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They’ve Got Answers, You Need the Right Questions
Friday, October 21, 2016
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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.

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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.

About the Author
Beth D. McGoldrick is an instructional designer for RiverSource Insurance, part of Ameriprise Financial, where she has won awards for training projects she designed and developed. She has more than 18 years of experience in training and development in the insurance industry and academia, including skills in analyzing, designing, developing, and measuring training. Beth has written articles and book chapters on various training topics, including needs analysis, instructional design for mobile learning, and evaluation. She mentors other instructional designers throughout the country. She has a master of science in organizational performance and workplace learning from Boise State University.Beth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband, John, son, and Shetland sheepdog. Beth may be reached at BethMcGoldrick.ISD@gmail.com.
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About the Author
Deborah Tobey has 20 years experience in the human resources and development field and is principal of a solo consulting practice in human and organization performance improvement. She works with client organizations in consulting skills development and systems. Her clients include Fortune 500 organizations in the manufacturing, finance, health care, and service sectors. She has a BA in English and an MA in student personnel administration and counseling, as well as a PhD in HRD from Vanderbilt University. She is author of two other titles published by ASTD Press and a frequent lecturer.
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