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Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Training Needs Assessments

Capacity building and training are frequently included in technical assistance projects. But how can you really know what training is needed? What training topics are most valuable to your audience? And what format works best to get your message across?

Training Needs Assessments (or Learning Needs Assessments) are one of the tools that counterpoint uses to find out the relevant training needs while improving its overall effectiveness. These assessments can help you improve the relevance of your capacity building activities. A needs assessment conducted during project preparation or, if your project has already started, as soon as possible will make your training more targeted and efficient, leading to improved comprehension of your trainees and often save you money!

While Training Needs Assessments are customized to fit the needs of your project, counterpoint can suggest several tips for your use:

Tip #1: Understand your respondents
Gathering some demographic data on your potential trainees allows you to understand the context of their responses better. In many cases, responses differ significantly between the senior managers and specialists.

In other projects, it may also be appropriate to look at gender-disaggregated results. Training Needs Assessments can easily accommodate this need by adding a simple question on the respondent’s gender, alongside other questions such as the level of the respondent within their organization.

Unless demographic questions are very short and simple, it is generally better to include them at the end of the questionnaire. And don’t ask for personal information unless it's needed. While you may like to know who responds to your survey, do you really need to? Asking for people’s names can significantly alter responses since respondents then tend to answer what they think they should know, rather than what they do know.

Tip #2: Embrace open-ended questions
While many surveys are long lists of yes/no questions and other structured (fixed response) questions, we favor those that combine both types. By handing some control within the Learning Needs Assessment to the future trainee, you allow the respondents an opportunity to think, reflect and give their opinions. In turn, the reward is a richer understanding of the trainees’ needs, enabling better customization of subsequent training.

The trick, of course, it to be able to analyze the diversity of qualitative responses! We examine the qualitative responses with an eye to creating classifications or categories, e.g., social/technical, positive/negative, question/recommendation, etc. Only then can we transfer the qualitative responses into quantitative data for subsequent analysis, similar to the approach used by the Most Significant Change technique.

Tip #3: Don’t forget learning needs assessment in your training budget
In well-designed projects, training components should include three-parts: (1) learning needs assessment; (2) training; and (3) impact or effectiveness assessment. Often, the latter are not included in the training or project budget. Though costs for surveys can be relatively modest, when well designed they will yield useful results.

The results of a Training Needs Assessment frequently affect the cost-effectiveness of the subsequent training. For example, in many of our projects, these assessments help narrow the target audience, increasing the efficiency – and effectiveness – of training resources.

Tip #4: Capture knowledge levels before and after training
Rating the knowledge level on potential training subjects is extremely useful when trying to understand an audience’s needs and interests. We suggest getting respondents to rate possible training subjects starting with ratings of “this is not relevant for me” through “this is something new to me” up to “I have a good understanding of this” and “I regularly use this.”

After the training, the same rating system can be used to determine training effectiveness.

Training Needs Assessments offer many opportunities to improve your training initiatives. The result may be a change in focus or quantity of training provided, changes to engagement with the target audience or possibly the realization that no training is needed at all!

Overall, such assessments reward us with a greater understanding of actual training requirements and, ultimately, a richer training experience.

What has been your experience with Training Needs Assessments in project design or during project implementation?