By Adam Kuhn with contributions from Erin Clifford and Jeff Burrow
Do you know what happened on August 5th, 1903 that would change the face of research and assessment FOREVER?! I will give you a hint- it happened in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Still don’t know? Well my friends, according to Wikipedia, that is the day that Rensis Likert was born. Yes, THE Likert, of “Likert Scale’ fame. I don’t know if George and Cora Likert knew it at the time, but when they welcomed baby Rensis into the world, they were welcoming a shift in the world of measures and scales.
What is a Likert Scale?
The Likert Scale is a way to measure attitudes and opinions. The traditional Likert scale asks people to what extent they agree or disagree with a particular statement. The options are typically on a 5 point scale ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’. One side of the scale is typically positive or indicative of doing a lot of something, and the other is negative or indicative of rarely or never doing something.
Not all Likerts range from strongly agree to strongly disagree. For an interesting list of different types of Likert Scales- check out: https://www.clemson.edu/centers-institutes/tourism/documents/sample-scales.pdf
Where did they come from?
Apparently Likert developed the scale in 1932 when he was working on his PhD. Since then is has become the go-to scale for survey designers trying to understand the attitudes and opinions of their respondents.
What are they best used for?
Likert Scales are a great way to measure the attitudes and opinions of your respondents. Unlike a question that will yield a simple “yes / no” question, a Likert scale allows you to assess degrees of opinion.
As an example, you could use a Likert scale to measure an individual’s confidence to take on a particular role after participating in a training program. For example, if you are training mentors and you would like them to confidently go into 1:1 mentor meetings – then after you have trained them you can ask them, on a scale of 1-5 (1 = not at all confident, 5 = extremely confident) how confident they feel to conduct 1:1 meetings. If you see that many participants don’t feel confident, then you might need to do some additional training or provide additional opportunities for the student leaders to gain support.
In terms of using the data, because the results have a numeric value, (ie Strongly Disagree = 1, Strongly Agree = 5) you can summarize using a median or a mode which is fairly handy. It is advised to avoid summarizing a single Likert scale into a mean.
What are some of the challenges?
If you are using a Likert Scale on a survey for a program, activity or service remember that you are measuring a respondent’s attitude or opinion, not necessarily their ability. For example- if you ran a shoe-tying workshop and asked participants, on a scale of 1-5 how much they agree with the statement ‘As a result of attending this workshop I can now tie my shoe.’ You are measuring their attitude about their skill and not the skill itself. This in itself can be really important indirect measure, however if you wanted to directly assess their skill, you would ask them to somehow demonstrate actual shoe-tying.
Am I pronouncing it correctly?
Apparently not! I most commonly hear the scale pronounced ‘Lie-Kurt’ which is apparently incorrect. According to some sources, it is actually meant to be pronounced ‘Lick-ert’. In my research for this post I came across a story where a debate about the pronunciation occurred in doctoral class at Bowling Green University. The professor was speaking about ‘Lick-ert’ scales when some of his students called him out for pronouncing it wrong. After quite a debate, legend has it that the professor teaching the course got Dr Likert himself on speakerphone to school the doctoral students on how to correctly pronounce the name: ‘Lick-ert’.
Adam Kuhn is the Assistant Director for the Office of Student Life
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Likert Scale. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/likert-scale.html