Happy sheets and comfort zones

by Viv on February 8, 2010

In February’s TJ, Peter Honey gives his angle on how happy sheets can distract trainers from doing the right thing. He compares the feedback that’s had from 3 types of session that he’s run, a standard presentation, a set of stories and a facilitated discussion actively involving participants. His conclusion is that he gets the highest happy sheet scores when participants can get away with passively listening to him. This contrasts with the school of thought that a good learning experience involves activity and a participant constructing their own meaning e.g. Kolb, the Generation Effect and several others. So why do participants rate a facilitor more highly if they don’t have to be active?

I think part of this comes down to comfort zones. Generally a great result from a course is for the participant to realise that they don’t have to do anything different. But this is the worst result from the employer’s perspective – if people carry on exactly as before, why invest the money on having the course? Active courses are more likely to move somebody out of their comfort zone and if this is not handled supportively and safely enough it will cause bad feeling.

As a freelance facilitator, you have the tension between:

  1. Telling your stories and telling the participants how wonderful they are so that you achieve high happy sheet ratings
  2. Being more challenging so that participants learn more, running the risk that you’ll ruffle a few feathers and hence be hit in the ratings

Happy sheet ratings are often to used to measure the peformance of freelance trainers against each other. And if the trainer knows that they will tend to play it safe.

When I was a Training Manager, I used to value facilitators in the second category far more highly than those in the first, but I get the sense this is a minority practice. It did mean that I had to make the time and effort to go to courses to see what was happening and follow up with participants, rather than waiting for a pile of forms to hit my desk.

Would n’t it be great if learners would have a level of learning maturity where they demanded that a course took them out of their comfort zones and complain on their happy sheets if they were n’t stretched? Again I think this is a minority view amongst learners, and one that is not likely to change if all we focus on is happy sheets.

The answer is not to bin the happy sheets, but to treat them just as one part of a more holistic approach to evaluation.  But you were one of the elite who knew that already…

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