Importance of Focus Groups for Online Training Feedback

Designing Digitally


So you’ve successfully rolled out another online training module to your workforce. Nice job! How was the training received? And even more important – was it successful in increasing their understanding about the new product line? What, you don’t know?

The design, development and delivery of an online training program is a costly undertaking. Without a careful examination of the results it delivers, this investment may not be as effective as you need it to be. Or worse, it may be a wasted effort entirely.

The vast majority of instructional designers and training developers are excellent at what they do. However, the real test of any online training program is how effective it is in educating your target audience. One way of doing this would be to measure safety or performance results before and after the training. If safety violations decrease or performance is measurably improved, this can likely be attributed to the training.

Why use focus groups?

Taking the time to gather audience feedback will help improve the effectiveness of any training; and this is especially true of online training lessons. With traditional training and even in-house eLearning, user response can be observed and measured in real time. However, it is difficult to quantify user response to online training since the majority of these learners are remote, and seldom provide voluntary feedback. That’s why focus groups are so important in telling us whether we’ve got our online training right before rolling it out to our workforce.

A carefully selected focus group comprised of the target demographic of employees with different levels of skill and knowledge can be a valuable tool for measuring training effectiveness. However, make sure they are the audience that directly needs the training to ensure you get accurate feedback on their needs and desires for that information. By observing the focus group as they undertake the training, we can gauge their interest and engagement. But by far the most valuable information we can gain from them is their honest feedback on the effectiveness of the training material itself.

The importance of focus group feedback

If we as training designers are open to it, the feedback we get from a focus group testing out our online training materials can help us to improve the effectiveness of the course. It can show us things that we, through our emotional investment in the material, might otherwise miss. And by selecting a group of employees with a diverse skillset, but still within the audience targeted, it can show us where we might be making assumptions that are invalid or incorrect.

Finally, feedback from a focus group can allow us to see the course from a different perspective – one that training designers often miss because we are too close to the material. All of this valuable feedback can allow us to fine-tune – or even to drastically alter – our online training materials to better serve the learners. And after all, isn’t that the only reason for training to exist?

How to structure a focus group and what to look for

A focus group differs from pure beta-testing of a training course in that you’re trying to obtain feedback regarding the overall experience rather than just the tested results. With the stakes so high, it’s crucial to structure your focus group correctly in order to achieve the maximum positive impact. The design and structure of the group should follow a basic format that includes considerations such as:

  • Involve employees of varying skill levels and subject matter awareness, but still within your target audience
  • Brainstorm and ask questions regarding what type of learning approach they prefer
  • Monitor and observe the online training course participation
  • Include both individual and group discussion input
  • Ask questions that are open-ended, promote discussion and foster open communication
  • Diligently record all feedback, and consider allowing others to review
  • Analyze the results and look for patterns and consensus
  • Carefully formulate your conclusions, next steps and development plan

The questions and discussion topics that you pose to your focus group should also be well-planned, and designed to answer the important questions about the course. Things you will want to illicit from the participants include:

  • What behavior are we attempting to influence?
  • Were the training objectives met?
  • What was your overall experience with the online training material?
  • What did you like about the course?
  • What would you change?
  • Was the length of the course sufficient?
  • Was it relevant to your job role?
  • Would you recommend the course to your work peers?

By structuring the focus group carefully and asking the right questions, you can determine whether the online training you’ve designed should be rolled out to your entire workforce. The data you gather can help you to optimize the course, and maximize its effectiveness.

Here at Designing Digitally, Inc., we can help you to design and structure a focus group to determine the effectiveness of any online training course. Our experts can also help to create more effective online training for your workforce. Let us know how we can help you by requesting more information here. We look forward to helping you maximize the effectiveness of your online training efforts. For more information on how we can work with you to do a needs analysis that includes focus group consulting, please contact us today!