You Said It But Did They Get It? How to Check for Understanding

group2group5You just finished a customer service training for a small group of your company’s employees. They listened attentively the whole time your were talking. Now you stop and ask, “Do you understand?” They nod their heads. You continue, “Do you have any questions?” They shake their heads. “Good,” you think. “They’ve got it.”

Or do they? During the next few days, these employees make a number of decisions that cause you to wonder, “Didn’t they HEAR what I told them? If they had only LISTENED, they’d know the right thing to do!” You end up spending precious time helping them correct their mistakes and reviewing the information you already gave them. Meanwhile, your company loses productive time (and perhaps a customer or two) while you re-teach and retrain.

question2So how do you make sure learners “get it” the first time you say it? How do you know if they REALLY understand what they hear? Simple. You “check for understanding” either during or after you’ve taught a section of content. Checking for understanding simply means you STOP TALKING and ask the learners to SAY or DO something with the information you just gave them.

Here are three “check-for-understanding” strategies from The Ten Minute Trainer and “Training from the BACK of the Room!” These strategies will give you a good indication of whether or not learners understand, remember, and can apply what they have heard.

REPEAT-BACK: Working in pairs or triads, learners take turns verbally summarizing the major points that you made in the content-delivery segment you just finished. Or they verbally list the most important facts they just learned and how they might apply this information to their work. Or, if the class is small, they work together as a whole group and take turns adding facts to what the previous person just said. You listen to some of the conversations, then do a final summary in which you correct any misconceptions. The Repeat-Back strategy will give you immediate feedback as to what they do and don’t understand.

51-qWnFxL0L._SX362_BO1,204,203,200_THINK-BACK: Also called “passive reflection,” the Think-Back gives learners time to think about what they have heard. According to David Meier, director of the Center for Accelerated Learning and author of The Accelerated Learning Handbook, learners need “to reflect on experience and to create connections, meanings, and values” out of new information.

Ask learners to think about new information and how it fits with what they already know. Or ask them to share a comment or a question about what they heard you say. Or they take turns telling you one way they might be able to use the new information when back at work. Again, you will get a clearer picture of what they understand and what they might still be confused about.

 TEACH-BACK: You know your information upside down and inside out. Why? Because you’ve taught it often enough to groups of learners so that you’ve mastered what you teach. Learners need to do the same thing – they need to teach the information to each other in order to master it.

A Teach-Back is basically an extended Repeat-Back. Learners pair up pretend that one person is the “teacher” and one is the “student.” The student asks questions about the new information (as if he doesn’t know the answers) and the teacher explains the answers. Then they switch roles and repeat the procedure, asking different questions. You listen to their conversations and affirm what they say or correct any misunderstandings. Learners can also give each other corrective feedback.

For three more ways to check for understanding, click on the red button below:

3 More Ways To Check For Understanding

For the article that was the source of this blog post, click HERE.

And for more exciting, brain-based instructional strategies, please join a global group of enthusiastic trainers who are attending “Training from the BACK of the Room!” and “The Trainer Certification Course” in Nashville, TN on October 3rd – 5th, 2016. For more information and registration links, click on WHAT’S NEW? or TRAINING EVENTS.



  • I’ve recently started working at a company where fellow managers have told me “We’ve TOLD staff several times how to do this, and they just keep making the same mistakes!” I asked one manager, “Did you ask them to repeat back what you told them?” She answered in the negative and I said “Then s/he may not have understood you.” She was blown away by that concept. My observation is that this mistaken belief system of the above manager is status quo among my fellow managers and has had a powerfully and cyclically negative impact on staff/management relations. In about a month, I’ll be moving into a role where I’ll offer staff/management instruction/training, probably about once per month. You can bet I’ll be back here for more inspiration and useful materials/insight! Thanks for providing such great and practicable content!

    • Greetings, Maggie: A belated but heartfelt thank you for your detailed response to this blog post – MUCH appreciated! And I’m glad you have found the information on my website helpful. I totally agree with you that, oftentimes, a simple change in behavior (like checking for understanding) can change an entire belief system about why people do what they do (like “they just keep making the same mistakes”). Best of luck to you in your new role, and thanks for the kudos – made my day! Cheers! 🙂 Sharon

  • In line with my experience (hello, confirmation bias 🙂 I like to be in the training and coaching business, because i love the bliss, when it feels like i made progress with my competences. For me teaching is pretty much the best way to learn (even better: pair teaching). So i assumed it´s more likely, that i belong to the average than to extremes and therefore others probably also benefit from learning-by-teaching. So often when i get this “there are no questions” situation, i ask learners to teach each other and then questions arise.

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