How to Conduct a Needs Assessment

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How to Conduct a Needs Assessment

How to Conduct a Needs Assessment

The most common goal of instructional design is to bring about a change. But what is that change? It is the instructional designer's job to make this determination.

Determining the source of the problem, whether after being told only that there is a problem or the specific change that needs to come about, requires a needs assessment or analysis.

Determine Instructional Needs

The main purpose of the needs assessment is to determine instructional needs. What is it that learners need to know? Do they need to learn a new software program? Do they need to learn how to properly interact with their coworkers? These are some examples of instructional needs.

Typically, there are a number of questions that guide the assessment. The needs assessment should answer these questions:

  • Who is requesting the change?
  • What is the change that is being asked for?
  • When does the change need to be implemented?
  • Is instructional training the best method to bring about the change?

The following is a sample needs assessment chart that the ID would work on filling in during the needs analysis process. This chart is included in the class files for this lesson: ClassFiles/analyzing-and-objective-setting/Needs Analysis Chart.docx

Needs Analysis Chart
Questions Answers
Why? Why is the learning being requested? What issue or problem does it need to address
Who? Who is requesting the learning? Who will the learning be targeted at?
How? How can the issue or problem be addressed?
What? What is the best way to address the issue or problem? What learning format should be used (online, instructor-led, etc.)? What else, if anything, should be considered?
When? When does the learning need to occur? What are the timeframes for it to take place?

Procedure

There are a number of different ways that the needs assessment can be conducted. No matter the method that is used, the results should be the same. Most often, a combination of techniques will be used.

The steps of the needs assessment are as follows:

  1. Planning: In this step of the process, the instructional designer will, possibly along with other members of the project team, define the audience for the instruction and then determine exactly what type of information needs to be collected.
  2. Data collection: In the data collection step, the ID collects data as to what the problem is and how it is affecting learners.
  3. Data analysis: In the data analysis step, the data is organized and then prioritized to determine learning needs.
  4. Reporting on results: The final step, reporting on the results, should include a summary of results and finally a recommended solution.

For example, imagine that you are creating a business writing course. You start analyzing needs by gathering information and collecting data from the client requesting the training, the sales department within your organization. You know that you need more information.

Data Gathering Methods

Data gathering in a needs assessment can consist of the following:

  • Individual interviews: Interviews are beneficial because they allow the interviewer to ask follow-up and clarification questions. Some disadvantages to interviews include that the interviewee may be self-conscious and they require the interviewer to possess interviewing skills.
  • Questionnaires and surveys: If conducted anonymously, these can often provide beneficial information; however, there is no opportunity to ask clarifying questions or for participants to expound on their thoughts.
  • Focus groups: Focus groups can build involvement with learners and may bring up unexpected issues that need to be addressed. Pitfalls of focus groups include that they may be difficult to conduct and the information derived from them may be hard to quantify.
  • Committees: Creating an advisory committee allows visibility into the data gathering from stakeholders and decision makers; however, the data may not be extremely relevant and it may lead to a "group think" situation, where differing opinions are not expressed.
  • Independent research: Researching an issue independently is useful in that the instructional designer can access a variety of data; however, the data itself has the potential to be misleading or irrelevant to the current situation.
  • Observation: Observing learners in their work situation usually yields pertinent and relevant information, but it can be time consuming and logistically difficult to coordinate.

Back to the example of creating a business writing course: what data gathering methods might you use to gather information on needs? A first step would likely be to meet with the sales manager who is requesting the training, in an individual interview setting.

Questions you would want to ask might include:

  • Why is she requesting the training? Has the team encountered writing issues? If so, what issues?
  • Will the entire department be required to take it?
  • What sorts of writing is the team engaging in now? Proposals? Business plans? E-mails?
  • When will the training take place?

Back to the business writing course we are creating for the sales department at our company, the following is the filled-in needs assessment chart from a meeting with the sales manager. This chart is included in the class files for this lesson: ClassFiles/analyzing-and-objective-setting/Needs Analysis Chart-Biz writing course example.docx

Needs Analysis Chart
Questions Answers
Why? Why is the learning being requested? What issue or problem does it need to address The sales manager has been getting feedback from clients that a lot of the communication coming from her team has grammar and spelling issues. She is concerned that this is a reflection on the team and the organization as a whole. The problem that needs to be addressed is the poor business writing skills of the sales team.
Who? Who is requesting the learning? Who will the learning be targeted at? The sales manager is requesting the training. It would be mandatory for her 8-person team to take the training to improve their business writing skills.
How? How can the issue or problem be addressed? The issue can be addressed through training that includes examples and scenarios that are familiar to the sales team, so that they can identify with and incorporate the knowledge.
What? What is the best way to address the issue or problem? What learning format should be used (online, instructor-led, etc.)? What else, if anything, should be considered? The sales manager is requesting that the training is instructor-led, as a one-day class that her team can attend.
When? When does the learning need to occur? What are the timeframes for it to take place? The sales manager would like the training to be delivered before the end of the quarter. She would like there to be a takeaway job aid or quick reference guide for her team to refer to as needed.
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