On the Importance of Conducting a Learning Needs & Resources Assessment
In a recent conversation with a friend, I was reminded about the importance of learning as much as you can about the participants at your workshop before hand so that you can design a learning experience that is accountable, relevant and immediate for them.
Dialogue Education guru :-) and founder of Global Learning Partners, Jane Vella, suggests that we conduct a "Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA)" (a.k.a. "Eleanor Ray" if you say it too quickly).
You can conduct an LNRA by:
Asking: about their prior learning, current work, successes/challenges with the topic, what they want to learn, etc. either in person, by phone/email or via a web-based survey.
Studying: reports, evaluations, websites, previous workshop designs and feedback forms, guide books, etc.
Observing: the learners' situation, work place, community, their online social media, etc.
(For more on this, I highly recommend Jane's landmark book, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults (Jossey Bass, 2002, 2nd Edition) -- see Chapter 4).
Why Should You Conduct an LNRA?
As a designer and/or facilitator, I have found that conducting an LNRA before the workshop can help you:
1. Establish a relationship with the students before the workshop begins by setting a personal tone and inviting them to prepare for the course.
2. Remind the learners about the broad parameters of the course (why, when, where) so that there is no confusion on start times, location, logistics, etc.
3. Demonstrate Accountability to the learners needs by asking for their input before you finalize the learning design. It’s a chance to present the proposed program and ask them to name what they see as most relevant from that range of content and to suggest what else you might want to look at. Sometimes this results in big changes to your design, but even if not, it confirms that you are on the right track.
(NB: the final decision about the course design, however, rests with you as the designer/facilitator. As Jane says, "Learners' expectations inform the design; they do not form the design").
4. Preview the proposed Achievement-Based Objectives (vs. just an agenda for the day), you can convey to them the depth of learning (i.e., following Bloom's Taxonomy) that they can expect to engage in for each content area.
5. Inquire about their previous experience (both general and with the topic), thus demonstrating Respect for their previous learning and experience, and allowing you to create ABOs and Learning Tasks that are Safe and appropriate for the majority of the learners.
6. Assess their comfort level with the content and previous experience so that you can be confident that the participants will be Resources for each other's learning (hence the “R” in LNRA). This takes the pressure off you to be the expert because you can know you can draw on their experience, knowledge and wisdom. Alternatively, if everyone is generally new to the topic, you'll know before hand what additional information you should provide.
7. Build "buy-in" to the program before you start the workshop, thus avoiding the problem of people arriving and saying, "I thought this course was about....".
8. Assess their emotional (Affective) state and motivation for taking the workshop ahead of time. There is a big difference between someone who says, “I’ve been waiting for this workshop all my life” and someone else who says, “My parole officer sent me.”
9. Ask about any other special learning needs: language, caffeine/non-caffeine, scheduling, transportation, mobility, vision, hearing, kosher/halal/vegan/diabetic, learning style, etc. This information is invaluable in creating a safe and welcoming environment for the learners.
10. Suggest some pre-course reading, listening, or viewing or other preparation that they need to do beforehand.
11. Provide some "baseline data" on where the learners are starting from so that you can assess their progress during and after the course. You can compare this to the post-course feedback forms to assess their most significant learning, how their attitudes have shifted, etc. This is incredibly useful when doing a learning evaluation.
12. Understand their work or community environment, and the challenges they will encounter when they return home so that you can design appropriate Transfer Objectives and create realistic Learning Tasks.
Sharing the LNRA Findings
An LNRA is a two-way communication process; it is never just an "extractive" exercise. I find it frustrating as a participant to complete a pre-course survey and then never hear how the facilitators used what they learned.
So, when appropriate, I include a short, anonymous (Safety!) summary of the LNRA responses in the WHY section of the learning design. This honours the time that they took to fill it out, and demonstrates how we used their answers to shape the learning design.
A Podcast Is Worth Several Thousand Words
If you'd like to hear more about LNRA's, I'd invite you to listen to the following podcast that I produced with Jane: The Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (GLP ask that you'd fill out a short info form) or via on iTunes.
The Final Word -- to You!
How have you used an LNRA in your learning design and facilitation work? Please post a comment below.