You Still Need to Do the Work

Needs assessment must be done in some fashion every time you get a learning project request.

I’ve decided that I’ll write about going back to some of the “basics” this year. For this issue, let’s look at needs assessment. Why? Because that is where all learning projects must begin.

It is 2020. We have so many rapid development tools and apps at our fingertips that it is easy to build something at the mere suggestion that someone—or a group of someones—in our workplace needs to learn something (whether the someone(s) agrees or not). However, just because you can build things with one of these fabulous tools doesn’t mean you get to skip doing the work.

Of course, having access to tools has made it possible for us to do so much more. But they don’t replace doing the work—meaning the upfront work we all should be doing, no matter what the learning project is or what our role is (i.e., instructional designer, e-learning designer, trainer, learning technologist, organizational development specialist, etc.).

Needs assessment must be done in some fashion every time. Otherwise, how do you know a course or class is even needed? Of course, it is a matter of scale. Large learning projects need a more robust set of needs assessments. Doing the needs assessment is essential to the success of every learning project—from beginning to end. Smaller learning projects also require a needs assessment—maybe even more so. You just might have to go about things a bit differently than you would with larger learning projects. But the information the needs assessment provides is just as necessary and vital for the success of the project. No cheating. No shortcuts. You still have to do the work!


As soon as the request for a learning project appears, we need to begin asking questions. Lots of them. We also need to:

  • Uncover needs
  • Figure out who the learning audience is going to be
  • Determine what the outcomes are expected to be
  • Decide how we’ll know whether it worked or not
  • Identify the success measures
  • Determine how best to evaluate the learning that took place
  • Identify how the learning will be reinforced back on the job

In other words, we need to look at all of the aspects of the learning project. Sure, process models exist. There’s ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation), of course. And SAM (Successive Approximation Model) is good, too. Or be “agile.” But no matter the model, you still have to do the work!


So what changes do you need to implement at work to start doing better? Who do you need to talk with about implementing the needs assessment into the process? (Hint: Start with someone who generally loves everything you do.) Set some goals. Start by crafting a set of questions you ask at the outset of every learning project request. From there, establish a set of practices everyone can adopt, regardless of their role and expectations. Pay attention throughout the year and track the success of learning projects. You’ve got this!

Dawn J. Mahoney, CPLP, owns Learning in The White Space LLC, a freelance talent development (“training”) and instructional design consultancy. She is passionate about developing people through better training, better instructional design, and better dialog. Mahoney asks the tough questions to ensure the training content is relevant to the work and performance expectations. She does this work because she loves to see the moment when the learning “dawns” on her learners. If you need help, get in touch with her at: