A training needs analysis sounds like a complicated procedure that needs a bunch of analysts and instructional designers. Fact is, it’s simple and easy to do if you just ask the right people—your employees.

A training needs analysis is the process of identifying the skills your employees need to do their job well. To do it successfully, though, you need to turn the tired old model of training needs analysis on its head—literally. Instead of a traditional top-down approach where managers or learning and development departments assess training needs and create course materials, adopt a bottom-up approach, where employees tell you what they want to learn.

top-down vs. Bottom-up learning comparison
Top-down vs. Bottom-up learning comparison

A bottom-up or collaborative approach to training needs analysis doesn’t just make your life easier; it encourages your entire company to work together to create relevant and effective training materials faster. Plus, you save the expense of hiring experts to come in and train learners, the task of looking for a venue and equipment (if you’re an in-person or hybrid company), and the overall challenge of scheduling employee training for a fixed time and day.

A bottom-up approach will transform not just your learning programs but your entire company culture. Here’s how.

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Democratize the needs analysis process

Democratizing your analysis process means decentralizing it. It means giving the power of choice to your employees.

In a traditional top-down training needs analysis, learning leaders (managers or sometimes L&D departments) are the sole decision-makers on what employees need to learn. They set departmental learning goals, pinpoint knowledge gaps, and prescribe course recommendations. Team members’ opinions might be polled during the process, but ultimately, the top of the organization is making decisions for the people underneath it.

Top-down vs. Bottom-up Training Needs Analysis Comparison
Top-down vs. Bottom-up Training Needs Analysis comparison

In contrast, a bottom-up approach democratizes the needs analysis process. A democratized approach gives team members the platform to tell management what they want or need to learn to do their jobs better. After all, if you hired the right candidate, shouldn't they know best what they need to do their job?

Related: Why Top-Down Management Doesn't Work

Empowering team members to contribute to their own needs analysis is an important part of building a culture of learning and innovation, and it’s also practical. Crowdsourcing learning needs eliminates the conjecture that goes into traditional needs analysis. As a result, you erase the risk of creating useless learning materials because the employee specifically asked for them. And as a bonus, the material can be reused by future team members who run into similar challenges and seek the same training.

A collaborative learning platform can let anyone declare a learning need at any time. Then employees upvote their choices, letting the most relevant and urgent course demands rise to the top. Democracy in action!

Decentralize the training content creation process

Courses created without team member input are destined to miss essential contextual knowledge. This is how we see most training needs are assessed: manager identifies performance gaps; manager hypothesizes reasons for gaps; manager tests hypothesis with course materials. It sounds scientific, but unless you hypothesize correctly the first time, you’re wasting time and resources.

The most efficient way to find out the type of training employees need? Just ask. Go directly to the source and let team members tell you exactly what information they need. Not only does this save time, but it also guarantees the course materials you produce will be specific and relevant, resulting in the right competencies for your employees’ needs.

our team declaring their learning needs on our 360Learning platform
Our team declaring their learning needs on our 360Learning platform

For instance, you may be able to deduce skill gaps. If the sales team needs product familiarization training, an actual salesperson can narrow the focus even further to the specific functions or features they’re having difficulty understanding. Instead of creating a broad course on the product as a whole, you can create a short and specific training module that effectively addresses their learning needs without the fluff.

This type of microlearning is especially well-suited for modern-day employees, who prefer learning in bite-sized chunks—instead of hour-long lectures that overload them with information. Shorter courses help learners retain more information and quickly apply it in their flow of work. This not only solidifies their learning; it gives you the desired outcomes immediately.

With awareness about diverse learning styles and rapid digitization of training methods, it’s also beneficial to move the training needs analysis process online with a mobile learning solution. This means learners can log in to their learning management system to complete a course at their pace and when it’s convenient for them. Mobile learning means you can brush up on a stat or refresh your memory on a feature over breakfast or on the way to a sales pitch.

Related: 3 Essential Tips to Create Engaging Training for Your Sales teams

Move responsibility for creating learning objectives away from management and to team members. Ask team members what skills they’re missing and what interventions they need to do a better job. Only pursue learning projects that stem from explicitly stated training goals.

Shift the role of L&D from executor to facilitator

A bottom-up training needs analysis is a continuous process and one that requires minimal effort from managers. Employees can request training as soon as a new learning need emerges, so you constantly have your finger on the pulse of the organization’s learning needs.

The bottom-up approach doesn’t eliminate the need for learning leaders; it just shifts their focus from creating content to developing strategies to help employees learn more effectively. The result is more impactful learning programs and more informed team members.

In a truly collaborative learning process, employees aren’t just making content requests; they’re also playing an active role in creating new content. For example, at 360Learning, anyone in the organization can respond to a learning need and volunteer to become a course creator.

We recently discovered in companies that use our software, only 2% of courses are created by L&D teams—85% are created by team members who are not trainers.

Freight logistics "unicorn" Flexport takes a similar approach in decentralizing its learning program by empowering functional teams to be in charge of their own training solutions and priorities.

“In each functional team, the subject matter expert determines the team’s learning needs. We come in as an advisor, but they’re closer to their business. They know what needs to happen now, and what the long-term goals should be,” says Lauren Fernandez, Senior L&D Manager at Flexport.

The benefits to this system are numerous: it’s more efficient, it’s more cost-effective, and courses ship faster and contain more relevant content than courses produced outside the company. Plus, you preserve and use valuable institutional knowledge that would otherwise remain siloed in employees’ heads. According to the Panopto Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report, employees spend an average of 5.3 a week hours looking for information a peer could readily supply. Imagine saving that kind of time and boosting productivity.

Turning your employees into subject matter experts also keeps their skills sharp and promotes higher employee engagement, which, in turn, boosts employee retention.

Conduct training needs analysis in the flow of learning

Chances are you don’t have much time to devote to a training needs assessment more than a handful of times each year. Meanwhile, your company is continuously evolving: adding new tech, upgrading product features, and changing policies. Older training materials, which may have been expensive to produce, are quickly going out of date.

Rely on your team members to help you keep courses up to date. Instead of doing a complete course overhaul, you can make updates iteratively based on team feedback. You can keep your current training needs at the forefront of your L&D program and your employees well-informed without having to go through the entire needs assessment process again.

By adopting a collaborative learning platform, you can easily incorporate team feedback to make courses more effective and timely. Let improvements come directly from peers who identify out-of-date content or suggest additions through feedback and data from their interactions within the course.

Give them the tools to be heard, and team members will happily provide the feedback you need to keep materials up to date. We recently found that on our platform, up to 25% of peers are providing feedback on the courses they take.

Instant reactions and feedback on one of the courses hosted on our 360Learning platform
Our team giving Instant reactions and feedback on one of the courses hosted on our 360Learning platform

Prioritize training needs by business impact

The typical course development process is slow. Training needs assessments may take months or weeks. And because L&D departments can’t be experts in every department and function of the company, they often outsource content creation or purchase courses from outside the company. This forces stakeholders to prioritize course needs based on factors like efficiency and price as opposed to demand within the company.

Old-school training needs analysis is also deliverable-driven. The end product is a list of skill sets that need to be created and implemented. Success is measured by the number of training materials created and not necessarily by their quality or their impact on the skill level within the organization.

Now leaders don’t have to spend their time doing gap assessments and writing reports. Instead, they can focus on facilitating a better learning environment and helping employees take advantage of learning resources to help meet the company’s goals.

At 360Learning, this oversight comes in the form of learning coaches who help individualize learning paths for each team member. They also work on creating more impactful learning programs by making sure that every course is tied to desired business outcomes and measuring training ROI. For example, a sales leader might plug learning data into their CRM to see how sales onboarding contributes to quota.

Simplify training needs analysis with a collaborative learning platform

A traditional top-down learning needs analysis is time-consuming and complicated because it’s centered on the idea that only managers can determine what employees need to learn. This may have been true in the past when companies were smaller and knowledge was more static.

In the modern world, it’s simply not possible for one person to stay on top of the complex and constantly evolving learning needs of even a small organization. It’s time for a new approach that reflects the dynamic nature of your company’s learning needs.

360Learning can make your training needs analysis significantly easier by decentralizing the learning process. Anyone on the team can declare, upvote, or comment on learning needs, and you can rank those needs based on popularity and business impact. Using internal experts makes course creation a breeze. You can manage courses and projects and even track ROI. This lets you create successful training without all the effort.

Want to see collaborative learning in action? Book a demo now.

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