Monday, November 03, 2008

November's Big Question: getting feedback

This month's big question on the Learning Circuits Blog addresses the issue of getting feedback.

If you need input from people, where's the best place to ask?

The way the question has been posed appears to imply that one is always looking for feedback from experts. I would contend that this is not always the case. First, an analogy:

Some years ago, when attending a 'school of eldership' within our church affiliation, my husband and I were taught that we should each seek to have in our lives a balance people in the roles of Paul, Barnabus and Timothy.

  • Paul was the mentor, the teacher, the one whose expertise you sought when you were out of your depth
  • Barnabus is often known in the Christian church as 'the encourager' - he was the one you approached when you were looking for someone who would be a sounding board, and who would be unafraid to ask you the difficult questions
  • Timothy was the one to whom you were, in your turn, a Paul.
I found this such valuable and universal advice that I have stored it within easy reach, and apply it in many secular situations.

Paul option 1
My very first port of call is likely to be someone I have identified as an expert - someone I know personally and can approach directly. I have a wide network which covers most bases. The advantage of this is that I can enter into discussion and/or debate with the person, posing questions such as "But what about...?" and "So if....?" in order to check my understanding and tailor the response to the unique constraints of the situation.

Paul option 2
Assuming option 1 has proved to be a no-go, I might post a question on the discussion board of one of my communities, such as LinkedIn or Ning. Some publications also boast a space for questions and community answers - Training Zone magazine has such a space and, although I have not yet posted a question there, I have chimed in with my 2p worth in answer to questions from other community members. The people who occupy this space are usually well-versed in my field and willing to share what they know simply because that's the way they are.

Quite often, I'd like to know what other people's experiences have been and what they have learned from them. In this sort of situation, I might post to a discussion forum, but I might equally publish my question as a post on this blog. I have adopted this approach in the past and received a wonderful range of responses.

But, let's say I'm looking into developing a learning resource on XYZ issue. My greatest frustration is that we so seldom have the opportunity to interface with members of the ultimate target audience. We're so busy talking to this stakeholder and that subject matter expert that the one person whose voice goes completely unheard until we have a taDAH! fait accompli packaged with a big pink bow, is the user. This person is NOT an expert. And to my mind, this makes their feedback the most valuable of all.

It is this person whose feedback we should often most actively be seeking. I like the idea of working with a focus group of users to develop a resource. However, in the process, they become familiar with the material and lose their status as naive subjects. I would contend that, when it comes to getting feedback as to the effectiveness of the learning materials/event/whatever, a pilot group of unitiated users should be asked to provide their feedback.

No matter what the experts say, if it doesn't meet the needs of the user, it is not an effective solution.


Tony Karrer said...

Karyn - this is a great way to think through your various possible sources!

Karyn Romeis said...

@Tony Thanks for the encouragement, Barnabus ;o)