Eliminating Evaluation Bias

To begin, first, read Don McCain’s article, “Evaluation Biases,” in the July 2016 issue of Talent Development magazine. Second, after you read the article, re-read the section within it entitled “Emotional bias.” 

As an HR training practitioner for the past 25 years, I have seen a number of trends come and go in our industry. My trend watching for the past five years has uncovered what I call the “course evaluation mystique” and its relationship to what McCain calls a emotional bias. This bias has become especially evident with the onset of the online evaluation process.

McCain’s article is excerpted from his book, Evaluation Basics, 2nd edition (ATD Press). In it McCain asserts that emotional bias affects Level 1 Evaluations. A Level 1 evaluation measures a participant’s feelings (like or dislike) for the facilitator. The problem is those feelings can bias a participant’s ratings. When participants evaluate a course it should not include how they react or feel about the facilitator. Instead, it should be professional and introspective and evaluate their, the participant’s, mastery of the course content, a process more in line with their role as an outcome-based learner.

Here’s an example.

After an online training session, I review the total score for the course and the individual participant’s comments. Within the individual scores, I have found a pattern to participants’ responses. Generally, the scoring matrix for courses tends to rate responses “excellent” and maybe one “good.” The “excellent” raters will describe what they have learned and what they can apply immediately. Again, the outcome-based learning. The respondents who select “good” use descriptive terms to describe what they think the facilitator should have done or said. These participants provide no description about what they learned or had difficulty learning.

They are displaying an emotional bias.

As McCain states: “this occurs when the participants allow their feelings for the facilitator to bias their ratings.” In other words, participants should rate their ability to master the course content and not to evaluate the facilitator’s skills.

Here are a couple of recommendations to deal with this bias. One, to help eliminate the potential for emotional bias, design your course presentation accordingly. Have your course presentation be a form of a dialogue between you and the participants. Two, invite participants to initiate questions, share thoughts and experiences. Once participants take an “active” role in the learning process you will sense if not notice that they will relax and become more participatory. Three, as a result they will let their thinking and reasoning abilities be dominant.

Given this freedom to be an active part of the process instead of being passive learners, participants will “switch” from a listener role to one that requires thinking about and discussing the content, signs that they are beginning to master the content.

And here is the big takeaway. By taking responsibility for their own learning, participants will complete the course with the feeling that “they got it.” Which is why they took the course in the first place! It was not to evaluate the presenter.

To foster this relationship, meet each participant in your class half way. Help them establish a sense of intellectual freedom and trust. Here are some tips I have found useful.
  • Create numerous opportunities for participants to apply the content to their current career responsibilities
  • During the course, take time to conduct reviews of relevant topics and make the reviews lighthearted where possible. It’s one course, not a performance evaluation.
  • Provide examples, scenarios, and technology – inserts video clips, etc. – to support the course content
  • Introduce the concept “riding the bicycle backwards” and let the participants conduct a section of the content sitting on the back seat as the coach
  • Use a White Sheet at the end of each class for participant feedback
You want participants to be emotional what they have learned and how it will help them. When they look past the personality of the program and focus on the content, there is a better opportunity for their performance to improve. With that said, there is every reason to believe that they will have a positive bias towards the course content – and its presenter.

About the Author

Geri McArdle has been a practitioner in the human resource field for 25 years. She has published nine books on human productivity and numerous juried research articles in professional journals... a founding member of our Chapter, an international trainer and consultant, she now spends her time in Fort Myers. 


You can read more by Dr. McArdle in our monthly chapter newsletters.

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