Thursday, December 22, 2005

Just around the corner is the start of a new year, and for those of us who work in education, it's also the start of a new semester. For me, January also represents needs assessment. This is a time where I gather information about our staff and faculty (for some of you, it might be students or patrons) and their possible training needs. My last job taught be some of the basic skills needed for an assessment, but not enough, due to the nature of the position. Bygones.

Fortunately, working for a university allows me the opportunity to take classes on campus at a discount. And what is the first class I took? An instructional design course! One of the main components of instructional design is needs assessment. If you train or teach anyone, even if it is just sitting down with a colleague and showing them something on the computer, you need to know a few things before you begin: What does Joe already know? What does Joe need to know in order to be effective? What skills does Joe possess? Lack? What is the impetus for training? Would Joe benefit from hands-on, a manual, a tutorial?

Without conducting needs assessment, your class or workshop or training session could be completely and utterly ineffective. Save yourself some time and do the leg work. Needs assessment is not meant to be fast and easy. It may take some time. Plan accordingly.

This past May I had the opportunity to attend NEFLIN's Technology To Go conference. While there, I heard a fabulous idea for a staff-strengthening activity that could easily be turned into a way to conduct needs assessment: Party in a box!

Do you have staff, students, or patrons that you train but don't know all that well? It happens! I work with - and train- a staff over 200 people, and I have hard time meeting everyone, much less getting to know them all individually. If you are in the same boat, plan a day where you can bring in whatever type of food that comes in a box (ice cream, pizza, donuts, etc) and have a party. If you have different classes or departments, you could do Party in a box! with each one. This allows you to get to know people, talk to them on a personal level, and possibly find out information that would help you assess their training needs (Pam has a hard time seeing the projector in the computer lab, or Don would rather learn Outlook on his own using a manual). Once people know that you want to hear this information, that their input may actually assist you in planning future sessions, or effect the overall quality of the training program, the flood gates will open. [Warning: needs assessment sometimes requires a thick skin, as it oftentimes involves formative and summative evaluation, topics to be saved for future posts.]

By making a personal connection, you also open yourself up for ongoing communication, which is essential for a more thorough needs assessment. Needs continually evolve, as should your training. Letting your "students," whoever they may be, know that you can always be contacted regarding training needs (and also feedback, class suggestions, etc) then you have fought half the battle.

So don't let needs assessment bring you down. Continue the holiday festivities into the new year and take time to talk to people and get to know their needs, how they learn, what they want. It will make your job easier and more fun.