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Evaluating training

March 11, 2008

Evaluating the effectiveness of your training is the cornerstone for an evolving training system. This typically involves statistical analysis or opinion polling to generate improvement ideas but often those with the best ideas aren’t asked or limited by the type of questions that they are given. Even a blank box for “any further suggestions” limits the response by size and shape.

My all time favourite tool for evaluating training is the post training ‘hot wash’. I enjoy running them and am constantly amazed by the ideas and suggestions that emerge from these brainstorming sessions. I got the idea from the great folks at Manager Tools and made a few changes to the format, based on some other training evaluations that were in use at the time.

What is a ‘Hot Wash’

The term has military origins and it is used today to describe a post-exercise or post-operation debriefing session to identify what was learned from the activity.

In training, it is a meeting conducted after the training has been completed to review the process and identify the positive or negative aspects. Everybody who played a role in the training participates, even administrators, content developers and the student. It is an open format ‘brainstorming’ session where everything is relevant. We encourage suggestions, concerns, criticisms and solutions and are not there to debate anything. Our goal is to collect ideas and regardless of how impractical any seem at the time, recorded them for future review.


Although we are after a free flowing think-session, we will need to keep some structure to the format otherwise the meeting will drift off topic or run over-time. The structure keeps it tight and actually encourages a fast flowing, energetic meeting. Energy is important and the facilitator will need to keep the team motivated and enthused. This also encourages a short meeting and the Hot wash should only take 30 – 45 minutes. Longer and the participants will begin to tire, reducing the value (or relevance) of their contributions toward the end.

Break the training into components such as;

  • Pre-training admin
  • Theory training (and exam if applicable)
  • OJT
  • OJT – Admin
  • Assessment
  • Post training admin

So for a 30 minute meeting, each topic gets five minutes to be covered by all participants.

For each topic we used the LIAR technique: Learn, Improve, Action, Repeat. Initially we followed the ‘what went well’ and ‘need to look at’ approach suggested by Manager Tools, but modified it to give the participants a little more guidance in what we needed from them. So for each topic we ask each person in the room:

  • What did they learn?: What was something that they discovered about the learning process or associated administration that may not be common knowledge? Did they find a new resource or introduce a previously untried technique? Of course, this could be one of those “hey don’t ever try this….” type of lessons that they want to share with the group.
  • What would they improve?: What needs fixing or improving to increase training effectiveness. Focus on the biggest result to them and don’t worry about the cost.
  • What action would you take?: This can be related to the previous point or it may be something else that they think needs to be done to improve the training. This could also be something that the participant would do only ‘if they were in charge’ of the training.
  • What would you repeat?: In effect we are asking what worked well and should therefore be definitely included as part of future training efforts.

I find that these sessions give the participants an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns without having to carefully consider wording or word count. You can also gauge the response on non-verbal indicators and see how other participants react to the contributions. Of course some participants may not feel it appropriate to express concerns in a public forum, but this is were the facilitator can assist be encouraging the less extroverted members to contribute to the meeting.

The purpose is to generate ideas but there is also an opportunity here to recognise their efforts and promote lessons learned from the experience. The overall goal is more effective or better training and regardless of how the participants contribute to the process, it is the end-state that is more important.

Next: Hot wash preparation

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