Needs Analysis - When is E-Learning The Solution? Posted Thursday, December 05, 2013 at 3:17 AM

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Recently, the topic of needs analysis came up in the Articulate Community, and I had to jump into the conversation because it’s a topic near and dear to my heart. The question posed was, essentially: what process should I follow to determine if training/e-learning is really needed? The thread here echoes the follow-up messages I received after my keynote session on this topic at DevLearn 2012. Since it seems like the question continues to be valuable in the community, I thought I’d share my original forum comments.

Imagine a manager asking your training department to design yet another e-learning course. As a training professional, how do you know if this e-learning is really worthwhile and necessary? The key to successful and meaningful training lies in whether there is a performance gap that the training will fix. If there’s no actual performance gap, the training is just "wanted" and not really "needed.” However, in some cases, training is mandated by law or by some type of organization, and you obviously wouldn’t need to do a training needs analysis.


Here are a few simple steps you can follow to complete a training needs analysis in your workplace. Ill illustrate these steps with an example.

Let’s say you are the training designer at a company called Widget Incorporated. You’ve been asked to design training for the call center employees, to help them process calls faster.

Step 1: Find out what the employee’s performance is supposed to be.

To do this you might need to interview HR or managers, and look into company records such as Standard Operating Procedures and corporate guidelines.

Let’s say, for example, the Widget Inc. company guidelines specify that call center employees are supposed to process customer calls in five minutes or less.

Step 2: Determine what the employee’s current performance is.

Observe and interview employees to find this out.

At Widget Inc., you observe the call center employees and discover that the employees are processing the calls in seven minutes instead of five.

Step 3: Identify if there is a performance gap.

Compare how they are supposed to be doing to how they are actually doing, and identify if there is a gap or a difference.

At Widget Inc., call center employees have a two-minute performance gap.

Step 4: Determine the cause of the performance gap.

This is where you do the real work, brainstorming what’s driving the performance gap. Most people first check whether employees are missing knowledge or skills to do their jobs. But there could be other drivers: low motivation, lack of incentives, not having the physical or mental capability to do a job, not having the proper tools/equipment, not having the proper directions or guidance, not receiving proper feedback, etc. To find out the true cause you need to do some investigation. You need to observe, interview, look at company records, see what you can unearth through research.

At Widget Inc., you find that the computer system is very slow and the call center employees have to wait two minutes for the computer system to load data. Would training help these employees complete the calls more quickly? No. The cause of the two-minute performance gap is a slow computer system, not employee performance.

Step 5: Propose the training solution.

If your performance gap is caused by a lack of knowledge and skills, you would then recommend a training solution to management. Training can come in a variety of shapes and formats: e-learning, instructor-led training, job aids, an e-manual, a standard operating procedure (SOP), and on-the-job coaching are all different forms of training. But just because you need training doesn’t mean you need an e-learning course. In some cases, a short on-the-job tutorial or a job aid is enough.

When you think about it, this process is actually very straightforward and methodical. So consider using this approach on your next training request and see what develops. For more great tips and techniques like this one, be sure to follow us on Twitter!



7 comments so far

marty simon

5 posts

Posted Thursday, December 05, 2013 at 8:05 AM

Hi Nicole,

Nice summary and some great points. One thing to consider (after working in call centers for 20 years) is who/how Widget company came up with the 5 minute average talk time metric. That in itself would be an area of research and analysis. I have encountered several large organizations that had unrealistic expectations of the representative and the duties they perform on that '5 minute' call - especially as new products, functions, edicts and programs kept being added to their duties. Perhaps that talk time needs to be re-evaluated.

Just something to consider in the analysis phase if your very solid steps don't uncover the issue. (Although, as you mentioned, observing and especially interviewing may lead you in this direction. The representatives will not hesitate to tell you what challenges they're facing!).

Thanks for all you do in the community and on your personal blog. I am a follower of both and enjoy your insight and expertise.


Jay North

17 posts

Posted Thursday, December 05, 2013 at 9:20 AM

Great article my friend really the points specified by you are great and really applicable in practical life making it a virtue for those readers that are going for something like this, great content that needs a lot of appreciation and yes of course expecting some more from you, have a great day.

User Rank Nicole Legault

741 posts

Posted Friday, December 06, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Thanks, Marty and Jay!

Marty -- that is a really great point about how they came up with the 5 minutes in the first place.

I think that would also fall into one of the causes for the performance gap = unrealistic or impossible standards. Sometimes a performance gap exists because managers have unrealistic expectations or a set of standards no one can meet!!

Thanks so much for being a follower, Marty! I really appreciate it and you always leave great comments!

Jenny Seitz

39 posts

Posted Monday, December 09, 2013 at 12:41 PM

Hi Nicole,

Is there a way to sign-up via email for when your blog has a new post?



User Rank Nicole Legault

741 posts

Posted Monday, December 09, 2013 at 6:37 PM

Hi Jenny,

Unfortunately right now the community blog area does not allow you to sign up for e-mail notifications, only for the RSS feed. =( Sorry about that. But thanks for being an avid blog follower! Much appreciated!

Kimberly Read

39 posts

Posted Monday, December 16, 2013 at 7:47 AM

Your blog post (and visual) brought to mind the Performance Pyramid methodology created by John Wedman (prof at U of Missouri teaches Educational Technology courses).  He theorized that there are certain building blocks that need to be in place before performance can be achieved and that before training could take place all the other performance support building blocks need to exist. Otherwise, training cannot be effective.

I really like the mental image of blocks when thinking about needs analysis and find it apropos both you and John use it.