Needs Analysis: The Who, What, When and Where of Training
In a nutshell, (needs) analysis is the planning we do in order to figure out what to do.
Allison Rossett, 1999
Needs analysis is the systematic basis for decisions about how to influence performance (Stout, 1995). This is where it all begins -- establishing relationships, exploring strategies, and defining solutions. The key is to seek the gap between the current situation and the desired situation and then to focus resources where they're most needed. The analysis must determine root causes. For example, a question about why something doesn't or won't work is just as critical as what people do and do not know.
Training departments must act rapidly when problems arise that might require a training solution. They must first, investigate the problem. A training need exists when an employee lacks the knowledge or skill to perform an assigned task satisfactorily. It also arises when there is a variation between what the employee is expected to do on the job and the employee’s actual job performance.
Implementing a training needs analysis is a major organizational task. The process often requires input from job holders, managers and training personnel and therefore needs to be carefully structured and directed. The analysis of results gathered is also an involved task and demands a good level of skill and understanding.
A needs analysis answers the questions who, what, when, and where but not how, that is, the target audience (who needs to be trained), the task or content (what needs to be taught) and the context or training environment (where and when the training needs to be conducted) (Clark, 1998).
Allison Rossett lists five essential components of a needs assessment: actuals, optimals, feelings, causes and solutions (Dick & Carey, 1996). The purpose of an assessment is to acquire information on each of these components in order to verify a need and identify possible solutions. Actuals, in this model, refers to the current status, the way things are now. The optimals are how the situation should be, not according to perceived needs or wants. If there is a difference between the actuals and optimals, then a gap exists. This gap is where the need is identified. The feelings component calls for the designer to collect additional and more in-depth data as to how users affected by the problem feel. Causes are simply translated into why. It could be due to lack of training, the workplace environment, a lack of incentive or a lack of motivation. The final component is solutions based on the information collected.
To begin the process, there are three typical situations that initiate a needs assessment: performance problems, new technologies or approaches introduced into the workplace, and mandates such as required annual training.
The first step in a needs analysis is to perform a gap analysis. To do this, an instructional designer checks the actual performance of the organization against existing standards or current situation: This includes the current state of skills, knowledge, and abilities of the current and/or future employees. Next, the designer looks at the desired or necessary situation identifying the desired or necessary conditions for organizational and personal success. Remember that actual needs are not always the same as perceived needs, or "wants". Training programs have failed in the past and will continue to fail because the instructional designer did not understand the needs or wants of the company. The designer must look for what the organization and people really need. They may not know what...