How much information do we need to know in advance about our learners?
This was the question from @LndConnect during one of their #ldinsight discussions on Twitter.
An excellent question that encouraged a great debate from all angles. Sadly, I could not participate fully due to a meeting, but it certainly got me thinking enough to write this article!
My first thought was, “Enough information so that whatever the sponsor is telling you is confirmed (or not) from other sources.”
This would be achieved using a triangulation approach (sorry if you already know what this is, but basically you find three ways to determine the needs, and where they coincide is an approximation of the 'truth').
I have an interesting real life experience to share, which illustrates this, and shows why it is important to know as much as possible about your learners in advance.
A few years ago I was invited to speak to the MD of a tech company who had a shopping list of training that they required for their team leaders. I was recommended and invited in to discuss how I would go about it.
My curiosity, as always prompted me to ask “Why now? Why these people? Why these courses?”. The reply was surprising: “The senior managers have had some training and so we thought it would be nice for the team leaders to get some”.
What followed were a number of curious questions, which eventually led the MD to ask me to do a needs analysis to determine exactly what they needed.
I chose three different methods to conduct the needs analysis (please take note that this was not a TNA or an LNA, but I would be looking at what gaps there were in a holistic way):
- Scanning the induction booklet for the 'ideal' – how they wanted to be for their new recruits. It included their vision and mission along with their values.
- A meeting with the senior team to draw out of them what their ideal team leader looked like and what their perceived gaps were. From this meeting I also got a pretty good idea of how these team leaders ranked in the eyes of their managers, and who some of the 'troublemakers' were, as well as the 'champions'.
- Finally, I surveyed the team leaders; as part of this they had to score themselves in various key areas. From this we had our own list of self-ranked team leaders.
From the first method I noticed how important quality was to the organisation, and yet no one had mentioned it in any meeting. From the second there was a real eagerness to identify the team leaders that were an issue. They were also keen to identify the rising stars, whom they had nurtured and developed.
Why did the top ranker from the list not know what their senior manager thought of them?
The third method was very revealing, as the ranked list was very different to the senior managers' own ranking. It also revealed that some of the team leaders did not spend enough quality time with their line managers (in their opinion). The identity of the top ranking team leader - from their self-scoring - was met with surprise. Their reactions and the rankings made me curious:
- Why did the top ranker from the team leaders list not know what their senior manager thought of them?
- Were they being honest with me and themselves, or were they deluded?
- Were they the ones not spending enough time with their manager?
This prompted me to include some time for the team leaders to meet with their senior managers before each monthly session, to discuss what they wanted to get out of the session, and what they would benefit most from.
Dealing with the troublemaker
The identification of the 'troublemakers' and 'champions' spoke volumes about the senior managers who identified them (let me be clear this is NOT how I viewed them, this was part of the data I would use to piece together the whole picture).
One of the “troublemakers” had difficult relationships with his peers and used questionable methods to resolve conflict. This made me curious to get to know what was going on “under the bonnet”. To cut a long story short, what he needed was support from his peers and help in some areas that he found difficult.
What he needed was support from his peers and help in some areas that he found difficult.
A supportive action learning set, skilfully facilitated, brought him and his peers together to find new ways of working with and supporting each other. The label was helpful in identifying a pain point in the organisation, no more, no less, and allowed me to include in the programme design a way to ease that pain.
So as I mentioned at the start, this story illustrates how important it is to know about your learners in advance.
This question has also prompted me to think about why some people may not agree with me and so in Part 2, I will be looking at some of those reasons and hopefully addressing them too!
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With 30 years experience in L&D, Krystyna has been training trainers, facilitators and subject matter experts as well as line managers since 2008. Noticing a lack of experience and skill in the area of needs analysis drove her to write her book 'How to Not...