I recently had a conversation with a huge corporation about their needs assessment and course development process. I was happily surprised to hear that they perform a formal needs assessment which includes onsite assessment, and a focus group process. I’ve spent the last few weeks pondering why that came as a surprise to me. It’s such an important part of the instructional design process, and is one that I’ve been taught should be the basis for all course development efforts.

I realize we are often given very little time to do our work, but the power behind the feedback you can get from a focus group is just that…it’s powerful. In addition to critiquing several courses, I’ve had the pleasure to facilitate a couple of focus groups now: one especially comes to mind. We had been giving the same basic course for years, and just as a checkin, we decided to hold a quick focus group after the last day. We asked for volunteers, and had three students offer to stay a bit later the last day, bribing them with pastries.

Overview of Our Questions for the Group

  • What was their overall view of the course?
  • Was it of value to them?
  • How did they feel about the instructor’s teaching style?
  • What activity had the most impact?
  • Would they remove an activity?
  • Did they find anything lacking, or glossed over?
  • How could we add to the course to make it more meaningful?

The suggestions we walked away with helped to support the learners in that recent class, as well as future students. The number one thing the participants were asking for was procedural knowledge; enabling them to act and do things, or perform tasks. The general leadership course was too high level, and not detailed enough on actual steps for how to perform in their new roles. The result was we developed a new course on performance management for the new leaders to take in conjunction with the more general course.

We all know that post-course surveys are very seldom filled out. That’s one of the things that was so great about doing the in-person focus group right after class. The course was fresh in their minds, and was on a volunteer basis. We actually had more people participate in that focus group than we were getting via the online likert scales.