One the most important and for some, confounding, aspects to learning development is gaining a clear understanding of need.
All too often, we rush into a learning development project using our instincts, following our gut, or using past experience. The problem is that not everyone sees those issues the same, or has the same gut feel. And the experience gained in other projects, while important, can quickly become blinders when searching for the root cause in problem solving your most current project.
Recent research suggests that our experience can actually work against us when conducting root cause analysis. The research can become influenced by unintentional bias due to previous experiences and the temptation of reaching a conclusion too quickly, before a due diligence process has been fully exploited.
While much has been written on needs analysis and requirements gathering, it seems that both continue to be the bane of many of us in the industry. Maestro is often a recipient of client Request for Proposals (RFPs). While many are well developed and fully encompassing of the current state and desired need, a surprising number are lacking a clear definition of need. We suspect the issue is wide spread.
We have a system at Maestro that helps us clearly define needs. While this topic is too broad for this blog entry, I want to offer a few points to consider in your normal needs analysis process:
Validate Through Business Drivers
Often the drivers propelling the enterprise are not actively considered when defining needs within a training project. Why is that? Alignment with business drivers may be the most important analysis and definition exercise you can undertake. Operations that can support and advance key business drivers are the ones that get noticed, and funded. Why should training be different?
Often within a training context, the linkage to these drivers can appear to be tenuous, difficult to measure and hard to substantiate. That is often the case when trying to directly link a specific limited-scale training project with epic business drivers. For example, can you really substantiate that if you train a group of new employees regarding a compliance process that the results will affect corporate profit, or risk, or costs? No, not likely. Metrics and data simply are not available to accurately track performance and impact.
However, by scaling the impact on business drivers to something more direct, more immediate, you have a greater chance of showing value for your company. For example, you could declare an objective of reducing the time to proficiency in the compliance process from two months on the job to two weeks with proper monitoring. The increase in efficiency, the reduced risk of exposure and other factors related to business drivers is a much more direct cause and effect. Likewise, the data related to company losses due to substandard compliance during a given time period following the launch of training could be tracked and assessed, especially if your target audience is in a position where compliance and risk are key factors.
Focus On The User’s World
All too often we fail to fully understand the context within which the learner must perform. By gaining a 360-degree view of the learner’s world, we can create a clear vision of needs and requirements, but also limitations and dependencies that greatly affect training design, content, and relevance.
Taking the time to develop a full use case storyline can seem daunting. Often it is not. We are all familiar with the value of the Subject Matter Expert (SME) when it comes to determining content. Some well-spent time with SMEs knowledgeable in the CONTEXT in which the learner is expected to perform may have a significant impact on learning delivery and development.
Research your learner’s world enough that you have a clear picture of common use cases. Without this context, you run the risk of generating a learning experience that few want to engage, and undermining the training’s credibility.
Effective needs analysis is fundamental to effective instructional design. That’s no secret. But needs analysis goes beyond merely understanding the task or the performance metric. Extending your process to legitimize the training effort by defining results in terms of corporate drivers, as well as clearly defining the learners use case and context, will help create more effective training with greater relevance.