Let’s say you’ve recently been tapped for a new training project at your organization and Karen, from the Marketing Department, needs your help. Her job is to train all the sales reps on how to sell a new product. She has specific marketing messaging she wants to use and has asked you to help turn it into training for the sales reps.

Anyone who reads my articles knows that when I get a request for training, my go-to first step is to do a proper training needs analysis. This type of analysis identifies why the performance gap exists and confirms that training will bridge that gap (find out more about that here).

That said, there are a few situations where you DON’T need to do a training needs analysis. What are those situations? First, if the training is mandated by law, then you have to do it—regardless of whether you actually need it or not. Second, if something is new, be it a product, a system, or a process, the employees need to be trained on it—period. Remember that training can come in many formats: e-learning module, job aid, screencast, on-the-job coaching, mentoring, reading … the list goes on.

In my example, the company is implementing a new product. And since it’s new, the sales reps need to be trained on it, so we don’t need to do a training needs analysis. Karen, from Marketing, sent you a bunch of PowerPoint decks and documents that describe the new products, its benefits, descriptions, and more, and it’s your job to sift through it all. How will you structure this? How will you organize the content? What do learners really need to know and what is simply nice to know?

Here’s the answer: you actually do need to do a task analysis! The task analysis will help you uncover exactly what it is that learners need TO DO with the information the training covers. Remember: training is teaching someone how to do something. If they’re not learning how to actually apply the information, it’s not training; it’s an info session. The tasks you identify in the task analysis will become the learning objectives of your course, and prioritizing them becomes a lot easier once you have them all listed in front of you.

In this case, the next thing I’d do is call Karen, or the other stakeholders in the project, to uncover exactly what the objective is for the sales team, and the company’s success measurement criteria. That information should help uncover the tasks related to the content the team will be learning in the training.

When it’s time to call Karen, here’s how the chat might go:

Me: “Hi Karen, it’s Nicole from Training. Just want to fill in some details with this project. Would you tell me what the sales reps should be able to do after they review this material?”

Karen: “We need the sales reps to understand all of the benefits of the new product, so they can explain them to the customers. They also need to know the common issues customers have and rebuttals for those.”

Great! See how we’ve uncovered a few tasks there? The sales reps need to “explain the benefits of the product.” Bam! We have a task. And the sales reps need to “identify common issues and their rebuttals.” Another task!

As you make your task list, here’s another task analysis tip: You want to avoid tasks that start with verbs like “know” and “understand,” because those are not measurable objectives you can test. You can’t prove if a learner knows the common customer complaints. But you can prove whether a learner can list them by giving him or her the opportunity to do so on a test or in an e-learning quiz. So keep in mind that you want to use measurable verbs when you create your tasks, because they become your learning objectives, and you want them to be measurable.

Once you’ve identified a task, the next step is to break down the subtasks and identify the relevant information. I’ve written an article about how to do a detailed task analysis here: How to do a Task Analysis Like a Pro.

Back on this example, we’ve now identified exactly what the sales reps need to do with the information they will receive. As a result, we can now keep only the information that relates to those specific tasks, and leave out everything else as “not necessary.” (If you do choose to include something that falls into that category, frame it as nice-to-know information that won’t be on a quiz.)

And that’s it! The next time you’re handed a big pile of project information, don’t despair—just remember your task analysis. It will guide you through all of the content and help you identify what learners really need to know, which is how to do their job!

Do you have experience or advice on creating a task analysis? Share your insights in the comments below. Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

Mike Sullivan
Paul Moraga
Nicole Legault
David Coppell
Nicole Legault
David Coppell
Nicole Legault
Bill Reid
Nicole Legault
Brenda Futrill
Nicole Legault

Hi Brenda! Thanks so much for leaving a comment :) I think the confusion is that people use the words "training needs analysis" to mean different things. As far as I'm concerned, a training needs analysis only answers 1 question: Is the training needed. In other words, will providing training (which is knowledge and skills) fix the performance gap. The training needs analysis only answers that one question. Once you've identified, through proper analysis (of current vs expected performance), that the answer is YES... that's when you start scoping out your project, doing the audience analysis, looking at learning objectives, etc. When you have something that is new, you don't need to do a needs analysis because you already know training is needed: it's new, so employees don't ... Expand