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Stephanie Morgan Why you're struggling to understand your learners

Getting to the root of a problem before trying to address it is essential.

"If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it,” Albert Einstein famously said.

New research, however, shows that there's a big gap between the skills that L&D professionals currently have in place, and the skills those same professionals say they need in order to gauge their business's needs.

If we haven’t got the right skillset, how are we expected to understand learners, problems, and deliver the right solutions?

Why Learning Needs Analysis Is Dead 2 Pub 8 6 17


New models of assessing business needs—having evolved from training needs analysis to learning needs analysis (LNA), and beyond—put the problem first, not the person. 

This can help learning professionals to bridge this skills gap and achieve success.


Priority skills

The fifth of Stephen R. Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

In Towards Maturity’s latest benchmark report, Unlocking Potential, a majority of those surveyed named three ‘priority skills’ desirable in order for them to understand business needs—namely, learning management/strategy (99% of respondents surveyed), stakeholder engagement (95%) and performance consulting (85%).

However, when we look at those who reported that they had these skills in place within their L&D team, the numbers tell a very different story: 

  • Learning management/strategy, down to 53%
  • Stakeholder engagement was just 50%
  • Only 38% reported that they already have performance consulting skills in practice

So what are people doing instead? And what can we do differently to close this gap?


Analyse the business

We’ve moved on a long way from the LNA as it was.

There are aspects we can still incorporate in our work as learning professionals, and to understand the needs of our learners and the business, but the emphasis has changed.

In the Towards Maturity 2015-16 benchmark report, Embracing Change, fewer than 1 in 3 L&D leaders reported that they were thinking about measuring impact at the beginning of the process, when they are defining the need for a learning or development activity—and only 55% said that they would analyse the business problem before recommending a solution.

So we still need to find out what it is we must achieve. With a Business Needs Analysis approach, we shift our focus from ‘What is the learner going to achieve from this experience?’ to ‘What is the change that’s required in the business?’

It could be that many teams are sticking with the more traditional LNA framework. However, doing an LNA and nothing else won’t ensure you impact the change in performance you need.

By focusing on the end result, understanding the context the learners are operating in, as well as their learning needs, you instantly improve your chances of designing a successful solution.


Performance sleuthing

Charles Jennings defines a new and important organisational L&D role: the Performance Detective.

"The Performance Detective doesn’t carry out a training needs analysis. The person filling this role uses critical task analysis and other tools to develop a deep understanding of the root causes contributing to an organizational or team performance problem."

The new objective is to gain a real understanding what people are doing in their day job, and their challenges. The L&D performance detective needs to know and understand this in order to gain a better understanding of performance dilemmas.

Considering a range of potential solutions, keeping the root causes of the problem in mind and working with stakeholders to address performance-related problems and questions all feed into a solution-building process which starts at the performance end of the business.

So this approach is about placing yourself at the heart of the business. We've moved from 'What do I need to do differently?' to 'What are the results I need to achieve?'—taking it a step further, targeting performance outcomes, then designing a path to get there.


Bespoke solutions

Needs analysis should also be seen as an important precursor to developing alternatives to “off the shelf” training solutions.

“What businesses need,” says Mike Morrison, “are more highly qualified and competent behaviourists, practical psychologists and facilitators – not boxed products, used by people that have a desire to develop people with a limited budget.”

A better understanding of learners, the business and industry – the context in which learners will be expected to take on and apply learning – will also help learning professionals tailor solutions by business need.

So while the basic principles might not have changed that much, the philosophy is different - this is a new way of thinking about analysing need, and a new focus and new skills for the role of the L&D practitioner for a new generation in the workforce.


Download our free whitepaper to gain a thorough understanding of how ROI can impact your learning strategy, and the metrics you should be using to achieve seismic change in your effectiveness:

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Stephanie Morgan

Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning

Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.


Copyright © 2017 Bray Leino Learning

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