Blog Post

Are you afraid of spiders?

Learning needs analysis – why bother?

If you are looking to really give your clients a good return on their learning investment, you need to be sure that you are giving them what they need, as opposed to what they think they need.

Perceived and actual skills are often very, very different.  The classic example is the daily Excel user who carries out a few tasks every day, but never creates a calculation or a formula.  To put this user directly onto an intermediate course, ‘because they are using Excel’ is a bit like putting me in a Formula One car just because I can drive.  Although if that happened to include being shown how to do that by Jenson Button, then I could very easily be persuaded.  But that’s another topic all together.

This also happens when the programme of learning is being arranged by a management level who are removed from the day to day application of skills in the workplace.  They have a very different idea of what the learning need is, and often this is influenced by the type of learning they want their teams to be exposed to.  Expectations of staff in specific roles, such as junior management, can be very high, and yet are often not investigated or justified prior to the learning request being made.  A memorable example of that for me recently was being asked to provide customer service skills learning, with an emphasis on telephone techniques.  Not a problem at all – workshop was devised, activities planned, big girl pants were on over my trousers and off I went to implement change via learning and change lives!!! (cue superhero music).

Except when I got there it wasn’t what they wanted, or needed at all.

In any way.


Very quickly it became apparent that what was really needed was:

  1. A referee
  2. Some emergency communication skills learning for the teams themselves

Internally their communication had broken down, emotion & resentment had taken hold and basic customer service processes were not being followed or managed internally.

So – lesson plan out of the window, cape out of the bag to go with the underpants, and a totally new workshop devised on the spot, for 12 learners, with 30 minutes to spare.  Thinking on your feet?  Oh yeah, and then some.

And it’s the only time I’ve had a serious concern about the safety of a delegate making it back to their desk alive………..

Now I am not saying that all of this could have been avoided by a learning needs analysis.  But maybe, just maybe – if the teams being put forward for the learning had been asked what they wanted to achieve from it before hand, these major issues could have been flagged and a different plan adopted.

I’ll never know, because that client saw the spider……

Mention a Learning Needs Analysis and your clients can often react in the same way that people do to finding a spider in the bath.  Some shriek.  Some ignore it and hope it will go away.  Some frantically try to drown it back down the plughole.


  • Most think it will cost them money – a lot of money – and they don’t want the spend.
  • Some don’t want to invest the time
  • Some assume it’s a paper based exercise & don’t want the organisational hassle.
  • Some simply want to provide learning without it being part of a planned workforce or business development programme – a ‘quick fix’ if you like.
  • And some, sadly, just don’t see the value of finding out what their learners need to learn.

A well designed and delivered LNA is not something to be scared of.  If you take the time to plan and construct easily accessible surveys, you can create a powerful tool in your learning arsenal & a great added value proposition for your clients.

A good learning needs analysis will help you identify:

  • The objectives of the organization
  • Gaps between what employees currently know and what they need to learn
  • Learning that is required
  • Learning that would be nice to have
  • When learning may not be needed
  • When learning is not the right approach
  • The benefits and negative aspects of providing learning
  • The type of learning that is appropriate
  • The best approaches to deliver effective learning
  • A method for collecting feedback and evaluating the program

Ideally, as a learning provider, a LNA should not be something you use to generate revenue – if you are looking to make a buck before you’ve actually created a relationship with your client then you are going about it entirely about face.  And you need to think again.  And if you use a learning provider that does so, then you know what you need to do…..

An LNA should be an added value service you offer to your clients to make sure they are getting the best from you.  You can also think of it as a roadmap to assist your clients to make the right choices about the services you offer.

By using an online survey, you can make the whole process a lot less personal.

Assessing learning requirements for both applications & soft skills learning is always a bit of a minefield.  Adding egos to the problem can make it very difficult to explain that you don’t feel the delegates you are discussing are suitable for an advanced course, even if your client is telling you they think they are experts, or are being told they are experts.

When working with clients who are looking for a blend of learning options, I can also use these online surveys to determine prospective delegates attitudes towards learning, what their ideal learning styles are, and produce reasoned proposals for consideration rather than just offering ‘off the shelf’ solutions.

For example, if a client is considering running Presentation Skills learning, I’ll suggest putting the delegates through a PowerPoint LNA.  I can then offer a customised learning solution that encompasses the manual skills of putting a presentation together, with the professional presenting skills to make sure it is used effectively – my mission?  Avoiding Death by PowerPoint.  These are not skills that are exclusive to each other.  A great presenter will know how to use PowerPoint to enhance and aid their presentation – if they use it at all – so why assume these skills are separate?

The same applies with Project Management.  An online survey which determines the skills that are missing when using Microsoft Project, allows me to suggest a learning programme which covers aspects of project management, and the elements of using project planning software.

Using an online LNA to focus on checking actual knowledge rather than assumed knowledge can give you a report that allows you to align the skills gaps you identify with the learning you offer.  The LNA’s I use can be anonymous – although I prefer to get the delegates to at least use their names to allow for easier reporting afterwards.

I offer online surveys to all my clients as an option when they are looking for learning solutions.  I can  customise them to suit specific job requirements, product knowledge, skills or even to support the rollout of new technology in the workplace.  I use them as part of my learning provision to make sure that any new enquiries for learning can be discussed with a benchmark of a LNA report behind them.

Delivered via an email invitation or weblink, these surveys can be completed at a time to suit the individual, meaning less disruption for the client, and no tedious printing and collating of paper LNAs.  I generally follow them up once or twice in the LNA period to try and get as many responses as I can.  My goal when using the survey is to provide my clients with a valuable tool to help create a comprehensive learning program within their company – whether they want one day, or one year’s worth of learning, it allows me to make recommendations based on knowledge based questions – not a tick list of meaningless options such as ‘Do you use Absolute Cell References – Y/N’.

All of the data is then gathered into spreadsheets, and a customised report summarises the results.

What does this cost?  Nothing more than my time & expertise.

What is the value of doing this?  Targeted learning & improved ROI.

Including a LNA process from the start means I can focus on designing programmes which provide essential plugs for the skills gaps, and the next steps to improve knowledge and efficiency.

I always want my clients to get the best learning I can give them, and I firmly believe using LNAs helps me do that.

So – is it worth it?  Yes.



This was first written for Inside Learning Technologies Magazine – if you’d like Sheena to write an article for you, please get in touch.

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