Analyzing Needs – Quick but not Dirty

Analysis of learning or training needs is a covert mental operation that sets the cognitive wheels flying in all directions looking for scattered dots to join, unjoin and rejoin till a new, coherent picture builds up inside. The trouble with such covert processes is that they are difficult to articulate (exactly what it is you are doing?), difficult to explain (why did do this?) and most difficult to teach (how did you do this?).

The fuzziness of this mental circus presents many difficulties.  For one, it becomes difficult to estimate how much time and what resources will be required to analyze the need. Another pointed difficulty of a largely abstract activity like analysis is the difficulty in collaborating with the business, the line, sponsor or with the learner for that matter.

How do you analyze a learning need and then talk about it or write it out it so everyone (non-ID and sometimes non-learning professionals) will understand? In this post we bring you the quick, but not dirty way of conducting a learning/training needs analysis based on Thomas Gilbert’s Behavioural Engineering Model or BEM. Using this model as a framework for analyzing learning or training needs makes:

  1. An abstract activity like analysis more tangible and concrete
  2. Possible the collaboration of other stakeholders in the system
  3. It easy to teach learning analysis to novice Instructional Designers

Gilbert introduced the BEM in his path-breaking book ‘Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance’ published in 1978. Gilbert posits that performance is a product of the organizational or external environment and an employee’s internal resources.

To do their jobs well, employees need support from their external environment. They need toknow what their job requires, they must have the necessary resources and they must be adequately incentivized. A good job performance also depends on the internal environment which includes the employees’ inner drive to perform, their capacity and their knowledge and skills.

Since the time the BEM was introduced in 1978, the model has been updated several times to suit the changing structure of organizations and industries. The figure below shows the ‘updated BEM’ as suggested by Roger Chevalier.

The Updated BEM by Roger Chevalier (info in a few cells modified by iDesign Skills)

The Updated BEM by Roger Chevalier (info in a few cells modified by iDesign Skills)

What this model says is when you have a performance problem; a training program may not be the only solution. The model urges you to analyze both external and internal factors. The model asserts that the performance equation is a sum of both internal and external factors. And this is how the BEM serves as the perfect diagnostic tool for analyzing a performance problem in an organization – for an individual or for a team. And it also concretizes the otherwise abstract mental operation of needs analysis. Here’s how.

We are pre-disposed to concluding that a performance shortfall is the result of ‘lack of knowledge’. Like in the Prima Worth scenario the Delivery Head finds that Project Managers (PMs) do not provide informal feedback. He assumes two things here – one that the need is correct and two – this need can only be fulfilled by training. After a Needs Identification process, if indeed it is found that PMs do not provide day-to-day informal feedback, it is very likely that a half-day training program on informal feedback will be organized. The training program will hit the nail on the head only if the reason for PMs’ performance shortfall is ‘lack of knowledge’ about informal feedback. If the shortfall is due to a lack of motive or lack of information, the training program is not likely to do any good.

The BEM has the potential to save the day by putting itself as a diagnostic tool between verifying a need and proposing  a (most often a training) solution. After verifying the need (using the Questions Grid and expressing it in the 4W format) this need must undergo cause analysis to determine the ‘why’ PMs do not provide informal feedback.

It is possible that PMs’ performance shortfall is a lack of motives (internal factor 4), incentives (external factor 3) or simply are not aware that informal feedback is a part of their role (external factor 1)? Having them undergo training would be an off-the-mark solution.

To enable this analysis, Gilbert’s BEM comes with a questionnaire called the PROBE or Profiling Behaviour Questionnaire. This questionnaire provides a set of generic questions for each factor which can be customized according to context.

The process of identifying and analyzing learning needs then can be summarized as:

Step 1: Decide the information you want to dig up through the NI exercise. Do your best to put it down as a NI goal statement.

Step 2: Your goal statement of step 1 will help you determine the roles you need to interview. This is a good time and place to decide the sample size of your respondents.

Step 3: For each role you will interview, use the Questions Grid to plan and phrase your questions appropriately.

Step 4: Execute your plan. Record responses. Make sure you do not record an interpretation of the responses.

Step 5: Publish your findings. Express your findings in clear unambiguous terms. A format we find useful in expressing a need is the 4W Format. W – who, W – what, W – when, W – why.

Step 6: Use the updated BEM to determine ‘Why’; the cause of the need.

The BEM is simple enough to understand intuitively and deep enough for a meaningful analysis. This quality of the BEM lends it a great deal of credibility among clients who otherwise are skeptical of an analysis on a project. It has helped us to have conversations about needs with stakeholders in projects. The BEM is really a boon that has made analysis a front-end, tangible activity for us at iDesign Skills.

This series on foundations of ID continues with focus on another type of analysis. That’s for next week. Until then…



1. Handbook of Human Performance Technology, 3rd Edition, Pfeiffer







Teacher Training Workshop @ Pench, MP


On 17th April 2014, David Merrill’s performance-content matrix acquired a new, enthusiastic and a rather unusual set of learners. They were the school teachers of villages Turia and Teliya in Pench, Madhya Pradesh, India. This workshop was organized by Conservation Wildlands Trust. In acknowledgement of the fact that teachers also need to receive periodic updates in their knowledge, the Conservation Wildlands Trust decided to extend their support to school teachers. They commissioned iDesign Skills to conduct a workshop for teachers to teach them about using interesting teaching methods, specifically the use of stories for teaching.

This workshop was conducted at the Interpretation Center at the Turia Gate of the Pench Tiger Reserve, Seoni, MP. The E-base serves as a space for classroom and training.

E-base at the Interpretation Center at the Turia Gate in Pench

E-base at the Interpretation Center at the Turia Gate in Pench


School teachers in Turia and Teliya villages operate in difficult conditions. Lack of basic infrastructure, shortage of funds for basic school operations, coping with absenteeism of children who either don’t attend school or are forced to drop out are some of the challenges teachers deal with on a daily basis. In their struggle to fulfill their basic teaching and administrative responsibilities, teachers barely have the inclination for any kind of lesson-planning. To think of spending time for using creative teaching methods to keep children engaged is almost a luxury. As a result, most of the teaching activities are lecture-based which most children, even those interested in learning, find ‘boring’.

The Conservation Wildlands Trust, in recognition of the challenges described above, sought inputs from iDesign Skills on how teachers could be taught and encouraged to use interesting activities like stories, games and experiments in class. We proposed a one-day workshop where teachers would learn a basic, simple, task or content analysis method followed with a session on how to craft simple stories and use them for teaching parts of the syllabus.

Design of the Workshop

In planning for this workshop, we chose to teach Merrill’s performance-content matrix.

The Performance Content Matrix

The Performance Content Matrix

We selected it because of its simplicity and intuitive application in school syllabi. A content analysis model was a must because it is an essential pre-requisite for selecting appropriate teaching methods.

During the design phase of this workshop, we were made aware of the attitudes of teachers toward external interventions like the ones we were about to conduct. Teachers, we were told, had this perception that those who came from the cities and economically forward regions did not quite understand the plight and realities of the rural schools. We had a sense that we might be met with disdain or passive resistance if not active opposition to whatever we were teaching. Not a good environment for learning, we concurred.

In light of the context, the selected content and the possibility of encountering aloofness from teachers, our core objective was then to convince teachers of the following:

  1. While their challenges were real and difficult to address, there was one thing within their control – quality of teaching. They could take charge if they wanted to.
  2. Simple lesson planning was not time consuming. Besides, it was a one-time incremental effort after which it would be reusable through forthcoming academic years.
  3. Stories were an accessible medium which would increase classroom engagement levels.
  4. And most of all, the teachers would be able to write their own stories with help of basic guidelines.

The session was planned and delivered in Hindi.

An Interesting Start to the Workshop

Except for one, most of the teachers attending the workshop had at least 10 years of experience. During the introductions, we found teachers to be curious and also participative, much to our relief. The disdain or aloofness we had feared was not visible. It gave us confidence to move ahead with the opening activity we had designed. We asked them a question “If you had a magic wand (jadoo ki chhadi) or a super power (divya shakti), name one thing you would change about the current situation in the school.” And we heard some amazing insightful answers!

“I would do something that would make content ‘fit’ in the children’s memories” said one of them.

“I would use the magic to instill instant discipline because lack of discipline is the root of all trouble” said the next teacher.

“I will use my magic to make sure all parents would cooperate with us and send their children to school daily” said one teacher who had served for 32 years.

What was interesting about the responses we received is that none of them ill-targeted or complained about children, parents or the system. Their “wishes” were obvious, valid even, given their current realities.

 Addressing the Key Objectives

The workshop got even better from this point onward. Our biggest surprise however was how rapidly they understood and applied Merrill’s Content Classification model which translates in Hindi as ‘Vishay Vargikaran ka Dhancha’. After a quick explanation, followed by an exercise where they had to classify a given list of content points, we felt they were ready to apply the new learning on the textbooks. Using a simple table-template, each of them was able to identify Facts, Concepts, Procedures and Rules from a chapter in the Science and Social Science text books.

We urged them to think about the teaching method for each type of content. They had no trouble in coming up with basic teaching methods like ‘drill’ technique for Facts, examples for Concepts, and demonstrations for Procedures. We later supplied them with a list of more teaching methods they could use for each content type.

A quick exercise with a pre-defined template to apply Merrill's Model

A quick exercise with a pre-defined template to apply Merrill’s Model

The Story-telling Part

The session after lunch was completely focused on how Concepts could be taught through stories. We started this session with a story from the Panchatantra called ‘The Weaver and the Princess’. A funny, witty, yet poignant story with interesting characters, multiple plots and multiple morals too. We de-constructed this story into elements:

  1. A time-line (takes place over a month)
  2. An outline of an event (a poor weaver falls in love with a Princess and ultimately marries her against all odds)
  3. Characters (primary and supporting)
  4. A plot and/or twists (the King agrees to the unusual match only because he thinks the weaver is actually an avatar of Vishnu, which the weaver was not)
  5. Morals or learning (one learning is “when you lie about something it can hurt not just you but also those who you love” or “when you make a brave effort even Gods will come to support you”)
Teachers learn under the gaze of the Tiger, pained in the Gond style

Teachers learn under the gaze of the Tiger, painted in the Gond style

After a brief discussion of each element and their examples, we had them think up a story of their own. And they did so, using their experiences. We urged them to think about how they could come up with stories around various syllabi related concepts. They did have great ideas but we were really out of time to have them implement these ideas in the class. The day was almost over.

Concluding the Workshop

We closed with an action plan – each of them would write a story based on a topic from the Science or Social Studies syllabus and share it with us at the beginning of the new academic year. Teachers were curious about other such tools and walked away inquiring about the next workshop.

We have conducted many workshops on Instructional Design and its tools for teachers in city or urban schools. Teachers usually enjoy the workshop and see the merit of the tool. They however also feel burdened at the idea that using these tools may increase their workload considerably. Based on this experience, we asked our Pench village teachers whether they would also find it cumbersome to use these methods in day-to-day life. Their response was quite unusual and heartening. They said:

“We are happy that we are also considered for such inputs”

“We spend our evenings and holidays canvassing around the village to ensure parents send their children to school. Compared to that effort doing a bit of extra work on lesson planning is a small thing for us if it gets the child to school”

We thought that was quite a sense of commitment coming from them all unanimously. Whether and how the learnings will actually be implemented in the next year is a post for another day. But on that day it felt wonderful to conclude the workshop on hope and a good feeling in the heart.