Making informed decisions is an essential element in the Instructional Design (ID) toolbox. While many professionals rely on decision-making skills, the knowledge you possess as an ID allows you to design and evaluate meaningful learning experiences.
What is a needs assessment?
One process to help ensure the proper design of learning experiences is a needs assessment. Needs assessment within this context is the process of figuring out how to close the gap between the current and desired conditions. We do this by first examining the problems organizations encounter in terms of how they affect their people. We then look for performance improvement opportunities and use our acquired knowledge and skills to craft solutions where these problems and opportunities are related to identified instructional issues.
Instructional designers are often asked to solve perceived problems or help identify root causes to problems where the cause may be unclear. It is important to be in a position where you can reflect and ask if the instruction is the answer. This is especially true since many requests for learning development include fuzzy goals, flawed assumptions, considerable leaps in logic, and are not supported with data (Sleezer, Russ-Eft, Gupta, 2011).
The importance of clearly identifying the need
Ignoring or missing the opportunity to perform a needs assessment may mean you will place yourself in a position where you blindly design learning experiences without knowing if they will solve any real problem. However, you may do this work within a context where you are held accountable if your project doesn’t deliver on its promises or provide the expected outcome.
The needs assessment process frequently requires identifying, collecting, and analyzing different types of data from various established systems. For example, these data may be qualitative (interviews, focus groups, document analysis) or quantitative (surveys, database analysis, etc.). A mixed approach usually provides the most complete picture to address the need for learning and performance improvement.
In conclusion, remember the wise words of Joe Harless: “an ounce of analysis is worth a pound of objectives.”
Life is too short to spend time designing learning experiences that don’t meet the learners’ needs.
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Sleezer, C. M., Russ-Eft, D. F., Gupta, K. (2011). A Practical Guide to Needs Assessment. Germany: Wiley.