Serial Self Assessment

Serial self-assessment. No, I am not talking about a BuzzFeed quiz asking you what popular cereal brand you are (if that’s what you are looking for you can find it here), I am talking about a different way to evaluate student leader training, likely utilizing much of what you already do.

Eich (2008) identified three aspects of high-quality leadership programs. He indicated that leadership programs are at their best when: students are engaged in building and sustaining a learning community, they involve student-centred experiential learning, and program development is on-going and research based (Eich, 2008).

While there is no doubt that these components are important, I suggest that high-quality leadership programs also have training evaluation built in.

If we want the best leadership programs at our institutions, we need to be more effective in our training evaluation.

Self-assessment is often seen as a primary tool in training evaluation done by non-experts, and I would also argue student affairs professionals. Many of the people developing and evaluating student leader training are experts in students and do not have professional training in methodology.

Photo of Training The pressure to perform training evaluation has been growing but practitioners and researchers alike have consistently shared the following challenges:

Self-assessment is often seen as a primary tool in training evaluation done by non-experts, many of us developing and evaluating student leader training see ourselves as experts in students but don't necessarily have professional training in methodology so it can seem like an easy tool. I would encourage you to push yourself out of your methodology comfort zone a little take your self-assessment a bit further by incorporating serial self-assessment.

  • Lack of resources (time, money, personnel, expertise, etc.)

  • Difficulty having true control groups

  • Dependence on self-reporting and self-assessment

  • Short and cyclical nature of the roles and training as a result of the academic cycle

  • Ongoing nature of many training programs

Serial self-assessment is just one of many possible evaluation tools, but I think it builds nicely onto what many of us are doing already in our training evaluation and works around the challenges that many of us face.

Serial self-assessment involves self-assessment on an ongoing or recurring basis by having participants evaluate themselves at a number of different points throughout their experience. Serial self-assessment, if intentional with the questions asked, can be used to evaluate reaction, learning and behaviour as described by Kirkpatrick (1979).

Serial self-assessment has a number of advantages when using it for training development and evaluation. In using self-assessment at various points, it allows the trainer to not only evaluate the program as a whole but also make adjustments along the way in the training, specifically after the initial self-assessment where there is an understanding of where the needs and prior knowledge are for the group. Serial self-assessment can measure learning trends, sustained learning, and also behavior change in the participants across time (Darling & Gallagher, 2003). Serial self-assessment builds off adult learning principles and allows participants to be more engaged in their learning through reflection. Looking inwards at their strengths, weaknesses, and needs can be a valuable process for training participants, especially when completed in a non-threatening context (Darling & Gallagher, 2003). In using serial self-assessment, it not only provides a tool for training evaluation but develops the skill of reflection and introspection in the student leader.

Photo of Reflection

Serial self-assessment is best when it can be used in complementing other training evaluation methods such as observation (Stufflebeam & Wingate, 2005).

This makes it an effective tool for student leader training because their training and roles are rarely done in isolation. More often than not, there are senior leaders, peers, or professional staff who can provide observations. In addition to being an efficient and user-friendly form of data collection, it also provides the unique ability to allow participants to rate their own perceived expertise in the training areas (Stufflebeam & Wingate, 2005). The ease of the tool is important especially when resources are limited as is often the case in student leader training.

Darling & Gallagher’s model of serial self-assessment had self-assessments occurring right before training, between when training ended and six weeks later, and then three months later (2003). One of the benefits of serial self-assessment is that the timelines can be modified to fit the program or training that they are evaluating. The timeline would likely look different for student leader training based on the student cycle. An example of an assessment plan could look as follows:

  • Students complete the first self-assessment when hired

  • Students complete the second self-assessment, then between the end of training and the first two weeks of the role

  • Finally, students complete the final self-assessment two to three months into the term

This timeline could be adjusted depending on what their ongoing training and development looked like to include more self-assessment; perhaps also occurring at the end of the term and then at the end of the experience to provide a full picture of the training impact.

Moving away from isolated training evaluation, practitioners could use each consecutive self-assessment to inform and customize how they support the student and their development in the role allowing for more informed support and more effective training in the role, but we will save that conversation for another blog post!


Darling, S.M., & Gallagher, P.A. (2003). Using self-assessments in early intervention training. Journal of Early Intervention, 25(3), 219-227.
Eich, D. (2008). A grounded theory of high-quality leadership programs. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(2), 176-178.
Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1979). Techniques for evaluating training programs. Training and Development Journal, 33(6), 78.
Stufflebeam, D.L., & Wingate, L.A. (2005). A self-assessment procedure for use in evaluation training. American Journal of Evaluation, 26(4), 544-561.