How to Conduct a Training Needs Assessment | Guide for Learning Design
Designing a training program is really just problem-solving.
To make an effective training program, you first must have a deep understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. All too often, this step is skipped. A training course is created without truly exploring the problems it’s solving.
You can imagine the danger of this situation. If you jump to a solution without understanding the problem, your chances of success are low. You’re pretty much just guessing. To improve your chances of success, you need more information. More data points to make sure you choose the absolute best solution available.
As a skilled instructional designer, this is your job. You must identify the gaps before you build a solution. That’s where a training needs assessment comes in.
What is a training needs assessment?
The “training needs assessment” is a tool to help you identify gaps in human performance.
In most cases, that means you’re trying to find performance gaps on a team. Once you know the gaps, you have clear information about what you’re trying to improve. A good place to start is with a few high-level questions, such as:
- “Why is this team taking so long to get work done?”
- “Why is this department not using the system we just implemented?”
After you conduct a training needs assessment, you’ll know more about the people who need training and what the problem is. With this information, you can decide if training is the best solution. Or if there are more effective ways to solve those problems.
A training needs assessment is used at the beginning of the instructional design process.
The instructional design process generally includes five phases: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation.
A training needs assessment is conducted during the first phase, analysis. Once you’ve identified the high-level problem, the assessment starts with collecting data on the current performance of your audience. From this data, you identify the skill and knowledge gaps. Then, you use that information to build your approach to fill the gaps.
Here are two examples:
- An internal learning and development team identifies many of their managers have poor leadership skills. They conduct a training needs assessment to deeper understand the leadership skill and knowledge gaps across the organization.
- An external customer education team identifies that customers aren’t using a software product to its fullest potential. They conduct a training needs assessment to deeper understand product usage skills and knowledge gaps.
A training needs assessment is an essential tool for any instructional designer looking to create a meaningful learning experience that solves real problems and can be measured successfully.
What is the importance of a training needs assessment?
Taking the time to assess training needs properly has considerable benefits for both employers and employees. It is an essential part of ensuring your learning program is successful.
Here are six reasons why you should conduct a training needs assessment:
1. It helps you identify performance gaps and areas of improvement.
A training needs assessment helps you understand details about your audience: which skills need to be targeted, how skills should be taught, and in what situations skills are needed. Knowing these performance gaps sets your learning program up for success from the start.
2. It helps you decide if training is the best solution.
Training isn’t always the answer. A training needs assessment helps you identify if training is the best solution to your problem or if something else might be more effective. Many times, all your audience needs is a policy document or a reference guide.
3. It helps you prioritize your training needs.
When done properly, a training needs assessment gives you detailed data that helps you focus your effort on behaviors that are most important and urgent. Prioritizing the highest impact skills will help your organization solve the most important problems first.
4. It helps you determine what type of training is needed.
Should your training be an instructor-led course or self-paced eLearning? To help you decide, your training needs assessment will reveal important information about your audience and the best training solution for their needs. This will help you determine the most appropriate delivery methods, content areas, and resources needed.
5. It helps you measure and evaluate the success of your training.
A training needs assessment gives you a clear baseline for performance. That way, you can use this baseline to set measurable goals to see if your training program is successful.
6. It saves you wasted time and money.
If you don’t know what problem you’re solving, how will you know if your solution is effective? This is the reason why many training programs are irrelevant or unneeded. A training needs assessment makes sure you don’t waste time or money building a training program that doesn’t solve any real problems.
What are the steps to conduct a training needs assessment?
A successful training needs assessment requires careful planning, creativity, and relationship-building. Where should you start? To ensure that your training needs assessment is valuable, we suggest following these four steps.
Step 1: Start with the problem and target goal
It all begins with a problem. First, think about why your organization is conducting a training needs assessment at all. What is the business trying to solve?
Let’s use the example from earlier, and assume the IT team is taking a long time to resolve service requests: “Why is this team taking so long to get work done?”
You can take this problem and turn it into a goal. What is the ideal level of productivity for the IT team? Finding this answer requires working closely with the project owner or any SMEs responsible for the work.
Your goal should be crystal clear and kept in mind throughout the entire instructional design process. This will help you to help you stay focused on the desired outcome.
Examples of clearly stated goals could be:
- Increase product usage by 10% within three months
- Reduce customer service calls by 20% within six months
- Raise employee engagement scores by 5% in the next year
For our example, our goal might be: Increase IT service request productivity by 15%.
Step 2: Identify the gaps
Also referred to as a “gap analysis,” this step assesses the current state of performance and compares it to the desired level. The “gaps” you’re trying to find are simply the difference between the existing state and the future state.
As you explore the gaps, you must also learn about your audience. How do they learn best? What tools do they typically learn from? What resources would they prefer?
For our IT team example, this means gathering data to understand why the team’s productivity is low. The problem could be because team members don’t know how to use the software system, or because their internal processes are confusing, or because they aren’t getting clear direction from their managers. Or, most likely, a combination of many factors altogether.
So, how do you identify the gaps? You use the tools you have available.
Here are some assessment resources and tools to help you identify the gaps:
- This is the best place to start your gap analysis. Most likely, your company will have documents and data to help you kickstart your assessment. Depending on the scope and topic of your training needs assessment, this could mean any kind of record; skill competencies, performance evaluations, sales data, safety reports, to name a few. As the instructional designer, it’s your job to find the company records you need. Build relationships with the right people, and dig around. Using company records is often the most efficient tool in your gap analysis because it doesn’t require any extra time from SMEs or subjects.
- When you have the opportunity, watch how people work. Observe and collect data on how employees do their job. You can look at things like task times, successful outcomes, common errors, etc. This real-time observation is essential for uncovering gaps that may not be obvious from company records.
Surveys and self-assessments
- This is all about asking the audience about the problem. Let them tell you about their experience. Assess how they think it’s going. This will tell you a lot. If you design a thoughtful survey or self-assessment, it will reveal incredibly insightful answers to help with your analysis. You’ll often learn more about the problems the audience experience daily, those that their managers or project sponsor may know nothing about.
- Spend time talking to your audience. Get to know them personally. This is much more resource-intensive than surveys, but always a valuable activity if you have the time. And your interviews don’t only have to be limited to the people doing the work. Check in with supervisors, managers, and customers. Anyone that may have a perspective that can help you identify gaps.
- In some cases, it may be more effective to gather a small group of people together and let them talk it out. Focus groups are an incredibly valuable way to uncover gaps because they give the members the freedom to express their opinions in an open dialog. It’s also a great opportunity for team building and boosting morale.
As you are collecting data, make sure to keep your original goal in mind.
Every data point collected should relate directly to the goal you’ve set out to achieve. One way you can understand the relevancy of a data point is to ask in your surveys or observations:
Please rate the level of importance (1-5) of this task for job performance.
That gives clear data on which tasks are most critical to focus on, and where the true gaps exist.
Let’s go back to our IT team example and say we interviewed 15 team members, observed 10 team members doing their daily jobs, and conducted a survey of 200 respondents. We found that 74% of team members were not using the software correctly and that there were 8 different processes to accomplish the same task. These were the two areas with the biggest gaps that could help solve our problem.
Step 3: Brainstorm potential solutions
Now that you’ve identified the gaps in your training needs assessment, it’s time to consider solutions. Depending on the complexity of your training need and the resources available, there are different approaches to addressing the gaps.
As the instructional designer, it’s your job to use your expertise here. In your experience, which training solutions work best to solve these types of problems, with these types of audiences?
Remember to use the data you collected in the gap analysis, and be thoughtful about how the specific audience learns best. From there, it’s time to brainstorm your creative ideas with your team or department to come up with the best possible solutions.
In our IT team example, the two biggest gaps were that many team members weren’t using the software correctly and there were too many processes to complete one task.
One solution could be to develop a video or online tutorial teaching team members how to use the software. This could be supplemented by in-person training sessions for those who need more guidance.
Another solution could be to develop a streamlined process, in which team members are trained on one process that they all use. This would help to reduce confusion and increase efficiency.
These are just two examples of potential solutions, but there are many others.
Step 4: Recommend final training solutions
Once you’ve identified the gaps and brainstormed potential solutions, it’s time to share your findings and recommendations. This is where the instructional designer takes the lead role—you are the expert on how people learn best and which solutions are ideal for a particular audience.
Your deliverable for this step should be some type of report, document, or presentation. The information should include why and how the training needs assessment was completed, what methods were used, who was involved, and the training recommendations with a general timeline.
As you dig into the analysis to provide a recommendation, make sure to consider resources such as time, money, and existing materials. Do you have a big budget? Or do you have to build this solution at the lowest cost possible? When does it need to be launched?
You’ll also want to keep the overall goal top of mind—the objectives and outcomes you set at the beginning. Then, it’s all about using your experience and intuition to make informed recommendations on how best to meet the goal.
For our IT team example, the instructional designer might recommend a combination of video tutorials, in-person training sessions, and a streamlined process as the best solution to fulfill their goal. Since we have a mid-sized budget, they may suggest outsourcing the video development to a 3rd party vendor, but leaning on the managers to lead the in-person training sessions. The instructional designer puts this recommendation, along with the training needs assessment details, into a PowerPoint presentation and presents it to the project owner and team.
Here are a few questions to consider as you create your report:
- What technology does the audience prefer to use (or have access to)?
- Do we have the resources to lead in-person training internally?
- Do we have the skills and experience needed to execute the recommendations from the training needs analysis?
- What is the ideal format for the training program?
- How does the audience prefer to learn?
What questions should you ask in your training needs assessment?
As an instructional designer, there are general questions to consider across the entire training needs assessment process. Of course, this all depends on your specific team, situation, and problem. You’ll need to adapt these questions to best fit your situation, so just use these as a way to get started.
- What are the goals and objectives of the program?
- Who is involved in this project and responsible for making decisions?
- Who is the audience for the training?
- What budget is available for creating and executing the training program?
- Are any existing tools or materials that can be used to facilitate training?
- What resources are available to create custom content (e.g., video production staff, subject matter experts)?
- How does the audience prefer to learn best (video, online tutorials, in-person training)?
- Is there an opportunity for continual learning/reinforcement after the initial training?
- What measures will be taken to ensure that participants have achieved their learning objectives?
- Are there any legal or regulatory requirements that need to be met as part of the training program?
- What tools and technologies will be used to deliver the training?
- How can evaluation data be collected and measured?
- Is there a timeline for launching the training program?
- What are the key milestones that need to be met along the way?
- Who is responsible for each step in the process?
- How will success be measured?
- What resources are available for troubleshooting and support?
- Are there any other concerns or considerations that should be taken into account?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to make an informed recommendation on how best to meet your training goal. Keep in mind that every situation is different, so use this as a guide and customize it according to the needs of your team. Good luck!
Here’s a quick example of a training needs assessment
The marketing department at Snorlak Corporation just implemented a new project management software and needs to train the team on how to use the software.
The goal of this training program is to ensure that everyone on the team can use the software efficiently and effectively in order to complete their daily jobs. The objectives are for each individual to become familiar with all functions of the software, including successfully creating tasks, navigating boards, and updating data.
The instructional designer first observes the team members trying to use the software to understand the baseline level of knowledge. She then uses surveys and interviews to understand what technology the audience prefers to use and how they would like to learn. The company has allocated funds for a mid-sized budget for training, including a video production team and subject matter experts that have offered to facilitate training, if needed.
The instructional designer documents this information and compiles it into a comprehensive analysis, outlining the needs assessment process and results. She makes recommendations for a training program that would be most effective for helping the team learn the new software. Her recommendation is for the team to create a series of videos covering the top 10 tasks. Then, to offer optional in-person training, where participants can ask questions and have access to monitored practice sessions.
The program will be evaluated using pre and post-assessments to measure the amount of knowledge acquired. Finally, we will measure success by evaluating feedback from participants after the program is complete.
Now you have an example of a training needs assessment in action. Use this as a starting point, but remember that the assessment of your specific needs will need to be customized for your team and situation.
What’s the definition of a training needs assessment?
A training needs assessment is a process of identifying and evaluating the skills level, knowledge gaps, and training needs of an organization, team or individual in order to design effective training programs. It involves analyzing the current state of affairs and developing strategies for improvement.
What phase of the ADDIE process is a training needs assessment conducted?
A training needs assessment is conducted during the Analysis phase of the ADDIE process (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate). The purpose of this phase is to determine what training objectives need to be addressed and what resources are available.
Who should participate in a training needs assessment?
Organizations typically involve multiple stakeholders in the training needs assessment process, including employees, managers, subject matter experts, and other professionals. It is important to ensure that a variety of perspectives are taken into account when evaluating current performance levels and making recommendations for improvement.
What are the components of a training needs assessment?
The components of a training needs assessment typically include an analysis of current performance levels, objectives and goals, resources available, a timeline for completion, evaluation criteria, and implementation strategies. It is important to consider the organization’s overall vision when making decisions related to the training program.
Now that you’ve figured out the needs of your company and employees, it’s time to make a well-informed decision. You can either create a new training program designed specifically for your business or modify existing processes to suit their work environment better.