From the desk of Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, March 2, 2012

Editor's note: This feature is written by nursing professional development expert Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN. Each week, Adrianne writes about an important issue in the area of professional development or answers reader questions. If you have a question for Adrianne, e-mail her at

Dealing with ineffective guest educators

Unsuccessful guest speakers are a problem that every nursing professional development department will eventually face. Last week, we learned about gathering and analyzing evidence pertaining to guest educators' effectiveness, starting with reaction data from learner comments (read last week's post here). This week, we'll look at learning and behavior data, and consider ways to work with guest speakers to improve results.

Learning data

When you analyze the data from the learning component of learner evaluations, the main things you are interested in are whether participants learned what they were supposed to learn and whether they achieved the learning objectives. If the answer to these questions is yes you need to ask yourself whether the poor evaluations are basically reactive in nature and reflect dissatisfaction with presentation style. If learning is being achieved, then work on helping guest educators to enhance their ability to present. It may be that you are willing to put up with speakers who are, quite frankly, rather boring, as long as participants are learning.

However, if learning is not taking place, your problem is more serious than simply improving presentation style. Answer these questions.

  • Why isn't learning taking place? Did content not correlate with learning objectives?
  • Did the guest fail to comprehend what the content was to be in relationship to learning objectives?
  • Did the educator deliberately choose not to include agreed upon content? If so, why did this occur?
  • Did you and the guest educator spend adequate time discussing learning objectives and what needed to be included to achieve those objectives?

Behavior data
Analysis of behavioral data seeks to establish an association between education and changes in the behavior in learners. In other words, you are looking for evidence that education has made a positive difference in behavior. Examples include changes in, or applications of, a new documentation system, procedure, or communication technique. Providing behavioral evidence usually has even more of an impact on your guest educator then reaction and learning data.

Results and return on investment data
If you can tie in education provided by guest educators to results and return on investment (ROI), by all means do so. The more objective evidence you can provide the better. To be able to explain to guest educators that they helped to decrease infection rates or lengths of stay, or saved a specific amount of money thanks to a decrease in turnover is a powerful motivator to do their best as educators.

Some guest educators may be offended and unable to take constructive criticism. They may choose to stop participating in your education efforts. If this is the case, you may be better off without their assistance.

Finally, some learners may question why that boring guest is still part of the education for your organization. Don't be afraid to share positive evidence that learners are acquiring and applying knowledge learned from that particular speaker. Also, you can share with learners that you and the guest speaker are working to improve those areas that have caused dissatisfaction.

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