Needs Analysis, Part 1

Part 1, Conducting a Needs Analysis

Needs Analysis, Part I: What is Needs Analysis?

Learning Objectives

In this unit we will explore how to assess the training needs of the organization and individual learners.

By the end of this unit learners will be able to:

  • Identify an instructional problem
  • List the methods to collect data for a needs assessment
  • Plan and implement an instructional needs assessment, and
  • Analyze learner, task, and situational characteristics


Needs analysis is one of the most important steps when planning any instructional program, and is identified as the first step in most instructional design models. Most instructional design models are based on the five-phase Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (ADDIE) model. Many different versions of the ADDIE model exist today, probably over 100, but for the purposes of this unit will work with the generic version.

Defining Need

Let’s start with defining what’s meant by a need. A need is a discrepancy or gap between a desired state and the current state (Kaufman, 1969). In a business setting, a training or instructional need may be indentified as a discrepancy between the desired performance and the actual performance of employees. But, acknowledging that there is a performance gap is not enough. If faulty equipment or software, or a negative organizational environment is the reason for the low performance, a new training program could be a costly waste of time. But, if employees lack the knowledge or skills needed to successfully perform the various tasks that comprise their jobs, a training need is identified. So, a needs analysis is required to determine if training is needed, where training is needed, what needs to be taught, and who needs to be trained.

Why Needs Analysis?

Needs analysis ensures that training programs are developed based on identified needs. Without a thorough analysis of the learners and the learning environment, success of a training program cannot be guaranteed.

  • The course may focus on the wrong content and not actually cover the relevant material. The material may be incomplete, redundant or incorrect.
  • It may be too easy or too difficult for the learners, or
  • The course content may not address the organization's business needs

Questions Answered in Analysis Phase

If done correctly, many important questions can be answered during the analysis phase. The trainer identifies the learning problem, the goals and objectives, the audience’s needs, and any other relevant characteristics.  Needs analysis also considers the learning environment, constraints, the delivery options, the budget and the timeline for the project.

Here are some questions we would hope to answer.

About the learner:

  • What is the learning problem?

  • Who is the learning audience? In a clinical setting you must take into account the broad variation in your audience. This may include physicians, nurses, technicians, clerical staff, supervisors, researchers, and other members of the health care team.

  • What do the members of the learning audience already know? Each audience may vary in their experiences and knowledge. Your training should be tailored to what each audience and may require.

  • What new content do they need to learn?

  • How will success for both the learner and the project be defined? At first you may just measure how well the learner uses the EHR functions, but the ultimate learner outcome is how does the learner’s use of the EHR impact patient care. Your job as a trainer is not complete until the user can successfully integrate the EHR into their practice.

  • -What are the goals and objectives for this training project?

But, you will ask different questions about the organization:

  • What organizational constraints exist? You should assess the organization’s ability to change and accept new technologies. The EHR implementation may alter the clinical workflow and are the staff ready to change the way they work? Is the organization ready to adopt these new business processes?

  • When is the project due?

  • How do the learning outcomes connect to the organizational goals?

  • What resources are already available?

  • What is the budget?

  • What are the training delivery options?

Conducting a Needs Analysis

Let’s look at how you conduct an actual needs analysis. The steps in the process are:

  1. Discovery and planning,
  2. Learner analysis
  3. Instructional analysis
  4. Instructional setting design
  5. Budget planning

Once complete, you will be ready to write learning objectives and move on to the design phase.

Discovering Needs

The first step is to develop a strategy for the needs assessment itself. You will first have to gather some preliminary data on the training needs of the target group through a process of discovery. Many different sources can be used to gather information on learning and training needs:

  • Using document reviews you can analyze budget and quality control documents, goal statements, evaluation reports, scheduling and staffing reports, or other documents for existing problems, such as testimonials from other organizations.

  • Using observations and immersion, trained observers can work with the employees to gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities they face on a daily basis, and watch the job or task being performed.

  • Surveys can be used to send out written questionnaires.

  • Focus groups can be used to lead group discussion composed of employees and/or their managers.

  • And, you may choose interviews to talk to key stakeholders such as supervisors, managers, Subject Matter Experts (SME), target employees and their functional heads, tech support personnel and clients.

Discovery Questions

Interviews and surveys are going to be very important and will yield some of the best results. The trainer will use this information to get a broad understanding of the training needs in the organization, to create goals for the needs assessment, and to focus the subsequent analyses and training.

Be sure to write questions that give different perspectives on the workplace and the need for training. So, you may ask a target an employee:

  • What prevents you from performing a prescribed task to standards?
  • Why do you think training is needed?
  • What prevents you from performing a prescribed task to standards?
  • If you could change one thing in the way you perform your work, what would it be?

But, ask the employee’s functional supervisor:

  • Describe specific instances of how workplace productivity has been affected by lack of training?
  • Give specific examples of how performance deficits have affected organizational goals?
  • What are your employees doing that they shouldn't be doing?
  • What specific things would you like to see your employees do, but don't?

Sample Assessment Goals

Using the results from the discovery process a trainer would be able to define clear goals for the additional data collection processes to follow. Let’s consider the case of Clinic X where a new EHR system is being introduced. The assessment goals may be to:

  1. Assess the organizational climate to determine any potential obstacles to the needs assessment or to the training.
  2. Determine the specific training needs of key job tasks (as determined from the discovery process).
  3. Develop an understanding of what the training should accomplish.

Needs Analysis Methods

Different approaches can be used to meet the defined goals. These include organizational analysis, learner analysis, and instructional analysis.

In the next few sections we will take a look at these three approaches, but we will focus more on the learner and instructional analyses.

Organizational Analysis

An organizational analysis is conducted to define those components of the organization that may affect the delivery of a training program (Goldstein1993). Unfortunately, many training programs fail to be successful because of organizational constraints and conflicts. In organizational analysis, we focus on factors such as organizational goals, available resources, constraints, and support.

Case Study

Sometimes you may be training community clinic staff on a new EHR system that was imposed on them because their clinic was recently taken over by a larger hospital corporation. In these situations it is important to understand the previous organization and the new corporation, what were their priorities and how did the employees work together.

Some areas to look at are the communications strategies, directly or through formal hierarchies; does the organization embrace the change and the new system; were there past implementations that did not go well; does the organization value learning and provide sufficient resources for training, including release time for the clinical staff.

Learner Analysis

Let’s revisit the questions about the learner that a needs analysis could answer.

  • What is the learning or performance problem?
  • Who is the learning audience?
  • How many employees should be trained?
  • What do the members of the learning audience already know?
  • What new content do they need to learn?
  • How will success for both the learner and the project be defined?

The data collected from the initial interviews will answer many of these questions, but for specific information about the tasks for which individuals must be trained, a job and a task analysis must be conducted.

Instructional Analysis

Job and task analyses answer the question, “How is this job or function performed?” and “What skills must be learned in order for someone to perform this task?”

At this stage it might be necessary to create and apply data collection tools to determine the work functions to be performed on the job, the conditions under which the job is to be performed, and the knowledge, skills or attitudes needed to perform the job tasks. This information will serve as a benchmark for what should be taught.

According to Jonassen et al., 1999, a trainer will use these analyses to:

  • Determine the instructional goals and objectives
  • Define and describe in detail the tasks and sub-tasks that the student will perform
  • Specify the knowledge type (declarative, structural, and procedural knowledge) that characterize a job or task
  • Select learning outcomes that are appropriate for instructional development
  • Prioritize and sequence tasks
  • Determine instructional activities and strategies that foster learning
  • Select appropriate media and learning environments
  • Construct performance assessments and evaluation

Job Analysis

For example, to train Patient Intake personnel on the new EHR system at a community health clinic, it’s important to understand what tasks individuals will be doing in their everyday jobs and under what conditions. We would try to determine, what defines good performance, the frequency of the task, the level of difficulty, and its importance to the clinic workflow.

Conducting a Job Analysis

Data collection in a business setting can be difficult, but there are different tools available. Depending on the time and budget for this process, any number of these can be employed.

Document analysis: Document analysis is a technique for determining required knowledge and skills directly from operating procedures, manuals, administrative procedures, job descriptions and other job related documents.

Observing the Expert: This method uses an observer to record an expert performing a task. As the trainer you will often find yourself in the role of the observer, but if resources permit you may a want to play an unbiased role and brief the observer and the expert regarding the intended outcome of the observation.

Job inventory questionnaire and Interviews: Either individually or in groups subject-matter experts are interviewed. Through brainstorming and consensus building, the team determines which tasks should be trained. Task selection is based on the frequency, difficulty, criticality and the consequences of error or poor performance.

Job Analysis Questions

In an interview it might be important to ask questions that tell a lot about the nature of the job. Here are some suggested questions that might appear in a questionnaire or interview.

  • List all your major responsibilities and prioritize them.

  • Why are these responsibilities important to your job?

  • Describe some specific duties or tasks that you perform in your job. Next to each item state how often you perform this duty or task.

  • What knowledge do you require to perform your job successfully?

  • What prior knowledge, skills or abilities did you bring to your position that helped make you successful in your job?

  • Describe any other contributing factors that you feel have made you successful in your job?

Conducting a Task Analysis

A task analysis is conducted to get more detailed information on actual job tasks. For a given job, all tasks and sub-tasks, the flow of information, and the decisions required to perform the job are documented. These five processes must be completed:

  1. Classify tasks according to learning outcomes
  2. Generate a list of tasks
  3. Prioritize tasks and choose those that are more feasible and appropriate if there is an abundance of tasks to train.
  4. Identify and describe the components of the tasks, goals, or objectives.
  5. Sequence tasks and sub-tasks to define the sequence in which instruction should occur that would best facilitate learning.

Task Analysis Case Study

Let’s consider this example of a task analysis.

The objective here is for the learner to be able to accurately register a new patient in the electronic health record.

Simple Task Analysis

Here’s the step-by-step process that defines the learning. The three main tasks are:

  • Collect Patient Information
  • Verify Patient Insurance
  • Schedule Appointment
And, these tasks are further broken down into sub-tasks.

Process-Based Training

Task or role-based training, like we just described, will be the majority of training during the early stages of EHR implementation, but as the users add EHR functions to the clinical workflow your training should address these complex team-based clinical operations. For example, if the clinic recently implemented a Colon Cancer screening program the patient advocate would have to involve the call center, nursing staff and patient schedulers to assure the smooth referral of the patient information and needs. This training needs analysis would focus on the clinic workflow and not just one job function or person’s tasks.

 Subordinate Skill Analysis

Once you have defined the main tasks, the next step is to identify the prior knowledge and skills learners must possess if each step is to be successfully completed. Leaving out certain skills or steps may cause difficulties for the learner. This last part of the instructional analysis is necessary to be sure that the course content exactly matches what learners need to know.

For example, to be able to register a new patient accurately, you will need to open the program, select the relevant menus, type text, save the record and so on. But, you would also need to first be able to operate a keyboard and mouse. Knowing how to operate a keyboard and mouse are not really sub-tasks in registering a new patient, but they are they are subordinate skills that are required in order to perform the steps of the task.

Learners may already possess the knowledge or skills to complete these subordinate tasks, but training may be needed for others. If this inventory of relevant knowledge, skills and attitudes is not completed, you may omit important instructional components from the training.

Classifying Tasks and Learning

As a final step, each task or learning outcomes, as they can now be called, must be analyzed further by identifying the domains and levels of learning and determining prerequisite skills. The learning objectives for the training program will be derived form this process.

There are a number ways to approach this two of which we will describe here. To begin, let’s look at Blooms Taxonomy. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom headed a group of educational psychologists who identified three domains of educational activities.

In Blooms Taxonomy three domains are defined. The Cognitive domain defines mental skills or Knowledge; the Affective domain defines attitudes, or growth in feelings or emotions; and the psychomotor domain defines manual or physical skills.

Cognitive Domain (Bloom, 1956)

In the cognitive domain Bloom’s taxonomy identified and defined levels of mental skills from the lowest level of simple recall of facts, through increasingly more complex mental activities.  There are 6 major categories.

Revised Bloom’s Cognitive Domain

In the late 1990’s Blooms Taxonomy was revised. This revision reflects a more active form of thinking (as reflected in the use of verbs instead of nouns) and rearranges a few categories. This description of these categories, however, remains the same.

Affective Domain

The affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, Masia, 1973) indentifies the manner in which we handle emotions, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes. There are five major categories.

Psychomotor Domain

The psychomotor domain (Simpson, 1972) includes physical movement, coordination, and the use of the motor-skill areas. Development of these skills requires practice and is measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, procedures, or techniques in execution. There are seven major categories.

Gagné’s Taxonomy

Another way to classify learning outcomes is to use Gagné’s Learned Capabilities. Gagné divides learning into five categories of capabilities. This taxonomy is very popular with instructional designers. The Learned Capabilities are: intellectual skills, cognitive strategy, verbal information, motor skill and attitude.

EHR Intake Task Analysis

Let’s take a look at our example again. At a glance, all these tasks appear strictly procedural and not very complex. However, if a thorough subordinate task analysis and classification is conducted a far more complex picture of the tasks and learning outcomes will emerge.


Or, how do HIPAA privacy and confidentiality affect the patient registration process – factors such as communicating with the patient in a public setting, computer screen orientation, logging out when leaving the computer terminal?

These are all examples of knowledge and skills required to ensure that the job tasks are completed adequately. And, from what we’ve described here, you can see that far more complex skills are required than just recalling the steps of the process.

Sample Learning Objectives

If you were teaching a lesson on these intake tasks, you may write the following learning objectives:

  • Recall the steps of the intake process.
  • Assist patients who have incomplete information.
  • Select the appropriate registration protocol given the intake environment.
  • Apply HIPAA regulations to the registration process.

Training Format and Budget

Now that you have a clear understanding of your learners and the learning environment and have a set of defined learning objectives, you are now ready to make some preliminary decisions on the training setting and the resources available to facilitate training. These two go hand-in-hand, as you may be forced to tailor the format to meet the budget. Here are some issues you’ll have to consider.

Training format

  • Instructor-led
  • In classroom or computer lab
  • Online and self-directed
  • One-on-one tutorials
  • Blended (combination of two or more of the above)

Other questions

  • Should consultant subject-matter experts be hired?
  • How many sessions?
  • How should training be tailored for different personnel


We started by stating that a needs analysis is the first step in designing training programs, and is required to determine if training is needed, where training is needed, what needs to be taught, and who needs to be trained, and we have explored a systematic way of gathering information to answer those questions.

As a trainer you will use the results of this process to set priorities for your training program. These priorities should be based on the urgency of the need, the extent of the need, and the resources available.

However, the ADDIE process is a cycle rather than linear, and the end of each training program, your evaluation results become the first data to be incorporated in a new needs analysis process.

Next: Needs Analysis, Part 2

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