Needs analysis is an element of designing (or reviewing) a curriculum. Its purpose is to establish key learning outcomes and requirements in the design and delivery of a course or learning activity. The needs relate to the characteristics, concerns and potential constraints of the students (or any other relevant stakeholders). The analysis seeks to match possible or proposed techniques and materials to these needs and thus identify whether the design is appropriate to the intended goals.
Good course design should separate ends from means. “We are constantly making the mistake of specifying the means of doing something rather than the results we want. This can only limit our ability to find better solutions to real problems.” (Gilb, 1988)
In most cases, reviewing a course and responding to current need is perhaps something done intuitively and without formal procedures. However, there is increasing pressure to update curriculum purposes and methods in response to changing government requirements (such as accessibility, employability and information and IT skills agendas). Developing a new course or changing an existing teaching approach is likely to feel daunting, time-consuming and risky, especially when technology is involved. These risks and concerns are likely to be significantly diminished if a more explicit approach is taken to evaluating needs. There is certainly the usual need to justify limited time available and to be aware of likely technical requirements.