Training Needs Analysis & Learning Evaluation Overview

We all know effective training plays a vital role in growing and sustaining a successful workforce and organization. But even the best designed, most comprehensive learning programs can fail if they don’t provide what learners actually need to improve and grow their skill sets.

And this is where training needs analysis can play an important role. When executed properly, this process helps ensure the right training is delivered to meet learners’ and organizational needs while enhancing learning evaluation efforts. Thus, when it’s time to measure the effectiveness of your program, this data-driven approach ensures you have the metrics needed for analysis.

What is training needs analysis?

Training needs analysis (TNA) is a method of identifying the skills gaps your learners have that are stopping them from effectively performing and excelling in their roles. When executed correctly it also helps align learning initiatives with overall business goals and priorities while improving L&D’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Sometimes referred to as training needs assessment, TNA can be beneficial when onboarding new hires, reskilling or upskilling employees, or implementing new technology. This process generally consists of these main steps.

Step 1: Align with organizational priorities.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—if you’re not aligning your learning programs with the organization’s goals, your efforts may be futile. So before you even begin identifying your behavior/skills gaps and training needs, take time to meet with stakeholders to fully understand priorities and desired outcomes across the organization.

Then, work with stakeholders to identify the skills necessary to meet these needs, and identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics behind them.

Step 2: Identify the skills needed to accomplish organizational goals.

Once you’ve determined organizational objectives, it’s time to assess and evaluate learners' current skill sets in relation to the skills you’ve identified to see where and how learners might need to improve. This can be done in many ways, but if you've identified good, measurable KPIs, the best way to identify skills needed is to gather employee-related KPI data so you can quickly begin to see where the skills gaps lie.

You may want to supplement the KPI data with self-assessment and 360-assessment data, as this information can be used to take individual and team confidence in ability into account—but this data should not be your only source.

Step 3: Look for the skills gaps.

Pinpoint performance issues that might be a result of the skills gaps you identified in the previous step.

This can be accomplished through learning evaluation programs, surveys, reviews, and/or assessments.

The best way to identify performance issues, however, is visualizing the other data related to KPIs’ gathered during Step 2. And then map that data for teams and individuals using a diagram, such as a spider chart (see the example image).

Once you’ve identified the needs of your organization, you can then start looking at training interventions that can bridge these gaps. If you’ve followed through with the process and identified your KPIs and metrics, you should find it easy to measure the impact of your programs.

How can a training needs analysis go wrong?

While conducting a training needs assessment has its benefits, it also has some drawbacks. In fact, a proper TNA can be quite difficult. This is especially true if you focus too much on what learners or managers think is needed, instead of working back from the business goal to determine what’s really needed. As a result, two of the biggest mistakes people tend to make when conducting TNAs are:

  1. looking at what learning content people need, and
  2. framing requirements in terms of training needed, not business goals.

Furthermore, it’s not easy to evaluate someone’s skill levels in a short time period. Rather, you need to invest time in applying several evaluation methods to truly understand where someone might be struggling.

And what you do discover during a TNA may not be an actual skill gap, but a “perceived” skill gap. For example, if someone self-ranks their skill sets, you probably won’t receive an accurate evaluation—as it’s common for people to misperceive their actual abilities. And the same is true when it comes to peer reviews.

Training Business Needs Analysis

When it comes to training needs analysis, the problem is in the name itself. We shouldn’t start by looking at what training is needed—we should start by looking at where the business needs to improve and work from there.

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