Focus Groups

Focus Groups
Summary: Ever wonder if the skills taught in a training you created can be transferred to on-the-job performance? Have you considered doing an evaluation? Confused about where to even start? Consider holding a focus group!

Holding A Focus Group

Did you know that focus groups are actually a type of qualitative research design? Yes, you read correctly! What is qualitative research design anyway? Qualitative research design is a method that answers the why’s and how’s in a subjective way. The “data” is represented in a narrative form. Easy enough, right?

What Are Focus Groups?

Focus groups consist of panels that are facilitated by a moderator, who meet for a certain time to exchange perspectives, knowledge, and thoughts on topics [2]. This is a great approach to "data collection" because it is social in nature. Information is produced through natural conversation, interactions, and discussion amongst participants [1]. Participants in focus groups can question each other and explain themselves. This presents a great opportunity to observe behavior, conversations, tensions, and interactions without intruding.

Are You Curious About Where To Start?

Before you get started on your focus group, you want to create a specific evaluative research question. Do not be intimidated by the fancy wording. Creating a specific research question will set the purpose for the focus group and your evaluation. The data you gather from the results of the focus group should answer your research question and provide results that you can then use to modify or improve your training.

When writing your research question to evaluate your training focus on:

  • Who
  • Time frame
  • Independent variable (what is manipulated)
  • Dependent variable (depends on the independent variable)

Below is a hypothetical question I created for employees of a large electric company whom I created a training for. The training lasted two days. The training was on a new software the company is implementing. I wanted to know if the training I held for the employees allowed them to improve their performance on the job as related to the new software.

My evaluative research question looked something like this:

Are electric outage employees able to apply knowledge and transfer skills from the training simulations during the two-day training on January 15-17, 2018 to their current duties at the electric company?

In this question:

  • Who: Electric outage employees
  • Time Frame: Two-day training (January 15-17)
  • Independent variable: The software training
  • Dependent variable: The ability to transfer knowledge from training to work context

Developing Your Focus Group

Now that you have identified and created your questions, let’s get started on developing your focus group. It will require planning and effort but it will be worth it in the end. Here are some suggested steps to follow:

  1. Identify the panel of participants. You can choose your participants through a purposeful sampling or by random sampling.
  2. Draft an interview/guide for the questions you want to ask. Sample questions could look like these:
    • What did you learn from the training?
    • How were you able to implement (transfer) what you learned in your work setting? If you couldn’t implement, explain.
    • What difficulty did you have transferring what you learned to your work setting?
    • What could the training improve upon in order to aid in the transfer of learning?
    • Is there anything we missed?
  1. Establish a time frame, making sure each question has equal time.
  2. Decide whether to hold the focus group in person, via phone, internet, or video.
  3. Choose a trained facilitator who will not interfere with the validity of the results or you can choose to facilitate the group yourself.
  4. Prepare to have the process transcribed/videoed to ensure accuracy.
  5. Hold the focus group.
  6. Analyze your data and focus on the quality of responses while looking for themes.

Now you can evaluate your training and look for ways to improve!

Here is a quick video you may want to watch for more information, especially if you want to facilitate your own focus group!

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Simple enough, right? Focus groups can provide valuable insight to improve your training by providing insight from your learners! Use this information and the steps mentioned to get started today!


[1] Cyr, J. (2017). The unique utility of focus groups for mixed-methods research. PS, Political Science & Politics, 50(4), 1038-1042.

[2] Hale, C.D. & Astolfi, D. (2015). Evaluating education and training programs: A primer.