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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 is where you determine if the need is training and if so what the needs of those to be trained are including pertinent information about who the audience is.

That could be determining the gap between what they know now and what they need to know to be successful 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 an important 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 important things that are relevant for training but it won’t tell you everything about a person or the workforce as a whole. There are a lot of traits in people that aren’t meant to be known and simply cannot be uncovered in needs analysis.

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

Let’s focus on what needs analysis can’t and should never tell you. This is important because some of these things recently came up on LinkedIn when someone thought they should tell you about your audience in 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 important 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 certain disability that requires it. If they want to tell you then that’s fine, but it should never be part of the overall needs analysis.

Accessible training is something that all training should be built with regardless of what the audience is thought to need. It’s simply impossible to know everyone’s needs for accessible learning.

Accessibility is a good place to start, so let’s do it!

Accessibility Needs

It seems like needs analysis would tell you if training needs to be accessible or not, right? It’s supposed to tell you about the needs of employees as far as the training goes. That includes 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 if they have internet access, mobile devices, a computer, or anything else about how as a whole they can and will be accessing the content.

30% of employees have some type of disability.


This is on a holistic level, though. It should never tell you on a personal level 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 to their employer as having a disability.


It’s not difficult to do if you make it part of your design and development process. There are other things people typically build into training that take time and are less essential than accessibility. So, if need be, cut back on other aspects of course development to make room for accessibility.

The fact is, most employees with disabilities have disabilities that are invisible meaning you would never know. It’s not fair to ask them, and no needs analysis could ever 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.

I think most people would say they 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 what their preference is for learning something, but that’s not going to be consistent or prove that it’s the best way to teach the content or even the best way for them to learn the content. A general preference for how you learn doesn’t make it true that someone will learn best in that way across the board.

Also, it’s impossible to cover all types of learning preferences 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 if you need a bit more context as to why learning styles are nothing that needs analysis or you should be focused on. It’s a battle you can’t win and will waste a lot of 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 just 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 a little ridiculous to base training on assumptions that anybody could have off of any of these groups. Training based on generations is a bit ridiculous if you consider more important aspects that might play into how people prefer to be trained.

A good example of this would be building a software training solution for employees. It would be an extremely poor needs analysis if you made decisions based on the majority of employees being millennials or gen-z. A lot of 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 completely 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 needs of training for gender, age, or racial needs, it also shouldn’t be used for 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.

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

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 to know about training employees to succeed.

So let’s take a look!

What Needs Analysis Is Meant To Tell You

While there are some pretty malicious things needs analysis could be used for, it’s not meant for those. It’s a relatively innocent process that has a singular focus.

The single focus of needs analysis should always come down to what employees need to do their jobs better.

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

If it’s a motivational issue then no amount of training will ever help the situation. Here’s a good example of that I ran across on LinkedIn.

There should be a sole focus on needs analysis and that isn’t about the personal needs of employees. It should entirely focus on the need of employees as a whole, their work environment, their gap 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. 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 they have access to in order to help us determine the best method of training. It’s no good creating a course for a computer if all they have are mobile devices.
  • If there is a language barrier or if 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 right type of training, it will help determine if training is needed or not. If it’s determined that training is needed, then needs analysis will help guide the process of determining the best way to train employees.

It’s a versatile process and can be used for a lot, but the fact remains that it shouldn’t be used for everything. You saw that there are some things the needs analysis won’t tell you 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 make the mistake of confusing the purpose of the needs analysis.

Its purpose is absolutely 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 that 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 they exist. Kind of like an iceberg, there’s only so much you can see 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 and 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 proper needs analysis. Accessibility is simply not part of the needs analysis. It’s just part of what’s necessary as much as words in some form are necessary for most training unless you’re IKEA or Lego.

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

The fact that the needs analysis can’t tell you everything and shouldn’t tell you everything is perfectly fine. Some things in training aren’t necessary to know. If it’s not essential to decide if training is the right solution or what’s needed to be trained and in what way, it doesn’t need to be known.

Needs analysis helps identify performance gaps and training needs, but it does have 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.

There’s absolutely no single data source or even observation that could ever 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 could ever be. While every project should start with needs analysis, it can only take you so far. Project iterations made after feedback can get you the rest of the way to near-perfect training for every issue.

Wrap Up

There are some things needs analysis can’t (and shouldn’t) tell you. That’s the nature of what they’re meant to accomplish and what’s beyond the scope of any reasonable needs analysis process.

Needs analysis cannot (and should not) ever 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 find out 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 an extremely helpful tool for finding organizational issues and creating the best possible solution. Just don’t forget to stick to the process to thoroughly design great training before jumping too far into things (so don’t skip analysis for design).

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

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