If we train and have no way of knowing if people are learning, we may waste a lot of time. Many trainers may place assessment at the end of their training programs to give them an “overall picture” of the lesson or process, but if you wait until a particular module or program is completed in order to collect feedback, it may be too late. The time for a learner to ask a really great question might be gone. At that point, the learner may be confused or so far behind that he or she needs clarifications, reviews or even retraining.

To be sure that everything is clear for the learners and that the program is effective, use some classroom assessment techniques during the training. With this approach, learners can receive the help they need while the training is fresh. The increased classroom interaction will also build confidence and respect for the organization, and learners will feel valued because they are receiving your attention.

For the facilitator, classroom assessment is a quick way to gain valuable information. Different techniques provide the flexibility to adapt to the needs of individual learner characteristics while providing instant feedback about the entire class’ level of understanding, not just individual students’. And even though these assessments are short and anonymous, you will gain important insights into your effectiveness in the classroom.

Formal and Informal Assessment Strategies

You can create simple classroom assessments to meet specific training or learner needs. There are many strategies and exercises that include both informal and formal, brief and extensive, techniques. Don’t dismiss quick, informal techniques as ineffective — you can gain a lot of information from simple snapshots during class or at break time. Here are a few.

Asking a Question

Questions are the simplest of all assessments, but avoid asking questions like, “Does this make sense?” Rather than letting you know they need help, learners may sit quietly, and you may mistakenly feel satisfied that you have sufficiently explored a given topic. To help learners understand new ideas, ask open-ended questions that encourage them to talk. They may reveal more than you anticipate.

Response Devices

Have learners hold up cards or other markers to indicate their response to a problem or concept. You can easily note individual responses while also assessing the whole group. For a virtual option, use one of many electronic response systems currently available.

Ticket to Break

Prepare preprinted cards with checkboxes for answers to certain questions, allowing learners to write brief responses. During a break, collect them and check for each learner’s understanding before resuming the class.

For longer sessions that extend for several days, facilitate a more formal approach, such as an end-of-day summary. Ask learners to take a few minutes to write down one possible application of the day’s learning. There’s also no harm in asking directly, “What remains unclear to you?”

Many instructors use a brief, non-graded quiz to assess skill retention and measure learners’ confidence levels. Remember that the process of classroom assessment techniques is flexible; adapt techniques for your own needs.

Making It Useful

During a single lesson or session, use a variety of individual and group techniques to check understanding and to adapt the training to enhance learning. Repeating the same technique may not provide a complete picture of all problems. Based on the information you receive in each check, consider whether or not you should adjust your instruction or continue as planned. Do you need to clarify or review anything? Do you need to pause or move on?

To use these formative assessments to improve your training efforts, log the responses and analyze them later. Group them into categories such as levels of understanding, topics needing more time or concepts that need stronger illustrations.

After using an assessment, communicate the results to the learners. This way, they will know that you learned from the assessment and are willing to help them succeed. An added benefit is that the results will help them identify their own specific challenges.

Remember, the goal isn’t for the learners to be thorough and exact in their responses. The goal is for you to gain insight into what they do and don’t know in order to make training more meaningful.