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. I’ll 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 centre 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. 

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9 Comments
marty simon

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 y... Expand

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