“I could undertake to be an efficient pupil if it were possible to find an efficient teacher.” Gertrude Stein
The last thing a trainer should want to do is to waste time by teaching something that the trainees already know. A formal needs assessment is always desirable, but not always possible. Yet there are a number of things a trainer can do directly with the trainees immediately before a program to determine the trainees’ knowledge of a subject.
The caveat is that some of these informal pre-class needs assessments require the trainees to self-assess, which may result in less than accurate information. In those instances, it is best for the trainer to conduct a more objective informal needs assessment at the beginning of the class.
Here are five possibilities for a trainer to consider.
Before the program, the trainer can have the trainees:
1. Submit samples of work. If the training program is intended to improve specific skills, then it is likely that the trainees have documented evidence of their capability in that area. For example, prior to a memo-writing workshop, the trainer can request that the trainees submit one or two copies of memos they have written. Based on the review of these memos, the trainer can determine what needs to be covered and what needs to be emphasized in the training program. This approach generates very objective and reliable information.
2. Have their work performance observed on site. For example, prior to an asbestos abatement class, the trainer can go onsite to observe if safety procedures are followed. This approach can generate objective and reliable information. The trainer just has to take care that this observation is conducted unobtrusively. Otherwise, if the trainees are aware that they are being observed, they may alter their usual practice.
3. Complete and submit a pre-class assignment. The trainer can ask the participants to complete and return a pre-class assignment. For example, prior to a curriculum development class, the trainer can send out a simulated training needs assessment and request the participants to develop and return a proposed lesson plan. This approach can generate objective and reliable information assuming the trainees, and not someone else, completed the pre-work). To protect against this possibility, it is wise for a trainer to conduct another informal needs assessment at the beginning of the class.
4. Complete and submit a skills inventory. This inventory asks the trainees to self-identify their level of knowledge, skill or experience in the content area. For example, prior to a computer skills class, the trainer can send out an inventory that lists software and computer functions. The trainees then rate their knowledge (none, little, medium or high) or experience (never, a few times, often, always). The inventory might simply be a check off list, either yes or no. This approach obviously generates highly subjective information. The trainer will need to conduct another more objective assessment at the beginning of the class.
5. Complete and submit a pre-test. This pre-test should cover key content areas. It can take the form of a simple checklist, a true/false questionnaire, a multiple- choice questionnaire, or even short essay questions. For example, prior to a supervisory skills class, the trainer can send out a pre-test that includes four essay questions that outline different supervisory situations and ask the trainees to indicate how they would handle those situations. This approach generates generally objective and reliable information (assuming the trainees, and not someone else, completed the pre-test). To protect against this possibility, it is wise for a trainer to conduct another informal needs assessment at the beginning of the class.
It is always helpful for a trainer to have a sense of the knowledge and experience of the trainees in an upcoming class. The information obtained from any of these five informal pre-class needs assessments can enable the trainer to tailor the program content to better fill apparent knowledge gaps and meet the needs of the trainees. This increases the probability that the training program will be effective.
May your learning be sweet.