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When starting a new eLearning project, it’s easy to jump right in and start designing the course. However, it’s important to take a step back and determine what exactly your eLearning course is attempting to accomplish; or better yet, whether or not an eLearning course is needed at all! This is where a needs analysis comes into play.

A needs analysis is simply the process of evaluating a performance issue to determine the root cause and offer one or more solutions.

Whether you call it a “needs analysis,” a “training needs assessment,” a “performance assessment,” or something else, a needs analysis is simply the process of evaluating a performance issue, during the Analysis phase of the ADDIE model, to determine the root cause and offer one or more solutions.

Here are three simple and practical steps for conducting a needs analysis.

Why Conduct a Needs Analysis?

Why should you conduct a needs analysis?

When I was new to eLearning, I used to cringe when I heard someone suggest that I should conduct a needs analysis. To be honest, I used to think it was a massive waste of time. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or which questions I was supposed to ask. The truth is, I was intimidated by the process. However, over the years, I’ve since realized—and can happily admit—I was totally wrong! What I learned is that if you don’t know why a performance issue exists, you run the risk of creating a training solution for a non-training problem—something that’s a total waste of everyone’s time!

If you don’t know why a performance issue exists, you run the risk of creating a training solution for a non-training problem.

Too often, when we act as order takers for our stakeholders and start working on a training project, it’s only until we’re nearly done developing the training that we realize that it’s not the right solution. This realization comes from the context that we’ve gained through the development of the training, and it’s this type of information that a needs analysis can help us obtain before we start developing any kind of training solutions. As a result, I always recommend making a need analysis the first step when scoping any eLearning project.

How Do You Conduct a Needs Analysis?

How do you conduct a needs analysis?

While conducting a needs analysis might seem like some arduous process, it’s actually pretty straightforward. Yes, it might require you to crunch some numbers and analyze data; however, it’s more about understanding the issue so that you can make an informed recommendation. A proper needs analysis can help you pinpoint and tailor your learning content on the actual performance needs of your learners, rather than knowledge alone.

Most needs analysis seek to answer three basic questions…

  1. What are people doing?
  2. What do you want people doing?
  3. Why aren’t people doing it?

The answers to the three questions above can help you determine the current level of performance, the desired level of performance, and the cause(s) of the gap between the two.

How Do You Answer These Questions?

How do you gather information for your needs analysis?

When conducting a needs analysis, how you go about collecting the information you need in order to answer the three questions I presented earlier, depends on your organization, the performance issue(s) you’re analyzing, and much more.

It’s important not to rely on any single piece of data (i.e., the opinions of your stakeholders and subject matter experts) when you’re working to determine the cause of a performance issue. The more you can learn about the performance issue and why it’s happening, the more you’ll be prepared to make an informed decision about how to address it.

Here are just some ways to collect the information for your needs analysis…

  • Talk to your stakeholders.
  • Review any available data.
  • Observe your learners.
  • Talk to your learners.
  • Review any best practices.

In addition to the steps listed above, it can also be helpful to conduct a task analysis to fully understand what learners need to do, as well as by creating an action map to make sure you’re focusing on behaviors that correlate to a measurable business goal.

Recommend a Solution

Once you complete your needs analysis, make sure to recommend a solution.

Once you’ve completed a needs analysis, you should be able to make informed recommendations on possible solutions for addressing the performance issues identified. Remember, not all recommendations will involve a training solution. Sometimes, you’ll make recommendations that involve procedural or cultural changes within your organization.

The goal of a needs analysis isn’t to determine what training is needed. The goal is to determine how to address a performance issue.

Depending on your organization, your stakeholders, and subject matter experts, you can expect some pushback on your non-training recommendations. However, the more you can reinforce your recommendations with data and evidence, the more likely they’ll be adopted.

The Bottom Line

If you did your due diligence when conducting a needs analysis, it should be apparent what is causing the identified performance gap. Furthermore, if you determine that there is a lack of knowledge or skill (or something else), you’ll now have a clearer picture of the behaviors you need to change in your eLearning course.

What other tips can you share about conducting a needs analysis? Share them by commenting below!

Tim Slade

Hi, I’m Tim Slade, and I’m a speaker, author, and founder of The eLearning Designer's Academy. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, I have been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for my creative and innovative design aesthetics. I’m also a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, a LinkedIn Learning instructor, and author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook.

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