Scaling Needs Assessments to Meet Learners’ Needs

L&D professionals are ultimately responsible for designing experiences that facilitate learning and improve performance, whether those learning experiences relate to onboarding, upskilling, succession planning, or compliance. The more information we can obtain about our organization’s needs and the needs of the learners who participate in workplace training, the better positioned we are to design training that is engaging, effective, and efficient.

To effectively engage our learners, we need to design content that meets them where they’re at, when they need it. Learners stay engaged with training materials when they are able to see the utility, relevance, and value in what is being shared with them. They need to be able to see why they’re learning and how they can apply the content to enhance their skills and their ability to complete work-related tasks.

In a blog outlining the instructional design process, Bill Brandon of The Learning Guild reminds us that instructional design begins with needs assessment. The purpose of a needs assessment is to identify training and performance gaps that may exist between where we are today and where we’d like our employees to be in the future. By identifying training gaps early, we can focus our training materials to support improving knowledge, skills, and performance in the workplace.

The typical steps in a workforce training needs assessment include identifying your organization’s learning needs, collecting relevant information about skills gaps and learner performance metrics from appropriate data sources, analyzing the data, and making recommendations to bridge the knowledge within your organization.

However, instructional designers often face challenges due to the timing of their involvement in a project. They are frequently brought in after the need for training has already been identified, resulting in rushed or skipped needs assessments, driven by concerns over cost and time.

To design effective and engaging training under such constraints, L&D professionals can employ strategies to quickly understand their learners’ needs. Here are four questions they can ask to scale their needs assessment efforts:

What are Learners’ Perceptions of Utility Regarding Training?

Learners are more apt to engage with training when they perceive it as useful. L&D professionals can gauge learners’ perceptions of utility by asking questions about their experiences with the content for specific courses, and the training program overall. Asking questions about how learners prefer to consume information and training can help the content development team begin to think about how instruction is delivered and gain an understanding of how to make that content most useful to learners. When will they access training? Will these be instructor-led sessions versus micro-learnings that are accessed on an as-needed basis?

What Do Your Learners Value?

Thinking of learners as the focal point of training, L&D professionals should ask questions to gain a better understanding of what their learners value when it comes to instruction. Understanding learner preferences, as well as their learning goals and aspirations, can help content creators design activities that can meet their immediate and long-term needs. This can help them better align activities and interactions such as training, job aids, and just-in-time training materials with their learners’ values.

How Relevant is Your Learners’ Training to Daily Job Responsibilities?

One of the most frustrating things for learners is to participate in training that they’ll never be able to apply to their jobs. Asking questions to gain a better understanding of what learners are expected to do as a result of their training can help content designers develop examples that learners can relate to. When L&D professionals are responsible for designing instruction that will be accessed by learners across a wide variety of departments, providing these examples – specific to their work environments – can keep learners engaged throughout training.

What Mechanisms Are in Place to Support Learners After Training?

While a lot of emphasis is placed on what is expected to occur during training, organizations should not forget about what happens when training is done. As L&D professionals develop learning content, they should also ask questions regarding what mechanisms are in place to support learners when training is complete. Developing an understanding of an organization’s learning culture can help a content designer recommend post-training resources to support learners as they begin to apply what they’ve learned to their respective jobs.


It’s important to remember that instructional design is an iterative process, often undergoing several rounds of feedback and design revisions. Even if an organization has not conducted a thorough needs assessment by interviewing learners and instructors, scaling is still possible. L&D professionals can start by engaging in direct observations of on-the-job performance, surveying employees, and asking these four questions when engaging with members of their organization as they finalize their training content.