Back to basics: How to conduct a learning needs analysis in three stepsby
Before dishing out any training, it's important to ask yourself whether there is a clear learning need or if something else is going on. L&D specialist Jackie Clifford outlines how we can uncover this through conducting a three-part learning needs analysis.
Over the years that I’ve been designing and delivering training, I’ve often asked myself the question (sometimes in the middle of a workshop or programme!): “Is this really a learning need?”.
Often the answer is yes. Sometimes the answer is a resounding no as we uncover flaws in procedures or systems or discover that individuals are unable to do what is asked of them because of a lack of resources.
So how can we diagnose a learning need?
The definition of a ‘learning need’
In terms of a behavioural learning need, I see this as a scenario where someone is not achieving what they want or need to and therefore they need to change the way they act so that they can achieve different outcomes.
An identified learning need describes a situation where there is the need to acquire new knowledge, skills or behavioural strategies OR learn how to apply existing knowledge, skills or behaviours in different ways.
With these definitions in mind there are a range of methods that we can draw on to identify learning needs.
An identified learning need describes a situation where there is the need to acquire new knowledge, skills or behavioural strategies OR learn how to apply existing knowledge, skills or behaviours in different ways
Role and competency mapping
This method can be a starting point for a learning needs analysis.
The first step will be to create competency frameworks that outline the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for each role. At this point it is helpful to define ‘excellent’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘poor’.
Creating a competency framework is probably a topic which is wide enough for an article all of its own! If you’re keen to know more, this article could be a good starting point, and if you want to delve deeper, this book could be helpful.
Once the framework has been created it is then possible to compare the actual competencies of employees against the expected ones to identify gaps.
Spotting the gaps
In order to identify the gaps, other methods will need to be deployed, such as:
Observing individuals during their working day can help to pinpoint areas where they need to improve.
We should always remember that the very act of observation has an impact on how the individual performs and therefore I would recommend that this method be combined with feedback and self-assessment.
Some questions that you can use to guide your observation include:
- What would I expect to see this person doing in this situation?
- What does ‘excellent’ look like? How does this person’s performance compare?
- What skills, knowledge and behaviours are required to succeed in this situation? How would I know if these were being deployed? To what extent is this individual using them?
- If this individual isn’t achieving the required standard, what other factors might be impacting on their performance?
Using root cause analysis can help you to delve a little deeper into the situation and discover some of the underlying factors which might be impacting on an individual’s performance
2. Feedback and self-assessment
Having observed an individual, it will be important to give them feedback on what you have seen and gather their views on their performance.
Some questions that can be used here include:
- I observed [x,y,z]. Tell me a little about the reasoning behind what you did and how you did it?
- As you were [describe the thing you observed], what did you do which led to the results you achieved?
- As you were [describe the thing you observed], what understanding led you to take the action that you took?
- If you were in the same situation again in the future, what would you repeat? What would you do differently?
3. Root cause analysis
As you reflect on an observation and a feedback session, using root cause analysis can help you to delve a little deeper into the situation and discover some of the underlying factors which might be impacting on an individual’s performance.
Techniques like the ‘5 Whys’ can be really helpful to do this.
As the individual reflects on the situation, encourage them to consider three different perspectives – their own, the view of any others involved and the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ position
Root analysis with gentle ‘whys’
When using this technique, it is good to be aware of the fact that asking ‘why’ can feel quite threatening to some people.
A gentler way to use the 5 Why technique could involve questions such as:
- What were the reasons for…?
- And the reasons for that were…?
- And how did that come about?
- And what factors came into play here?
- And what other reasons might there be for…?
Some other questions which could be useful to uncover root causes would include:
- What led to this situation?
- What are the contributing factors?
- Can you describe the sequence of events that occurred before this?
- What were the circumstances or conditions before this happened?
- How did this situation come about?
- What events or decisions preceded this?
- What are the factors that played a role in this outcome?
- Can you walk me through the steps that led to this situation?
- What were the conditions that led up to this event?
- Can you describe the factors that influenced the outcome?
Reflection from different perspectives
As the individual reflects on the situation, encourage them to consider three different perspectives – their own, the view of any others involved and the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ position.
This will support them to review the situation from a more objective perspective and therefore identify a range of potential causes outside of learning needs.
A key point to remember is that this analysis is, in essence, a research and evidence-gathering process. As with any evidence-gathering process, it is important to collect evidence from a range of sources to confirm that you have truly identified a learning need.
If you enjoyed this, read: Who needs to be involved in the learning experience?
With almost 30 years’ experience in HR and Learning and Development, Jackie’s enthusiasm for what she does is evident every time you meet her – virtually or in person!
Jackie is the Director for Clarity Learning and Development. Since becoming a freelance L&D specialist in 2006 and founding her company in 2009 she has worked with...