Hey Mind-Labbers,

In the world of training and education, the traditional smile sheets – those ubiquitous 1 to 5 rating forms handed out at the end of every class – have long been the go-to method for gathering feedback. But are they truly effective in gauging the success of a training session? I argue that they often fall short, and here’s why.

The Honeymoon Effect:

Imagine starting a new job. Everything is shiny and new, your colleagues are friendly, and your training session feels like a walk in the park. In this “Honeymoon Effect” phase, it’s easy to give a glowing 5-star rating, even if the training itself had room for improvement. This initial enthusiasm can skew the results, making it hard to distinguish between genuine training quality and the honeymoon glow.

Personal Bias:

On the flip side, personal biases can also taint these ratings. It’s not uncommon for a participant to dislike an instructor personally, regardless of the training’s actual quality. This can lead to an unfair rating, which neither accurately represents the trainer’s skills nor the class content.

Rushed Evaluations:

Let’s not forget the fatigue factor. At the end of a long day in class, participants are often eager to grab dinner and some well-deserved rest. In their haste to escape, they may rush through the evaluations, hastily checking 5’s all the way down the sheet. This rush can lead to superficial and thoughtless ratings, rendering them nearly useless.

Instructor Presence:

I’ve witnessed instances where instructors collected the feedback sheets as they were being completed by the class. This can create an atmosphere where participants feel compelled to rate the class higher, fearing that the instructor might take a peek. This potential bias can compromise the honesty and accuracy of the evaluations.

Lack of Anonymity:

Some instructors ask participants to put their names on the evaluation sheets, eliminating any sense of anonymity. When names are attached, participants are less likely to provide negative feedback for fear of repercussions or discomfort in sharing their true opinions. This lack of anonymity can significantly reduce the candidness of the feedback. Oddly, this also applies to online evaluations. Very few truly believe that anything they submit online is anonymous.

The Mystery of Ratings Without Explanation:

Another issue with smile sheets is that they often feature ratings without any accompanying explanations. For instance, if someone gives a well-thought-out “3”, but fails to provide reasons behind their rating, it leaves you with a puzzle. The rating tells you nothing about what aspects of the class need improvement or what went well.

Divergent Rating Interpretations:

The 1 to 5 scale means different things to different people. A “3” for one person might be perceived as average, whereas for another, it could be seen as great. This divergence in interpretation can lead to confusion when analyzing the feedback.

Take, for example, a recent evaluation where a participant commented, “This class was very informative, and I loved the instructors! I can’t wait for the next one.” Sounds like a glowing review, right? Surprisingly, their overall rating on a scale of 1 to 5 was a “3.” This striking contrast highlights the challenge of interpreting smile sheet ratings accurately.

Confusion in Scale Interpretation:

In the world of rankings, “1” signifies being the best – the cream of the crop. This interpretation often clashes with the intended scale on smile sheets. Instructors might instruct participants to rate from 1 (bad) to 5 (great), but some mistakenly check off “1,” thinking they’re indicating excellence, not realizing that the scale is reversed.

Attitudes or Extenuating Circumstances:

Some individuals come into the training with a preconceived negative attitude such as “I don’t need training”, “I’m retiring in a month, why am I even here” or “this doesn’t apply to me”. Additionally, extenuating circumstances such as family illnesses can detract from a session. These can lead to unfairly low scores when, in fact, the trainer and the class may have been very good.

The Four vs. Five Star Debate:

Last on my list is the contentious debate that centers around using a 4-star or 5-star scale. The argument for a 4-star scale is that it eliminates an “average” rating, as there’s no option for a neutral “3.” Meanwhile, the 5-star camp argues for a middle ground, allowing participants to express that the session was okay without being overly positive or negative. However, these arguments often overlook a crucial point: it’s not about what instructors or participants think; it’s about what participants perceive. Forcing individuals to choose one extreme or the other can yield inaccurate feedback.

Now, let’s explore five alternative ways instructors can gather feedback:

1. Real-time Polling:

Leverage technology to conduct real-time polls during the training session. Participants can use their smartphones or devices to provide instant feedback on specific aspects of the training, allowing for immediate adjustments and insights.

2. Learning Journals:

Encourage participants to keep learning journals or diaries throughout the training. This reflective practice enables them to document their experiences, takeaways, and areas they found challenging. Journals can be reviewed periodically for valuable insights.

3. Interactive Gamification:

Integrate gamified elements into the training, where participants earn points or rewards for providing feedback on various training components. Gamification can make the feedback process engaging and enjoyable.

4. Peer Evaluation Circles:

Form small groups of participants who evaluate each other’s performance during the training. This peer review approach promotes collaboration and ensures that feedback is based on firsthand observations.

5. Continuous Feedback Channels:

Establish continuous feedback channels that remain open even after the training ends. Participants can provide feedback at any time, fostering an ongoing dialogue and allowing for long-term improvements.

So, while smile sheets may seem like the easy and familiar choice, they are limited, outdated, and can provide results that range from spot-on to wildly inaccurate. It’s time to acknowledge their limitations and explore more robust and accurate feedback methods. By doing so, we can better understand the true impact of our training sessions and continuously improve the learning experience.

Still, convinced that smile sheets are the way to go? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below!

Jake out <mic drop>