Adopting an evidence-based approach to learning and development is not new – far from it. Trainers just have to do what they have always been taught to do – learning needs analysis (LNA) and evaluation. These two crucial steps are inseparable – two sides of the same coin – the yin and yang of individual and organisational learning. The purpose of the original TNA (training needs analysis) was to provide the evidence-base to justify spending money on training: the purpose of evaluation was to ensure the money was invested wisely. In other words LNA is an individual needs analysis as part of a business investment appraisal process.
As we saw earlier though trainers have never had a workable model to deal with the evaluation aspects of evidence gathering. Now we have to explore whether there is any guarantee either that they will bother to undertake a proper, evidence-based, needs analysis. Visit any training provider (me included) offering training courses or workshops, or any in-house L&D department offering its own menu of programmes, and you will witness ‘learning solutions’ (sic) being offered without any analysis of the learning needs of those who might participate. Any professional who supports this will have to admit that they are breaking all their own rules. It should be outlawed and, if I am as guilty as anyone else, what should I do about it?
Well, first let me declare that I fully accept the crucial importance of LNA in principle even if I don’t always do it in practice. That might sound hypocritical but how many ‘learning professionals’ would at least be willing to admit the same? Second, I am bringing it to your attention, and anyone else who cares to read this, in an attempt to increase the incidence of proper LNA. Third, I am prepared to make myself very unpopular by exposing bad practice and the stupid organisational behaviour it produces. Fourth, I have at least offered part of the solution already with a very simple Baseline Model and fifth, I am now going to complete the set with the last word on what learning needs analysis really means. There is probably a sixth and a seventh but what have you been doing about it?
Let’s re-visit what we were taught about the old-fashioned TNA. If you want to train someone in customer service, say in the hotel trade, the business has to decide what standard of service it wants to provide (e.g. every customer should be greeted with a friendly smile and asked ‘can I help you?’). This is OK for basic training and it would be easy to do a spot check (evaluate) that the training is being applied. If the hotel wants to differentiate itself from its competitors though, by raising its own standards, the trainer needs to gather more evidence before designing any training.
- ‘What do higher standards look like – would it be speedier response times at the desk?
- ‘Are we measuring that already?’
- ‘So what if we are speedier, does that produce more value in $’s?’
So far so professional but move away from basic training and soon the rules of the game, the principles that mark out the professional, are jettisoned remarkably quickly. Yet the very reason TNA started to become known as LNA was because we all eventually realised that training was just input (e.g. sending people on generic management modules) and learning had to be applied if it was to produce a beneficial output (i.e. more satisfied, paying customers). Somewhere along this line though LNA forgot its TNA roots and became a much broader concept; to the extent that many ‘learning professionals’ today have started suggesting that no LNA is needed because ‘all learning is good’.
This is not a principle I have ever been taught and my 30 years of experience clearly demonstrates this is patently untrue. If you subscribe to this notion why do we still pay for training these days when so much learning can be had for free? Conversely, if all learning is good, go and ask your board for a 1000% increase in the training budget and see what response you get. It doesn’t stand up well does it? Yet this fuzzy logic has been exploited by the technology-obsessed, ‘e-learning’, social media advocates who do not know how to justify what they are doing. Often business needs are forgotten altogether and there is no attempt at Baseline evaluation. In effect, the ‘new’ training providers have been taking several steps backwards for years, moving further and further away from the fundamental tenets of learning whilst trying to pretend they are transforming the way we learn (why do you think they never chose to call it e-training?).
There is a simple solution. Having admitted my own guilt, the first thing I try to do is make up for the lack of individual, learning needs analyses whenever I can. If you have not already read What is EBM or The Case for EB-HR then I would advise you to do so now because that is exactly what these pages were designed to do; to make sure you are in the right place.
If we should ever meet in a classroom and you are not sure why you are there I would ask whether you want to come back when you know and remind you that you need to come back with your own Baseline, because you can only start from where you are, regardless of where the rest of the class might be. If you show no interest in sticking to these rules I would recommend that you do not stay, not just because you are unlikely to learn very much but because I am passionate about learning and I want you to be passionate as well. By the way, there is no such thing as a ‘generic’ or ‘group’ LNA – we can only learn as individuals – even though we are all under pressure to conform to group behaviour.
One of the key advantages of analysing an individual’s learning needs is that we want to avoid upsetting, or getting in the way of, those who are genuinely there to learn. Maybe that is why very few trainers are inclined or even allowed to perform a proper LNA – it might be too embarrassing to realise just how inappropriate and ineffective a lot of training is; whether it is in the classroom or online.
The last word? LNA is not an option – it’s a professional duty.
For personal development linked to this topic visit the Consummate Professional Series