The Role of Focus Groups in Training and Development

You’ll understand the role of focus groups in a training project the day you realize the first learner who starts the training tells you they didn’t learn anything.

Focus groups take time and they can be expensive. However, there’s no replacement for them in a training project.

The reason is simple. You’re probably a program manager or a CEO or other stakeholder at an agency. The training firm you hire, such as Talance, specializes in training. Both parties are experts in their own areas, but neither are learners.

If you’re looking to give your training programs a boost, adding focus groups can provide the kinds of insights and feedback that give you a good return on investment. Gather a diverse group of would-be learners to can gain a deeper understanding of what they need to learn, how they prefer to learn and where you can improve.

[RELATED: 10 Focus Group Questions for Health Organizations]

Read on if you’re curious about the benefits of using focus groups in your next training and development initiative. You’ll also pick up tips on how to conduct them and put the feedback to good use.

What are focus groups?

Focus groups are a qualitative research method that involves bringing together a small group of people to discuss a particular topic or issue. Qualitative research in focus groups lets you study and understand possible learners’ experiences and behaviors by listening and watching, rather than just looking at numbers and statistics.

The group is usually led by a moderator who guides the discussion and encourages people to share their thoughts, opinions and experiences.

You should think about using focus groups in your next training and development project because they’re such good ways to gather feedback. You can use them with existing programs to identify areas for improvement and also on to-be-built courses to gather and create new ideas.

Either way, they provide a one-off opportunity to gain understanding from many opinions and can help you make smart choices about your next training project.

Some examples:

  • A focus group of a city’s teachers meets to discuss heat safety at school. They share their views on recesses, water sources and what should be done if kids need medical attention so it can go into a new course about heat safety targeted at teachers.
  • A focus group of caregivers at an Alzheimer’s care facility meets in a boardroom to discuss working with community partners. The group discusses barriers, needs and new ideas so they can contribute to a course on working with specialized providers.
  • A community outreach organization wants to train their new supervisors in hard and soft skills. They put together supervisors to discuss skills gaps and training needs for their new positions.

How can focus groups be used in training and development?

Focus groups can be used in training and development in a variety of ways.

Existing training programs.

Firstly, they’re a helpful method for gathering feedback on existing training programs. Read more about course evaluations here.

By bringing together a group of people who have gone through the training, you can find out what worked well and what could be improved. You can then use this feedback to make any changes and improvements to the training materials and delivery methods.

Identify areas for improvement.

Secondly, you can use focus groups to identify areas for improvement. People can provide suggestions and ideas for how the programs can be tweaked by talking about particular questions closely related to the training.

This might include ideas for new training topics, different delivery methods or resources that you never thought about in planning.

Generate new ideas.

Lastly, you can employ focus groups to create new ideas for training and development. People have a range of opinions and experiences that you can use to build out a complete program.

Benefits of using focus groups in training and development.

Simply finding a way to improve your training should be a good enough reason to use a focus group. But there are many other benefits:

  • In-depth discussions among people that go beyond a survey to show their experiences and opinions.
  • Identify particular areas for improvement so you can custom-design training programs and get better engagement.
  • Collaborative and interactive atmosphere that lets people bounce ideas off of each other and build upon each other’s suggestions for some really amazing ideas.
  • Gather varying points of view from those with different backgrounds, roles and levels within the organization for a more complete course.
  • Identify and eliminate possible barriers or challenges to completing training.

Steps to conducting a successful focus group.

Convinced? Now you can plan your own focus group. The how might depend on your project or agency, but here are some general steps you can follow:

1. Define your goals: Clearly outline what you hope to meet through the focus group. Identify the particular questions or topics you want to explore so they fit your goals.

2. Recruit people: Select people who represent the target audience for your training program. Think about factors such as job roles, experience levels and diversity to secure a well-rounded group.

3. Prepare a discussion guide: Develop a structured guide that outlines the key questions and topics to be discussed during the focus group. This will help keep the conversation focused and clearly related.

4. Choose a facilitator: Select a skilled facilitator who can guide the discussion and keep it on track. The facilitator should be neutral and fair, encouraging all people to share their thoughts and opinions.

5. Conduct the focus group: Arrange a good location for the focus group and gather everything you’ll need, such as sound recording devices. Start the session by introducing the purpose and guidelines, and then move forward with the discussion based on the prepared guide in step 3.

6. Take careful notes: Assign someone to take thorough notes during the focus group. They’ll record the key points, insights and feedback.

7. Carefully study the data: Review and carefully study the data. Look for common themes, patterns and details that can inform improvements to your training program.

8. Share findings and take action: Present the findings from the focus group to stakeholders and decision-makers. Use your research to make smart improvements to your training and development project.

Examples of how focus group feedback can be used in training programs.

If you’ve gone through all those steps and have a pile of good feedback, make sure you’re ready to put it to work. Here are some ideas for applying focus group feedback:

  1. Make content changes, such as fixing errors or adding new information
  2. Change or add delivery methods, like creating online modules or providing coaching
  3. Timing and length, in case the course is too long or too short to keep people engaged
  4. Assessment and evaluation, because a test isn’t the only way to find out of learners were successful in a course.
  5. Interactive elements, like adding case studies or simulations.

So, look at the research and ask your learners what they think or want from your next course. Ask them the right questions and you’ll find it will fuel your training. Put in the investment here, and you’ll find that learners walk away from your next course not confused, but smarter.

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