Needs Analysis - When is elearning NOT the solution

So previously my company did not really do a needs analysis. We just get a directive and build the course. Now, with the number of projects we want to look at educating our clients on when building an elearning course is appropriate and when performance support tools or live training (webex) is a better solution. I was wondering if anyone has any documentation on how they train on this and/or some articles I could review to create a tool? 

20 Replies
Daniel Brigham

Hi, Shawn:

Dana and James Robinson's book Performance Consulting, especially the first half, goes into some of this.

A few comments/questions that might help you decide if training is the answer:

  • What is the problem you are trying to address?
  • What are the causes of the problem? (it might be the company culture or structure or some external factor, like pressure by competitors)
  • Is training the best way to address the problem?

Hope that helps a bit. --Daniel

Sheila Bulthuis

I'll tag onto Daniel's post... If "training" IS the answer, think about:

  • How many people are you training, both immediately and in the future? E-learning can be a big investment to train just a few people.
  • What are the chances people will want to refer back to the training as they're doing the job?  E-learning is better for this than live training, but paper-based materials such as job aids can also meet this need.
  • What's the shelf life of the content?
  • How important is it from a regulatory, compliance, or legal perspective to be able to "prove" people went through the training?
  • Is the need related to skill-building or knowledge transfer? WebEx and job aids are much better for the latter than the former, while e-learning can be used for all three.

I'm sure there are tons of other questions, but those are a few...

Dave Neuweiler

I think the chosen method of delivery is dictated by the performance objectives. I'd also make a further distinction for "live" training, and that would be "hands-on" training.

Here are a few (possibly warped) examples to show what I mean.

  1. Objective: solve a given math problem. This objective's performance can be met with any delivery method -- online, instructor-led, or with printed instructions. Proof of completion: the student's answer matches the correct answer.
  2. Objective: legally and safely operate an automobile. This would be a blended solution. You could master the "rules of the road" and "operating principles of the automobile" either online or instructor-led. But you want to have hands-on, supervised training for mastering the skills needed to operate the machinery. Proof of completion: the student drives the automobile without violating safety rules or traffic laws, and does not have any accidents along the way.
  3. Objective: build a radio from a set of given components. There are multiple elements in this one. For example there's the identification of parts, interpreting a schematic, soldering things together, etc. For identifying parts and interpreting a schematic, these things could be done online or instructor led. The soldering? It's a relatively simple task that could be taught online, although hands-on practice under live supervision might be better. Pick one. But the terminal objective is to assemble the radio. In this case, you could have online instruction and hands-on experience without a live instructor (just send the kit, and provide a link to the online instruction, for example). Proof of completion: the radio does not catch fire, and is able to receive the appropriate signals.

So I think that, no matter what your instruction includes, you can figure out what the appropriate delivery method should be -- keeping in mind the difference between knowing how to do something, and actually being able to do that something.

Carina Aichinger

I think training is a good idea for skills and knowledge that has to be internalized and "ready-for-use" (e.g. learning how to use a complex program, learning a new language etc.)

For information that can be looked up and doesn't necessarily have to be remembered, a knowledge base or some kind of wiki is much better (and cheaper) than a full training. There are some grey areas, like e.g. company policies you would like your employees to remember (but that theoretically can also be looked up). Here, I would say it's rather a question of money and importance - people will remember the content much better if they can learn it in an interactive course than just by reading a sheet of paper (or an online article), but creating a course requires more resources. I would say that an individual decision has to be made in every single case, but a very general rule is: The more important and complex the information/skill to be learned, the more interactive the training method should be.

BTW: If there is the possibility in your organization, I would also try to make a survey, focus group or something like that to identify what the employees think about what the want to/should know. I know in reality it's often very difficult to conduct those kinds of surveys, but the results will give you a very good idea of which areas need to be trained and how.

Nicole Legault

Hey Shawn!

Welcome to the community and thanks for posting your question! Looks like you've gotten some great feedback so far, and I had to jump in with a quick comment since Training needs analysis is an area I'm particularly interested in.

It's been mentioned already, but the key to successful and meaningful training really rests in if there is a performance gap that the training will fix. If there's no actual performance gap, the training is just "wanted" not really "needed." Here's the steps I recommend for completing a complete Training Needs Analysis, and I'll illustrate my steps with a simple example of employees in a call center at Widget Inc ,who you've been asked to design training for, because they are currently too slow at handling calls.

  • Determine what the employee's performance is supposed to be (For example, the telephone sales associates at Widgets Inc. are supposed to handle customer calls in 5 minutes or less)
  • Determine what the employee's actual performance is (Observe and interview employees to find this out. After observing, you find the sales associates are handling the calls in 7 minutes)
  • Identify if there is a performance gap (in this example, the calls at Widgets Inc. have a 2 minute performance gap)
  • Identify what is the cause of the performance gap. THIS is where you do the real work. A performance gap isn't always caused by people not knowing how to do their jobs. Lack of knowledge and skills is just one of MANY potential causes. It could be lack of  lack of motivation, lack of incentives, a person could lack 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... these could all be the cause of the performance gap. To find out the cause you'll need to do some investigating, observation, interviews, look at company records,etc. (For example, you find out that at Widget Inc. the computer system is very slow and the sales associate have to wait 2 minutes for the system to load. You end up finding out the cause of the 2 minute performance gap is a slow computer system. Would training have helped these employees complete the calls more quickly? No.)
  • Propose the training to management. Once you've identified the cause of the gap, only IF it's caused by a lack of knowledge and skills, would you then recommend a training solution to management. And training can come in MANY shapes and formats. E-learning, instructor led training, a job aid, an e-manual, an SOP, on-the-job-coaching, etc. Those are all forms of training. Again, 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.

Remember... it's not about finding out what people want, it's about what people need, and addressing a real, measurable performance gap is the key. I actually delivered a workshop on this exact topic (How to do a Training Needs Analysis) at DevLearn last year and I still have copies of the templates/hand-outs that I shared if you're interested in a copy let me know!

Holly MacDonald

Great explanation Nicole! I'd add a couple of resources to the last bullet point - HOW to deliver that training, Dave's great description around job aids: and a nice article on synchronous vs asynchronous delivery methods: (which you would add another layer of analysis = face to face or digital).

And of course, you can never go wrong with Cathy Moore's practical approach:

My experience is that every solution is a blend and my job is to figure out the BEST blend based on the analysis. 

Hope that helps,


Bob S

So you may want to temper this a bit ( or a lot!!! ) but I've actually said this before to stakeholders I have a great relationship with....

Q: If we ran a contest tomorrow and offered $1,000 to anyone who could do the XYZ task correctly, would a lot of people collect?

A: Yes, most of them -  Then it 's probably not a training issue. Would you like me to bill you for a percentage of the money I just saved you? :)

A: No, few/none of them - Ok, then we might have a training opportunity here...

Hannah Bullmore

Hi Nicole,

I have just come across this discussion and wondered if you still had an electronic version of the templates/handouts from the workshop you delievered.

We are currently looking at this type of thing, and it would come in extremley useful.

Many thanks in advance



Ahmad Fuad

1 Important Point Nicole...
1. You've talked on extracting TNA & that makes sense. We have found the answer when (conventional) training is not the solution but I would request you to help me find answer to the question, "When Elearning is NOT the solution" as most of the people are not interested in eLearning, but in Learning.

And, yes, I too am interested in the content you have. :-)