A needs analysis is an effective means of identifying objectives and requirements for e-learning development. Understanding students’ needs (not to mention your own!) is crucial to the successful design or redesign of any course or learning activity. Needs analysis for learning is also one of the most difficult things to do well. The use of templates or models, as well as availability of training and support in e-learning, can reduce the risk and isolation of trying out new methods.
If needs or requirements are unclear the ‘specification’ for what you are developing will be wrong. If the specification is wrong then the design will be wrong. If the design is wrong … the students will be dissatisfied or not achieve what you/the course intends.
These four ‘real world’ scenarios have common features – aside from ambiguity.
- The University is concerned about equal opportunities in the curriculum. The present induction course is out of date. As a result, a working group is established to ‘rejig’ the existing awareness programme for departments.
- At a departmental meeting, the Chair says: “We have all these new skills policies. We need to make sure all curricula are explicit about what employable skills are being developed by our students. We need all tutors to review their courses in terms of using e-learning to support skills development.
- A lecturer has just been given a set of multimedia web materials that support students’ in critically evaluating X (problem/issue/topic). S(he) is now tasked to ensure they know how to use it and what to do with it.
- A course team are keen to use e-learning to encourage collaborative learning. They are planning to use online discussion tools to support an existing course taught with face-to-face lectures and web resources.
A needs analysis will assist in all of these scenarios in terms of identifying/clarifying staff or students needs and producing clear and measurable outcomes as indicators of success of the (e-learning) development.
Further aims of a needs analysis are to support the selection of approaches that achieve one or more of the following:
- are likely to save time or costs
- are valuable and viable
- are scalable and sustainable.
It is fairly well accepted that e-learning developments that are valuable and sustainable in the longer term are those based on the use of small-scale, incremental, non-revolutionary technologies, i.e. mainstream worldware tools (Ehrmann, 2000). These require far lower investment in terms of cost, maintenance, updating and skills. In today’s climate, the Web is the ultimate worldware tool; this includes web-based communication tools, but also analysis type applications, such as spreadsheets, maths tools, design software etc.). The challenge to the lecturer then is to package these basic tools in pedagogically viable ways. This is where needs analysis can assist in providing diagnostic evaluation – that is, scoping out the objectives of what your development seeks to achieve against the requirements of the intended end-users.