The ability to conduct a Training Needs Analysis is a skill set every eLearning professional needs. It helps an organization determine whether training is required and what should be the focus of the training. It also helps to understand if the organization’s performance is being impeded by something else. As such, let’s discuss Training Needs Analysis (TNA) in more detail.
What Is A Training Need Analysis?
Training Needs Analysis is a data-driven task done in the beginning phase of a learning project. Many organizations skip out on this phase because allotting extra time, resources, and budget can feel like a waste. In reality, it is crucial because it helps you determine the right training solution. As you conduct your analysis, you may also realize that training is not needed at all and recommend considering another intervention.
So, what are some common questions/issues companies may need to solve? There could be organizational changes that the employees need to be aware of. Or, maybe the technology used needs to be re-learned or updated. Or maybe there is a customer service issue and the company hasn’t received as favorable feedback as it used to. So, the client wants the instructional designer to address and, most importantly, fix the problem by creating a training solution.
During the initial meeting, it is important to take time to educate your potential client about your process. Specifically, you want to help your client understand the risks associated with creating useless training that does not solve the root cause of their problem. One main question they need to be able to answer is what people need to know or be able to do to get to the ideal or desired place.
Unfortunately, even the best training intervention cannot solve all problems. For example, if an inadequate product sold by the company is the cause of low sales, then training the employees will not serve much. As a rule of thumb, training will work if people don’t know how to do something but want to do it. If, however, they already know how to do it but for some reason can’t or won’t do it, then we are talking about performance intervention. There are situations when neither training nor performance intervention won’t help and that’s when there is a motivational issue. In that case, the client most likely needs to involve leadership so that they can come up with solutions for creating a more motivational environment.
Properly conducted Training Needs Analysis determines if the organization’s problem can be solved with proper training. Then, the result determines what kind of training should be conducted to bridge the gap in skills from what would produce flourishing results for the organization.
How To Conduct A Training Needs Analysis?
So, if after your initial discussion with the client, it’s not yet apparent whether the problem requires training, performance, or motivational intervention, you’d need to conduct training needs analyses.
Oftentimes, stakeholders already have most of the required information; therefore, conducting extensive needs analysis becomes unnecessary. There are three major types of analyses: audience analysis, performance analysis, and task analysis.
Conducting audience analysis is a critical step because knowing your audience is necessary to effectively present training material. Audience analysis should include information on demographics as well as on learners’ motivation and background knowledge. Here are some questions you should consider during the audience analysis.
- Who is the target audience for this course?
- What is the average age of learners?
- Are learners in your audience either mostly men or mostly women?
- What is their cultural background?
- What is their education level?
- What experience do learners have?
- What is their motivation level?
- Why do learners need this course?
- How much time can they devote to training?
- Do they have any specific needs?
- What is their learning preference?
Performance, Gap, and Root Cause Analysis
The ultimate goal of an eLearning course is to close the gap between the current and the desired performance. To identify and close that gap, you need to conduct a gap analysis. Before conducting gap analysis and identifying the real reason for training, assumptions about training needs and requirements should not be made. Only after carrying out gap analysis will instructional designers be able to draw conclusions and propose solutions.
To conduct gap analysis, you should have your goals in place, as they indicate the desired state. Not only should you find a solution to close the existing gap, but you should also figure out the reason the gap exists. By conducting a root cause analysis, you should be able to address the actual root cause of the gap and therefore treat the real problem instead of its symptoms. One of the best ways to collect information about performance gaps and root causes is by using the Five Why Technique. The essence of this technique is to repeatedly ask Why until you arrive at the root cause of the problem. During the performance gap analysis, you may discover that people in the organization do not achieve the desired performance because they lack the necessary knowledge or skills.
However, you may also discover that poor performance is due to the lack of motivation, appropriate tools, resources, or organizational support in the company. If your analysis shows that the problem lies in knowledge and skills, then you can safely proceed with training. However, if the problem is with motivation, lack of tools, or organizational support, then it is a performance improvement issue, and training will not be helpful. Training does not solve all problems associated with inadequate information, lack of resources, poor process, or management issues. If during performance analysis, you discover the problem is not related to knowledge or skills, you should advise the client that even the most innovative training course will not effectively address the need.
Task analysis identifies knowledge and skills needed to accomplish instructional goals. It helps you describe the tasks and sub-tasks that learners will perform as well as prioritize the sequence of these tasks and create appropriate terminal and enabling objectives based on the results. Below is a list of questions that should be considered during the task analysis.
- What is the complexity of the task?
- How often is the task performed?
- Is the task critical to the performance of the job?
- Is this task performed separately or as part of other tasks?
- What is the relationship between all the tasks?
- What is the risk associated with not being able to perform the task?
- What background knowledge and skills are needed to perform the task?
Determine The Performance Standard
Usually, someone from management would come to L&D with a problem. For example, they might have noticed gaps in skills that negatively impact the company. So, they would ask you for a solution. Or they have a new technology they feel employees should be introduced to.
What is the desired result? What skill or knowledge should the employee have after training is conducted?
There are many information-gathering strategies you can use to conduct your analyses.
These strategies range from a review of relevant literature and direct observations to conducting interviews and focus groups. All strategies have advantages and disadvantages. The method that suits the analysis of the specific needs depends on many different factors, including the intensity of analysis and the amount of time dedicated to the analysis. Whenever possible choose several different methods to ensure accurate data collection.
Literature and Document Reviews
When there is no budget for needs analysis, you should at least review relevant documents. This approach is inexpensive compared to most other methods and provides the background information necessary for carrying out a project. However, before choosing this method, it is necessary to understand that the information found in documents can be outdated, inaccurate, incomplete, and disorganized.
This is an excellent way to collect data when the training goal is to teach a new skill or change a behavior. You can simply sit and observe the performance of the best, average, and worst employees in the organization. Then, document your observations of both the current and desired performance. The observation method works well primarily because it allows instructional designers to see for themselves what people do and how they perform. However, there are also disadvantages to this method. One of them is that people typically perform better when they know they are being observed.
Interviews work very well for gathering information about current business needs, performance, and audience analyses. They are also useful for gathering stories for learning scenarios and simulations. The interviewing method can help you clarify confusing information collected by either observations or literature reviews. Unlike observations, interviews can be done over the phone, which is very convenient for both you and your interviewee. The main problem with interviews, however, is that they can be biased as they rely on the reactions and opinions of respondents. Further drawbacks to interviews are that they can be costly and time-consuming.
Focus groups are a good way to collect information from many different people without meeting with each one of them individually. Using this data gathering method has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as interviews. In addition to being resource-intensive, it takes a lot of time to analyze the information gathered from the entire group. Therefore, it is best to limit focus groups to ten participants. Moreover, there are typically participants who dominate the discussion, leaving the opinions of less outspoken group members unheard. The most important drawback to focus groups is the lack of anonymity, which can lead participants to not sharing their opinions.
Surveys are the most commonly used tool for conducting a needs analysis. Surveys vary greatly in the amount of time and money they require. While they can help instructional designers obtain both qualitative and quantitative data, there are still many problems associated with them. First, oftentimes people mark their answers without even reading the questions. As a result, data gathered from this source is not always precise. Surveys also require clear and accurate wording of each question. In interviews and focus groups, participants have an opportunity to clarify questions, and instructional designers can even provide examples that describe the meaning of each question. With surveys, participants do not have the luxury of asking questions or clarifying ambiguous statements. Therefore, if they do not interpret the question correctly, the results will be skewed.
Analyze What You Have Gathered
Now that you’ve gathered your data, it’s time to analyze your findings and create the report. Here are the recommended steps:
- Define objectives – This step answers the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the course?
- What are the performance issues?
- What are the root causes of performance issues?
- Is training the solution to the problem
- Identify Data – This step answers the following questions:
- What is the training need?
- Who needs this training?
- What are some of the strategies for designing and delivering this training?
- Select Data-Collection Method – This step answers the following question:
- Which data collection approach will be used for needs analyses?
- Collect Data – During this step, you gather the information using selected methods.
- Analyze Data – In this step, you use the data you collected and compare, organize, and analyze it.
- Prepare Analysis Report – During this step, you document both the data you collected and your analyses of that data in the analysis report. In addition, your report should include conclusions made as a result of data analysis. Typical analysis report includes the following sections:
- Overview of the project
- Performance analysis
- Tools used to collect data
- Training needs analysis
- Conclusions or recommendations made based on the Analysis
Find The Training Solution
Now that you have understood whether training is needed or not, it is a matter of finding the right solution. You have observed and inspected the employee’s skills and their needs. You can now use the data to form a solution that will be most effective in the employee’s training in the shortest amount of time.
Your entire job is to find the root of the problem. Once you find it, the task is to understand how to best approach the situation. Figure out what would be the right course of action in terms of training.
For example, the problem’s actual cause is that the new technology used by the company is complicated for employees to understand. Some of the technology’s workings have been hard to grasp for older employees or too much to process for the newly joined ones. So, what we are dealing with here is a lack of skills.
Then, it is only right that the solution is training.
You now decide on the training process. Maybe the employees have to go through a workshop that goes on for a couple of days. Here they get acquainted with the technology. They are taught in a way they would find easiest to understand. At the end of the training, they will be tested to see if they now have lesser troubles with the technology. If not, they will be taught again until they truly understand the technology.
As someone in Learning and Development, you should never provide a training solution if the performance gap is not due to a lack of knowledge or skills. Instead, you should present your findings and recommend an appropriate solution or performance intervention based on your analyses.
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