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Needs Analysis Is Needed but It Can’t (And Shouldn’t) Tell You Everything

Part of the oh-so-important ADDIE process is the needs analysis. That’s where you determine if the need is training and, if so, what the needs of those to be trained are, including pertinent information about the audience.

That could determine the gap between what they know now and what they need to know to succeed in their jobs. Or it could be determining what their work environment is to decide what the ideal delivery method is.

You can’t expect to train construction workers on a crucial safety protocol via a self-paced course if they don’t have access to a computer. Or, perhaps they have a company-provided mobile device, but you decided to create a self-paced course that only works on a desktop computer.

Needs analysis is essential to the success of every project, but it doesn’t (and can’t) tell you everything.

The needs analysis should help uncover essential things relevant to training but won’t tell you everything about a person or the workforce. There are a lot of traits in people that aren’t meant to be known and cannot be uncovered in needs analysis.

I mean, who wants to know everything anyway, right?

Let’s focus on what a needs analysis cannot and should not tell you. This is important because some of these things recently came up on LinkedIn. Someone thought they should tell you about your audience in a needs analysis when, in fact, the needs analysis won’t tell you this at all.

What Needs Analysis Can’t (And Shouldn’t) Tell You

While needs analysis is essential, there are some things it isn’t meant to uncover or tell you. And, just because you shouldn’t pursue some information through the needs analysis doesn’t mean you’re not doing a needs analysis or not doing it right.

Even the almighty and critical needs analysis has some limitations. And some things it shouldn’t tell you are not limitations but simply not what it’s meant to do. We’ll cover this in more detail in a bit, but what sparked this conversation is the thinking that the needs analysis should tell you whether you need an accessible course or not. Sorry, but accessibility is not something a needs analysis tells you that you need or don’t need.

Nobody should be asking people in terms of learning if they need accessible training or if they even have a specific disability that requires it. If they want to tell you, that’s fine, but it should never be part of the overall needs analysis.

All training should be built with accessibility in mind, regardless of what the audience is thought to need. It’s simply impossible to know everyone’s needs for accessible learning.

Accessibility is an excellent place to start, so let’s do it!

Accessibility Needs

It seems like a needs analysis would tell you if training needs to be accessible. It’s supposed to tell you about employees’ needs regarding training, including how they can access it.

Yes and no.

While needs analysis should tell you how employees can or are primarily accessing training (computer, mobile phone, live sessions, etc.), it shouldn’t tell you that on a personal level. It should simply tell you whether they have internet access, mobile devices, a computer, or anything else about how they can and will be accessing the content as a whole.

30% of employees have some type of disability.


This is on a holistic level, though. It should never tell you personally what each employee requires unless they specifically ask and bring it up. That means accessibility should be baked into the content at every level.

Only 3.2% of employees self-identify with their employer as having a disability.


It’s easy to do if you make accessibility part of your design and development process. People typically build other things into training that take time and are less essential than accessibility. So, if need be, cut back on different aspects of course development to make room for accessibility.

The fact is, most employees with disabilities have invisible disabilities, meaning you would never know. It’s unfair to ask them; no needs analysis could reasonably uncover that information.

Accessibility will never be part of needs analysis and should never be.

Learning Style

There are many controversies (and should be) about learning styles. There’s tons of proof that they simply don’t exist in the capacity that most people think they do. But it’s fair to say that most people have a learning preference.

Most people prefer watching a short video to reading a 20-page whitepaper with dense information. So, learning styles don’t exist in a way that says each person learns best only if the information is presented in a certain way. They do exist in a way that dictates that certain types of content are taught better in certain styles than other types of content.

No, learning styles don’t exist in the way we think they do, and they definitely don’t contribute to better learning.

You could ask employees their preference for learning something, but that will not be consistent or prove that it’s the best way to teach the content or even the best way for them to learn it. A general preference for how you learn doesn’t make it true that someone will learn best in that way across the board.

Also, covering all learning preferences is impossible, and we’d kill ourselves trying. We can’t create a class, course, job aids, videos, etc., to cover all supposed learning styles. They’re too different, and the content should dictate the style more than any single person’s preference.

Watch this video for more context about why learning styles aren’t worth analyzing or focusing on. It’s a battle you can’t win and will waste time.

So, you are not a visual learner only (though most people do learn better with visuals if it makes sense to provide visuals). You learn best with a mix, and the content dictates how people learn best.


While you can probably get this information from HR, none of it is probably relevant to needs analysis. Knowing the gender, age, or race of employees is unimportant information, even though you could probably twist it in some way about their needs being specific.

It’s ridiculous to base training on assumptions that anybody could have off of these groups. Training based on generations is absurd if you consider more important aspects that might influence how people prefer to be trained.

An excellent example would be building a software training solution for employees. It would be an inferior needs analysis if you made decisions based on most employees being millennials or Gen-Z. Many people like to assume that these generations are digitally savvy because they’re digital natives, so they must know how to use all technology.

It’s untrue that any specific age group is more or less capable of technology and knowledgeable about using company software than any other age group. Just because you know how to make a video on TikTok doesn’t mean you know how to use the poorly designed ERP system.

So, needs analysis shouldn’t be used to categorize employees by gender, age, race, or any other arbitrary category.

Cultural/Social/Political Factors

Just like needs analysis shouldn’t be used to shoehorn training needs based on gender, age, or racial needs, it also shouldn’t be used based on cultural, social, or political factors.

None of these things should dictate how training is provided or how best to approach employees to help them perform better. There are limitations to what the needs analysis should be used for because some categories are either egregiously wrong or simply ineffective.

While the items we pointed out are not comprehensive, needs analysis is essential. It’s meant to uncover and help in specific ways during the instructional systems design process.

It won’t tell you the meaning of life or whether pineapple belongs on pizza (it doesn’t). But it will tell you the most important things about training employees to succeed.

So, let’s take a look!

What Needs Analysis Is Meant to Tell You

While needs analysis could be used for malicious purposes, it’s not meant for those. It’s a relatively innocent process with a singular focus.

The needs analysis should always focus on what employees need to do their jobs better.

So, it’s not focused on training but entirely on employee performance needs. That means it should uncover if employees need training or training isn’t the correct answer.

If it’s a motivational issue, no amount of training will help. Here’s a good example I found on LinkedIn.

The sole focus should be on needs analysis, which isn’t about employees’ personal needs. It should entirely focus on the needs of employees as a whole, their work environment, their gaps in knowledge, etc.

Here’s some of what we use the needs analysis for:

  • What the root of the issue is if it’s a behavioral issue.
  • If it’s a new software system, then we just need to know what they’re coming from and what they’re going to do. This may help us determine if we need to train for specific process changes, and it’s important to see the change.
  • Getting a better understanding of what employees already know so we can start at a place that makes sense. For example, if the software we’re training for has a consistent login process that they already know (such as single sign-on or SSO), then we don’t need to train for that.
  • Because we do digital training, we need to know what devices employees have access to to help us determine the best training method. It’s no good creating a course for a computer if all they have are mobile devices.
  • If there is a language barrier or English is not the employee’s primary language.
  • Other characteristics of employees that could harm/help the need for training.

While the needs analysis doesn’t determine the correct type of training, it will help determine whether training is needed. If it is determined that training is needed, the needs analysis will help determine the best way to train employees.

It’s a versatile process and can be used for many things, but it shouldn’t be used for everything. You saw that the needs analysis doesn’t tell you everything, and it could even be used maliciously, whether intentionally or not. But any good instructional designer who knows their stuff won’t do that, so rest easy on that fact.

Just don’t confuse the purpose of needs analysis.

Don’t Confuse the Purpose of Needs Analysis

No training project should be completed without a needs analysis. So you could say a needs analysis is for sure needed. But, while it’s necessary to perform a needs analysis, don’t confuse the purpose of the needs analysis.

Its purpose is never to categorize or stereotype employees. There should also never be assumptions made for things you can’t see. That might be something like the accessibility example, where because they aren’t known, they don’t exist.

So, for things like that (which could be used to discriminate), never assume that traits you can’t see don’t exist. Not everything is visible on the surface, and most people will never know these traits exist. Like an iceberg, you can see only so much above the surface; what exists below the surface is significantly larger.

Needs analysis tells you about overall professional needs, not personal traits or needs.

A needs analysis will never tell you those unseeable characteristics exist. It’s not meant to surface those things; its purpose should never be confused as a way to do that or classify employees based on ability, disability, or any other personal characteristic.

The purpose of needs analysis is to surface the non-personal characteristics of employees as a whole: their work environment, what they already know based on their current systems, etc.

Saying all training should be accessible does not mean you don’t do needs analysis or that you don’t do it properly. Accessibility is simply not part of the needs analysis. It’s just part of what’s necessary, like words are required for most training unless you’re IKEA or Lego.

It’s Okay That Needs Analysis Can’t Tell You Everything

The needs analysis can’t and shouldn’t tell you everything, and that’s fine. Some things about training aren’t necessary to know. If it’s not essential to deciding whether training is the right solution or what needs to be trained and how, it doesn’t need to be known.

Needs analysis helps identify performance gaps and training needs but has limitations. Nobody could ever argue otherwise.

It simply can’t uncover underlying cultural or political factors that can affect the success of training. But nothing can!

Needs analysis doesn’t need to tell you everything. There are some things that aren’t necessary to (or can’t be) know.

Absolutely no single data source or even observation could provide a complete picture of something as complex as who each person is. Even needs analysis can only do so much for providing insights and solutions for training. Sometimes, it’s essential to use our skills to make the best judgment when training is the right solution to resolve an organizational issue.

Sometimes, good ol’ iteration, evaluation, and more iterations are a better solution than needs analysis. While every project should start with needs analysis, it can only take you so far. Project iterations made after feedback can help you achieve near-perfect training for every issue.

Wrap Up

There are some things a needs analysis cannot (and should not) tell you. That’s the nature of what they’re meant to accomplish and what is beyond the scope of any reasonable needs analysis process.

Needs analysis cannot (and should not) tell you whether accessible training is needed, what employees’ learning styles are (it doesn’t matter), their gender/age/race, or cultural/social/political factors. These are just some of the things a needs analysis will never tell you and aren’t meant to be used to dictate training anyway.

A needs analysis can tell you a lot about the needs of employees from a professional standpoint but not on a personal level. It’s a great way to determine the root of an organization’s problem and if training is the answer. It can also uncover knowledge gaps and their workplace situation.

It’s a beneficial tool for identifying organizational issues and creating the best solution. Just remember to stick to thoroughly designing great training before jumping too far into things (so don’t skip analysis for design).

We’re here for you if you’re looking for training that solves all your organizational woes. Schedule a free consultation, and we’d be happy to chat about how we can help your organization deliver exceptional training for company technology and ensure employees are well-trained for change, no matter who they are.

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