You don’t manage your company like a dictatorship, so why would you assess training needs that way? For too long, training needs analysis has been dictated from the top-down. It’s time to return the power to the people. If that sounds revolutionary, maybe it is. And maybe it’s long overdue.

It’s time 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 and cheaper. Here’s why a bottom-up approach can transform not just your learning programs but also your entire company culture.

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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.

Use a collaborative learning platform to 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 training content creation process

Courses created without team member input are destined to miss out on essential contextual knowledge. This is how we see most training needs assessed: manager identifies performance issues; manager hypothesizes reasons for gaps in knowledge; 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 what employees need to learn? 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 that the course materials you produce will be specific and relevant.

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

You may be able to deduce that the sales team needs product familiarization training, but an actual salesperson can narrow the focus down even further to the specific functions or features they are having difficulty understanding. Instead of creating a broad course on the product as a whole, you can create a short and specific training that effectively answers their learning needs without fluff.

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

Move responsibility for creating learning objectives away from management and down to team members. Ask team members what skills they are missing and what they specifically need to know to do a better job. Only pursue learning projects that stem from an explicitly stated learning need.

Shift the role of L&D from executor to facilitator

The needs assessment process under a bottom-up approach process happens constantly, with 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.

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

Freight logistics "unicorn" Flexport takes a similar approach in decentralizing their learning program by empowering functional teams to be in charge of their own learning processes 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 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. Turning your employees into subject matter experts also keeps their skills sharp and promotes higher employee engagement.

Conduct training needs analysis in the flow of learning

Chances are you don’t have much time to devote to a training needs analysis 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 courses up to date and employees well-informed without having to go through the entire needs assessment process.

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 or 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. 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 learning leaders 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 courses 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 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

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 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. Sourcing internal experts make course creation a breeze. You can manage courses and projects and even track ROI. This lets you create impactful learning opportunities without all the effort.

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