Learning Needs Analysis

Compiled by:
Sreevidya Satish (Ecosan Services Foundation)

Executive Summary

Learning needs analyses are undertaken to determine the gap between the existing skills, knowledge and abilities and those desired. Once this gap is determined, decisions can be taken as to the type of training required. The procedure for conducting such an analysis can be quite simple, but usually requires quite a bit of time before a training.


The principal conclusion to be drawn from examining adult learning is that courses – to be effective – should be “learner-centred", i.e., they should be designed on the basis of a clear understanding of the learners and their needs. A learning needs analysis is thus a centrally important element of a training course design (KRCHNAK 2003).

Why a Learning Needs Analysis

Learning needs analyses are conducted in order to find out about:


  • What are their roles and responsibilities?
  • What degree of understanding do they already have of sustainable sanitation and water management (SSWM) in relation to their work?
  • To what extent are participants already involved in developing SSWM work practices?
  • What kind of motivation do participants have to attend the SSWM course?
  • What are their expectations of the course?

Participants' Organisations/Departments

  • What other strategies are being adopted to promote SSWM work practices, i.e., is there a SSWM policy?
  • What monitoring procedures are there?
  • Have any checklists and guidelines been developed?
  • Are there staff incentives to work in a SSWM way?
  • How will the training be followed up?

Methods of Learning Needs Analysis

OUTLOOK ARTNERSHIPS 2010 Diagrammatic view of training cycle

Diagrammatic view of training cycle. Source: OUTLOOK PARTNERSHIPS (2010)

In designing new SSWM training courses or programmes on SSWM, it is important to plan the course on a clear understanding of the participants and their organisation. This requires a ‘learning needs analysis’ to take place prior to the training course, allowing sufficient time for course planning and materials preparation (WESTCOTT 2006).

Possible methods include:

  • Questionnaire survey of participants (this requires having a full list of participants well in advance of the course)
  • Telephone/e-mail survey of participants
  • Interviews/meetings with a selected group of participants – individually or collectively
  • Interviews/meetings with staff responsible for commissioning the SSWM training course, to clarify their expectations of the course and the ways in which the course should complement other measures being taken to promote SSWM

It is additionally good practice to start any SSWM training course with a review of the participants, their needs and expectations. This enables participants to share their expectations with each other, and enables the trainer to explain which expectations will and will not be met (WILLIAMS 1998). A review of expectations at the start of the course does not substitute for a profound learning needs analysis in advance of the course, because by this stage it will be difficult for the trainers to do major changes in the programme. If unexpected learning needs come up at this stage (if, for example, a pre-course learning needs assessment was not conducted), the trainers need to think through:

  • How much they are able to tailor the course to the learning needs that have been identified by participants?
  • How much they are willing to tailor the course to the learning needs of particular groups?
  • How much opportunity is there to incorporate participants’ experience into the course (e.g., in group exercises, discussions, presentations etc.)?


Learning needs analysis can be applied prior to any course. In their degree of detail, they can vary according to the length of the training – if it is a long and relatively new training that is offered, it is very important to invest some time in a learning needs analysis and to do it properly – otherwise, the training may not be effective. If it is only a short training that has been carried out many times and has shown to be effective with the target groups, the depth of the learning needs analysis can be shortened. A learning needs analysis is the foremost and important step in every training cycle. It determines the most appropriate and effective way to meeting the learning needs, including, but not limited to, training.


  • Learning can be directly related to organizational objectives
  • Learning can be targeted at specific requirements
  • Learning needs can be identified and prioritized
  • The time of participants can be spent on programmes which are appropriate for them
  • Training of limited value can be avoided
  • Financial resources can be allocated more effectively and efficiently
  • Learning can be carefully tailored to requirements


  • Need to plan well before commencement of training
  • Requires a lot of flexibility from the trainers’ side
  • Unexpected issues may arise which can lead to change in the training plan
  • Time and resources are necessary to conduct a profound Learning Needs Analysis before a training

References Library

KRCHNAK, K. M. ; GWA (Editor) (2003): Module 6 − Planning Training of Trainers (TOT) Workshops. In: GWA (Editor) (2003): Gender Mainstreaming: Practical Skills and Critical Analysis ODG. Dieren, 267-294.

WILLIAMS, B. (1998): Learning Needs Analysis. Ely: Fenman Ltd.

OUTLOOK PARTNERSHIPS (Editor) (2010): The training cycle. OUTLOOK PARTNERSHIPS . URL [Accessed: 07.05.2012].

Further Readings Library

Reference icon

KRCHNAK, K. M. ; GWA (Editor) (2003): Module 6 − Planning Training of Trainers (TOT) Workshops. In: GWA (Editor) (2003): Gender Mainstreaming: Practical Skills and Critical Analysis ODG. Dieren, 267-294.

This module is a guide to developing and implementing Training of Trainers (TOT) workshops. The overall objective of the module is to equip the participants with the knowledge and skills required to design and conduct practical training courses in mainstreaming gender in IWRM, but it can also be used for other training of trainer’s workshops. The module is supposed to be used as a manual to be able to deliver culturally specific training of trainers.

Training Material Library

Reference icon

SATISH, S. (2010): Sample Format of Learning Needs Analysis Questionnaire. Pune: SSWM Toolbox.

This Learning Needs Analysis Questionnaire was designed to gain information on subjects for a first line supervision of the target audience needs and thereby collecting the contents foreseen by participants, to be included in the course. Once the information from all sources has been gathered, It must be processed. The results are looked at closely to ensure that training is appropriate.

Reference icon

URQUHART, C.; SPINK, S.; THOMAS, C. (n.y.): Training needs analysis and beyond. Aberystwyth: Dept. of Information Studies, University of Wales Aberystwyth.

Powerpoint presentation on training needs analysis.

Important Weblinks

http://cpd.conted.ox.ac.uk/lnat/links.php [Accessed: 15.02.2010]

This website contains a learning needs analysis tool kit. There are listed numerous web links which provide you more information in regard to education, training and development.

http://www.assetproject.info/index.html [Accessed: 08.04.2010]

This webpage contains a self-help toolkit for adult teachers in learner centred methodologies, learner support and valuing diversity.

http://www.assetproject.info/learner_methodologies/before/learning_analysis.htm [Accessed: 17.02.2010]

This site gives details of why learning needs analysis is important and how to do it.

http://www.dirjournal.com/guides/how-to-conduct-a-training-needs-analysis/ [Accessed: 17.02.2010]

Journal describing different methods of analysis.