rehashing information that the trainees already possess. A number of individual and group participatory activities can serve as informal needs assessments at the very beginning of a class. Here are seven possibilities to consider.
At the beginning of the program, the trainer can have the trainees:
1. Complete and submit a pre-test. This pre-test should cover key content areas. It can take the form of a simple checklist, a true/false questionnaire, a multiple- choice questionnaire, or even short essay questions. For example, in an assertive communication class, the pre-test could ask questions to determine if the trainees know the difference between aggressive, assertive and passive communication. This approach generates generally objective and reliable information, since the trainees independently complete the pre-test in front of the trainer.
2. Signal responses to a general oral survey. The answers to these few basic questions can give the trainer a sense of the trainee’s knowledge and experience. The trainer can ask the trainees to rate their expertise in a content area by the fingers on one hand (one finger means none, up to five fingers, which means expert) and/or ask the trainees to indicate their years of experience (by raising their hands when the trainer mentions the number of years). For example, in a supervisory skills class, the trainer might begin by asking: “How many of you are brand new supervisors? How many of you have been supervisors for 1 to 2 years? Three to four years? Many years?” This approach is similar to the inventory and as such, the information it generates is highly subjective. However, it can at least alert the trainer to the probable range of knowledge and experience in the room.
3. Complete a questionnaire. The statements in the questionnaire should cover the major points of the training program. For example, in a customer service class, the questionnaire might include statements about key steps or philosophies about how to treat and serve customers. Some of the statements will be true and others will be false. Depending upon the time available, the trainer can have the trainees complete the questionnaire on their own or have them work in small groups so they can assist each other. If time is very limited, the trainer can read the questionnaire and ask the trainees to indicate if they agree (thumbs up) or disagree (thumbs down) with each statement. Representatives from each voting bloc would then be asked to provide the rationale for their vote. This approach provides a relatively accurate measure of the trainees’ current knowledge of the topic.
4. Brainstorm answers to a focus question. This discussion question should focus on the key point or message of the training. For example, in a performance management class, the trainees can be asked to work together (either with the people at their table or in groups designated by the trainer) and answer the question: “What do employees need to be successful on the job?” The results of their brainstorming can be posted on a flip chart and then reported out. This approach also provides a relatively accurate measure of the trainees’ composite knowledge of the topic.
5. Participate in a gallery walk. A gallery walk is a more kinesthetic approach. Key content statements are posted on flip charts and the trainees, in small groups using different colored pens, walk from flip chart to flip chart writing their answers. For example, in a sales class, one flip chart might ask: “What is involved in prequalifying a buyer?” Another might ask: “What are the major components of a consultative sales process?” When all of the groups have written answers on all of the flip charts, they then gather to read and discuss the answers. If explanations are necessary, it is easy to determine which group is responsible for the answer by the color of the ink. This approach provides a relatively accurate measure of the trainees’ composite knowledge of the topic.
6. Review and discuss a case study. For example, in a delegation skills class, the trainer can ask the trainees to review a delegation scenario in which the three key components of delegation (responsibility, authority and accountability) were mishandled. They would then work in small groups to discuss and answer questions about it, such as: “What did the manager do well?” What did the manager do poorly?” “If you were the manager, how would you have handled it?” “Now that the problem exists, what should the manager do?” This approach provides a relatively accurate measure of the trainees’ composite knowledge of the topic.
7. Complete and submit a match up worksheet. This is particularly useful to check the trainees’ knowledge of relevant vocabulary or equipment. For example, in a fan system assessment class, the trainer can ask the trainees to review a worksheet that has words, phrases and names of equipment on the left hand side of the page and definitions and descriptions on the right hand side. Working independently, the trainees would draw a line between the correct definition or description and the relevant word, phrase, or piece of equipment. The trainer can have the trainees sign their names and submit their completed worksheets for review. This approach gives an excellent indication of the individual trainees’ knowledge level.
These are just seven of the many different ways that a trainer can conduct an informal in-class needs assessment using a participatory learning activity. The information obtained from any of these activities can help the trainer decide what content to emphasize, what content to add, and what content to minimize based on the current knowledge level of the trainees.
May your learning be sweet.