Know your Audience! A smart guide for analyzing your learners’ needs

Let’s set the stage: you’ve got an idea for a fantastic course. You’ve storyboarded it, created your outlines and are ready to crank up the production and let it roll. You’re sure that the learners are going to love it!

But there’s a problem: Have you actually asked them, or are you just expecting them to engage with your content without understanding what it is that they actually need?

Many a great course, whether of the traditional face-to-face variety or eLearning, simply don’t take off because they fail to take into account two very simple things: Who the learners are, and what they need.

Successful course design doesn’t just involve great content. It also requires great learner analysis as one of its keystones. If you understand your learners’ needs first, you’ll be able to create content that is learner-centred and motivating!

Discover what motivates them

Let’s have a quick look at the word ‘motivation’ first. Of course, it’s one of the mantras of business – you’ve got to be motivated to succeed, motivated to sell, motivated to go further, higher, etc. But where does motivation itself actually come from?

It’s been known for years that there are two types of motivation: Extrinsic and Intrinsic. The former is the kind of motivation that comes from external factors, for example, by doing a course you’ll get a pay rise or a promotion, or you need to work in order to pay your bills. Intrinsic motivation, by contrast, arises from an internal desire to do something – that is, the person gets personal satisfaction from performing a task, whether it be learning something new or completing a tricky job.

Our working lives are inarguably a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic factors, and when it comes to learning the same can be said. It should also be noted that the more intrinsic the desire to go through a course is, the likelier it is that it will be enjoyable, and thus have greater user engagement.

So, when designing our course content, it’s useful to consider your learners’ key motivations. That’s where Learner Needs Analysis comes in.

Satisfy the learners’ needs

There are several ways to enroll learners into a course. One quite common method is via a skills-gap test, where the learners are streamed according to their knowledge level on the subject; another is to just enroll entire departments in courses, which is far from ideal. While these might be fast and convenient, they don’t answer the key question: What do learners actually want?

Course design is quite often driven by this kind of level streaming. Smart course design, by contrast, considers the individual needs and is therefore more learner-centred.

A Needs Analysis (or NA) questionnaire aims to look beyond the learner’s subject knowledge and ability, and understand what it is that drives them. It provides a much richer and more rewarding context for the course designer to work with and is far likelier to produce more satisfying results.

While an Training Needs Analysis can take time to create and, well, analyze, it is worth it in the long run – and with the wealth of online questionnaire tools available, it is nowhere near as arduous as it once was.

Creating the Training Needs Analysis questions

So, how do you create an Learning Needs Analysis?

To start with, you still need to capture the key data that any questionnaire requires, such as age range, gender, years employed, native language and so on. The difference then comes in what you ask and how you ask it.

Clearly, you first have to ask yourself a key question: “What do I need to know about these learners?” Make a list of all the areas you need to understand. These might include, for example, how much time your learners are eager to allocate to studying after work, or their previous experiences of, and attitudes to, online learning.

You may find that you end up with a considerable list, but it might help to focus on three areas: Time investment, attitudes and expected outcomes. Once you have tightened your list, you can start building your questions.

Ensure your Learner Needs Analysis questionnaire includes:

  • Closed-ended questions, i.e. ones requiring yes/no or true/false
  • Multiple Choice questions
  • Open-ended questions

The advantage of closed and multiple choice questions is that they are fast and easy to analyze, especially with the plethora of online quiz tools available. However, for a deeper understanding of your learners, you also need to ask the What, Where, Why, Who and How of things too.

You can gauge attitudes with multiple choice questions by asking learners how far they agree with given statements on a scale of, let’s say, 1-5. However, in order to get a fair result, ensure that the questions (and answers) are not framed in such a way as to get the outcome you want.

Don’t forget to ask what the course of study will mean to the learner – by asking this, you actually enable them to engage reflectively and think about what their motivation is.

Benefits of conducting a Training Needs Analysis

There are two clear pluses about conducting a Needs Analysis prior to either creating an eLearning course or inducting learners onto a training program.

The first is that learner engagement is far more likely to be deeper, as they will feel more intrinsically motivated to complete the online course, knowing that it is tailored to their needs. Secondly, it allows for a cross-pollination of ideas through your company. It may be that people from different departments or team and management levels have similar needs and requirements and end up studying the same course.

With the subsequent smart deployment of support tools such as forums, you end up with a complete eLearning environment that is not only motivating, but also increases employee engagement.


Conducting a Learner Needs Analysis may seem tricky, but it’s well worth it in the long run. During the training needs assessment, you’ll understand what your learners need and that will lead to you creating more robust and engaging eLearning content, thus more awesome eLearning courses.

A Needs Analysis makes the eLearner feel they’re part of their own learning journey right from the start, meaning they feel empowered – and you get to really understand what drives them!

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