The power of Needs Analysis in Learning Design

Importance of Needs Analysis

Needs Analysis is critical to Learning Design; be it for e-learning or training program design.

However, it is often skipped citing reasons of not having enough time. Many a times instructional designers and program development teams jump into content development directly.

Thus, skipping the most critical step, leads to the learning design not meeting requirements, not having the required impact and a lot of rework for development teams.

Sometimes, clients say they have all the information and that they are sure what they require, they just need somebody to execute.

What they may have is an idea of the problem/s at hand - they may also have an idea of what they would like to achieve – the result.

These are just needs.
It is good to start with these needs - the gaps - and conduct a needs assessment, so one understands the problem at hand.
However, going further and doing a needs analysis is critical to the overall learning design and formulating an appropriate solution which will have future impact.

I have experienced the power of needs analysis.

Real Examples

Quite a few years ago when I was leading the content development team at IL&FS Education, we received an e-learning course development request from UNESCO- India. The e-learning modules were for training Village Education Committee (VEC) members who would take part in the school management. There was a face-to-face program and the same had to be converted to e-learning to facilitate program scale-up.

We insisted on a Needs Analysis and visited a few places in Bihar, spoke to quite a few stakeholders, observed the VEC meetings, got hold of the existing training materials (apparently, the state of Bihar ran the best VEC programme at that time). After thorough analysis, we realised that though the given requirements had a structured programme definition what was required was practical information as well to ensure that the e-learning modules were relevant and meaningful. The target audience was semi-literate, some were illiterate. Thus, we added sessions on the role of the VEC, how to go about opening a bank account, used e-puppets to speak about gender diversity, used illustrations and a story approach with no text on screen in the e-learning content. The program worked.

Recently, in one of the consulting assignments, a client wanted to capture in-house experts delivering lectures on video. These videos would then be shown to engineering students as part of a program they ran. That was the task. They knew what they wanted. The need was stated. Nothing much to be done by a Learning Strategist. They required a videographer.

However, a suggestion to do a Needs Analysis before they took up the task of recording the lectures, turned the project around. The project became a distance learning programme with the video lectures as one of the main components. The designed solution could link engineering colleges in a hub and spoke model to enhance reach and access to content which was created by industry experts and showcased real-life examples. Capacity building of in-house experts in designing training content was also integrated.

In yet another example, the need was to train housekeeping personnel at client sites. Training was being conducted but did not have the desired impact. Trainings used to be cancelled often due to lack of training infrastructure. Target audience had varied experience, but were never formally trained. Needs assessment and further a needs analysis provided for a solution which focussed on continual training despite the constraints, and used low-cost innovative learning materials which could be used in stand-up training sessions - approximately 650 individuals were trained resulting in positive client satisfaction.

And there are other examples to add.

In Conclusion

Needs Analysis captures the root causes and provides inputs for a solution which impacts processes and the business, needs assessment helps to identify the gaps.

Thus, the most important step is analysis - to analyse - which as per the Oxford dictionary means to ‘Examine (something) methodically and in detail, typically in order to explain and interpret it’.