A New Approach to Learner Surveys: Data that is Meaningful, Stealth Messages that Nudge Action (Will Thalheimer)

A New Approach to Learner Surveys: Data that is Meaningful, Stealth Messages that Nudge Action (Will Thalheimer)


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For decades, we in the learning field have been surveying our learners in an ineffective way. Scientific research has shown that smile sheets are virtually uncorrelated with learning. To be practical, we would almost be better off not using our poorly-designed smile sheets.

In this session, I’ll describe the problems with traditional smile sheets and will show how performance-focused learner surveys can be used to gather better data and send powerful stealth messages to spur action. I’ve delivered variants of this presentation hundreds of times since the first edition of my book was published in 2016. Now in its second edition, Performance-Focused Learner Surveys: Using Distinctive Questioning to Get Actionable Data and Guide Learning Effectiveness is now the global standard.


Topics covered:

  • Evaluation can be a powerful tool for us as learning professionals.
  • Fundamentals of learning evaluation.
  • Problems with traditional smile sheets.
  • Research on learners that describes why traditional approaches don’t work.
  • How the science-of-learning should align with our learning evaluation efforts.
  • Performance-Focused Learner Surveys — what do the questions look like.
  • Answer standards to minimize bias in interpreting the data.
  • Sending stealth messages to nudge action.
  • DEIA questions for measuring how well our training aligns with our principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
  • How learner surveys fit into the LTEM framework (the Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model).


At the end of the session, participants will be able to:

  • Avoid the most common mistakes in designing learner surveys.
  • Begin developing new performance-focused learner surveys.
  • Create a plan for how to deepen their expertise in learning evaluation.


Will Thalheimer, PhD, MBA, Consultant, Speaker, Researcher at Work-Learning Research. Will is a world-renowned thought leader focused on research-based practices for learning design, learning evaluation, and presentation design—and an advocate for learning professionals. Through Work-Learning Research (https://www.worklearning.com/), Will empowers organizations to build maximally effective learning-and-performance solutions and strategies. Will wrote the award-winning book Performance-Focused Learner Surveys (second edition); created LTEM, the Learning-Transfer Evaluation Model and the Presentation Science Workshop, and is finishing a new book, the CEO’s Guide to Training, eLearning & Work: Reshaping Learning into a Competitive Advantage. He co-created The Learning Development Accelerator and the eLearning Manifesto.


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