Tuesday, February 04, 2020

What is a Learning Needs Analysis?

The aim of this article is to make sense of learning needs analysis (LNA) and its importance within the wider training cycle before we deep dive into designing the requirements for an intervention. I recall a conversation I had in a previous role with my Manager, it went something like this: 

Manager: “Tarun, I would like you to create a new course for improving customer service within our area of the business.” 

Me: “Yes, most certainly. I will carry out a LNA for you and present my findings to you.”

Manager: “LNA? What’s that? Do we need to waste our resources doing that?” 

Me: “I understand why you say that but let me guide you through the steps we might need to take before deciding on what type of intervention might be most suitable for our business.” 

Manager: “Right! You can have an hour of my time tomorrow morning.” 

Me: “Great. I’ll bring the coffee. See you soon!” 

And there it was. I’d spoken my mind, rather than simply bowing down to my Manager and doing as I was told without assessing any evidence that would have justified the use of L&D time and resource. 

So, just to confirm, what is a Learning Needs Analysis? Well! It’s basically the same as Training Needs Analysis. The word ‘learning’ puts the onus on the participants taking ownership of their own learning. 

One of the main steps in carrying out a thorough Learning Needs Analysis is having a clear and detailed conversation with the person that is requesting the training, this could be your manager, the manager of another team or an external client to name a few. Let’s call them the Sponsor for the purpose of this article. This entails deciding on the ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ situation and then figuring out what the performance gap is. In my earlier situation it was crucial to arm myself with plenty of questions before I headed into the meeting. Some questions to consider could be around how the request aligns to the organisational goal, budget available, time/ key milestones, sponsor’s ideas of a learning solution, anticipated attitudes of the participants and pre-requisites required, risk if learning is not delivered etc. To allow for this scoping meeting to run smoothly, it’s a good idea to email the questions to the sponsor in advance so they have time to think about them.

Whilst in the meeting you will need to aim to define at least one measureable business benefit of the intervention. Thinking back to my conversation above, the request from my Sponsor was pretty vague! As L&D experts, a part of our job is to help define the end result and make it more tangible, so having a clear understanding of what they want to increase/decrease (for e.g. increase revenue or decrease costs), by how much, by when and what the participants will do differently as a result of the intervention when they are back at work should be clearly established.

Once you’ve gathered a few ideas in the scoping meeting, the aim should be to gather as much information as possible around what needs to be delivered and also who our target audience will be. Some techniques and analysis tools you might incorporate at this stage to identify ‘what good looks like’ could include focus groups, observations, hands-on, questionnaires, DIF analysis, process analysis, to name a few. In an ideal scenario, you would use a combination of these techniques to add merit to your findings. Breaking the content down into bite-size chunks will help write the aims and outcomes for each topic area and also allow you to decide on the learning methods you will adopt to deliver the intervention. This could include a combination of physical and virtual environments e.g. classroom, workplace, live online sessions or e-learning.

Whichever route you choose, it should be the most effective and efficient route from a learners point of view.

What next?

Now that you have a good idea of the content and the delivery options available to you, you should be in a good place to start estimating the costs and time it will take to deliver the intervention. I emphasise on the word ‘estimate’ because at such an early stage within the training cycle, the last thing you want to do is sign your name down to a confirmed end cost and time as things may change as the intervention gathers momentum. And please, make sure you charge for your time in the costings as you are not a free resource!

Finally, it’s time to present your recommendations and your findings in a report. Best practice would suggest that you offer three recommendations:

A - The risk of not delivering the intervention
B - The solution based on your findings
C - A compromise solution which could be cheaper than recommendation B. However, please make it clear that recommendation C may come at a quality compromise! 

The output of a Learning Needs Analysis could be two-fold, the best outcome would be the go-ahead from the sponsor for either B or C of your suggested solutions - meaning that you can now take the LNA summary and pass it on to your designers who will design the intervention based on the sign-off. Or, you may find that training is not the answer to the Sponsor’s solution and in that case and it would be pointless spending time and effort in designing and delivering an intervention which will add little, or perhaps no value to the overall organisational goal.

In summary

Bear the following suggestions in mind when conducting your next LNA and you will continue to enable your L&D function to partner with the wider business:

  • Scope the project by asking a series of questions around the intervention
  • Plan for evaluation as early as possible
  • Gather information on the ‘what’ and ‘who’
  • Break deliverables down into bite-size chunks with clear aims and outcomes
  • Consider your delivery options and analyse the suitability of the delivery environments
  • Estimate time and costs
  • And finally, make your recommendations through your LNA reports

I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. Time to put the kettle on! 

Tarun Monga MBA TAP.dip
Learning Consultant, TAP Learning 

Looking for more information? Call the team on 02476 411288 for more information or click here to view the full outline for the TAP Certificate in Learning Needs Analysis.

Author: Tarun Monga