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They’ve Got Answers, You Need the Right Questions

By and

Fri Oct 21 2016

They’ve Got Answers, You Need the Right Questions

Training needs assessment is the foundation that guarantees the eventual training design and delivery hit the mark. A key element of an effective needs assessment is data collection.

Data collection serves multiple purposes:

  • augments and validates the client’s presenting business needs 

  • links the business needs to the client’s goal and the desired training initiatives 

  • validates or refutes the hunches that came to you during the initial client conversation  

  • defines the business gap between current business needs and the desired business goals 

  • defines the performance gap between the current learner performance level and the desired learner performance level 

  • defines the knowledge and skills gap between the current learner skills and knowledge level and the desired learner skills and knowledge level 

  • identifies learners’ needs in the learning environment.

Some trainers want to collect all the data that could possibly pertain to the training issue at hand. They become enamored of the data collection process because research is interesting to them. However, the purpose of needs assessment data collection is not research—it is to help the client “mobilize action on a problem.” To maintain focus, it’s critical to have the right data collection questions.

You must develop data collection questions based on your initial conversation with your client. What do you want to know: business needs, performance needs, learning needs, and learner needs. Here are some examples of targeted questions for each needs assessment stage, which you can customize to a specific data collection plan.

Business Needs

  • What problem(s) must be resolved? To what measurable extent? 

  • What opportunity(ies) must be capitalized upon? What is the initial goal? 

  • What strategy(ies) must be supported? What measures will indicate success?  

  • What proportion of the problem, opportunity, or strategic goal will be attributed to the training effort?

Performance Needs 

  • What is a description of desired on-the-job performance? 

  • What is a description of current on-the-job performance? 

  • What are the specific gaps between desired and current on-the-job performance? 

  • How is on-the-job performance measured? 

  • How is on-the-job-performance managed and rewarded? 

  • What tools and resources do the employees need to achieve the desired performance? 

  • What is a description of the work environment in which the performance is expected?  

  • What are post-training expectations for manager support for job application?

Learning Needs 

  • What do learners know now? 

  • What can learners do now? 

  • What skills do the learners need to be able to do differently? How well? 

  • What do learners need to know to perform the skills? 

  • What are implications in the work environment for transfer of learning back to the job?  

  • Will training need to be delivered to new employees as they join the department, or it this a one-and-done training project?

Learner Needs 

  • What training have the learners already had in this area? 

  • How did previous training go? 

  • What is their attitude about the job performance that is being targeted? 

  • What is their attitude toward the planned training program? 

  • What organizational levels will the learners come from?  

  • What will be the context in which they attend training (on the job, off the job, before or after shift, with their managers’ support or not, arrangements made to be away from work, or expected to catch up on work during breaks)? 

  • Will training attendance be voluntary or mandatory?

Review this list and update it to help meet the needs of your projects. You won’t need to ask every question for every project. Instead, find the ones that will answer the questions based on the need presented and the organization you are working with.

For more on how to improve your data collection in the needs assessment process, check out Needs Assessment Basics, 2nd Edition.

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