What is the objective of the training?

Did the students achieve the objective?

How do you know?

I recently facilitated an instructor skills training session where I had those three questions prominently
displayed on a flipchart. After every practice lesson, I would ask the instructor those three questions.

Testing for understanding is one of the key things in delivering a successful training program. If you don’t test for understanding, you run the risk of going onto to more advanced lessons when the students haven’t mastered the basics yet.

It all starts with a good objective. The acronym SMART is frequently used:

Specific – the student should understand what is expected

Measurable – the instructor can measure the outcome to know it has been acheived

Applicable – the objective is applicable to the job being performed

Realistic – the objective can be achieved in the classroom setting

Timely – the objective can be achieved in an appropriate time

One way to think about objectives is to think in terms of testing the student. Is this on the final exam? How are you going to test the student?

A well written objective will provide the means for determining whether the student has met the objective but the instructor must still test the student to see if they have met the objective. In addition, they need to test for understanding for each training point along the way.

In technical training, the instructor is often a subject matter expert that has been drafted into the instructor role. They know the subject but they don’t know how to teach or how to test for understanding.

When I ask the first question, I will usually get a pretty good objective. When I ask the second question, the subject matter expert will answer with a firm yes. When I ask the third question on the first practise lesson they do, I will often get “I asked them if they understood and they said yes.” or even “I asked them if they had any questions and they didn’t.”

This is the wrong answer but it is the answer I commonly expect. Students in a class that don’t understand something will often hide that information. Yes, of course they understand or hope to later on when they actually try it out. No, they don’t have any questions because that would show they don’t know what everyone else in the class obviously picked up.

A question asked by a student shows more understanding of the information taught then dead silence. Questions are often asked to clarify the information presented.

If there are no questions or everybody nods there head when you ask them if they understand, you need to ask them some questions. You need to find out what they know.

I always enjoy the later practise lessons when I get to ask the same questions and the answer to the third question changes to “Well, I asked the class what the steps were in calibrating the printer and they were able to list them in the correct order” or “I observed their performance during the lab session and checked off the objectives as they completed them.”

If you don’t test for understanding, you don’t know if the students learned anything.

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