A needs analysis, or assessment, is an important first step in creating an online training initiative. Establishing what stakeholders need from a program, and what your employees need to learn, will help you create a program that has a greater chance of success.
But too many people either skip the step of creating a needs assessment (read more on the important step of performing a needs analysis), or they make mistakes. If a training needs assessment is messy, it could set the tone for your entire program, and could leave unsatisfied students or wasted funds.
One common mistake is looking too narrowly at your organization when documenting needs. For example, some administrators know they need to address a knowledge gap because of compliance requirements or industry guidelines. But they forget to consider if they have enough qualified trainers to handle a new online program. They assume that uploading a PDF to the website will be enough to train all their staff. Looking at only one piece of the puzzle will solve exactly one piece.
When employers start planning for an online training program, they should minimally start by looking at what their students need, what their organization needs, and what kind of technology needs. Likely, your organization will have more factors you’ll need to assess, but you can start here, more or less in this order:
1. Find out what your employees need to learn.
Assess what your learners need to know. You might have internal requirements, such as yearly sexual harassment training, or a need for continuing education credits to keep certifications up to date. Or you may have results-based needs, such as finding a way for employees to serve more clients in a shorter amount of time. Looking at gaps in learning will help you identify how to address them.
You can ask your students what they want to learn, but proceed down this road with caution. Sometimes, they don’t know what they need and lack the terminology to tell you, or have very little experience with (or love of) online learning.
2. Determine gaps in your infrastructure.
Assume you’ve identified what your audience needs to learn, and then back up and see what weaknesses you see in your infrastructure to make that happen. For example, you might need to hire a new fleet of trainers with skills in online teaching strategies. Or, your grant has reporting requirements, and you’ll need evaluation tools to address them. You can group stakeholders with your infrastructure, because they will also have requirements you’ll need to address, such as the ability to become self-supporting with your new courses.
3. Decide on the best technology for your needs.
Knowing what your needs are for learning and for your infrastructure will help greatly when you analyze what kind of technology will work best for your organization. Then you can begin to decide if you need self-paced learning, will offer courses with instruction, are looking to build a blended-learning program, what kind of data you need, etc. When you have a list of digital tools and features you need, you can measure them against providers and vendors that can help address those.
Remember that a needs assessment is just the beginning. Look at it as the launching point for a deep investigation into what it will take for your program to succeed. Jumping into something for the sake of it might seem like the fast solution, but you’ll be glad you took the time to look deeply into your requirements before you begin building.
Free Guide: E-Learning Strategy Essentials
Learn what steps to take when as you begin planning your online training program, including need assessment and more.