Posted by Tim Youngman ● April 20, 2017

Evaluate Environmental Factors When Analyzing Learning Needs

business conversation.jpgCompetent learning organizations conduct a learning needs analysis to document the knowledge and skills that need to be developed by end users. The analysis typically focuses primarily on the content itself, occasionally taking into account user characteristics. Take it a step further by performing an environmental analysis prior to the needs analysis, even for small-scale projects.

An environmental analysis seeks to understand the dynamic needs of workers and the organization itself, considering factors such as organizational culture, working conditions, interpersonal relationships, and the underlying training motivation. The environmental analysis considers both physical and psychosocial factors to develop a “real-world” perspective of the learning initiative and its chances for success.

While physical and logistical factors—training modality, access to tools and job aids, etc.—generally have the most immediate impact on the success of the training, the nonphysical factors are what ultimately determine whether training will achieve desired outcomes. A nonphysical assessment considers much deeper environmental factors, such as the role of the employee in the training, the role of the employee’s manager, organizational culture, the necessity of training, and institutional support for L&D more broadly. Even the savviest instructional designer cannot significantly influence these factors.

Many nonphysical factors can ultimately derail the success of learning program. Three of the most critical factors include:

1. Managerial support and role

The role of the manager cannot be underestimated as it pertains to the ultimate success of a learning intervention. Do managers encourage employees to take the training? Do they show interest in what their reports are learning? Do they support meaningful learning transfer by coaching and providing feedback? Do they provide direct opportunities for the training to be applied on the job?

2. Employee change resistance

By its very nature, training is a change management initiative—after all, training requires participants to think differently, act differently, or perform new tasks. Are workers willing to change? Do learners and their colleagues value the training? Does the group support the transfer of learning and encourage one another’s success? Do they understand how the training applies to their current role? Do all affected employees view the training in a similar way?

3. Job role responsibilities

A given learning intervention may be fundamentally linked to a worker’s role. If that role will change upon completion of the training, ensure that correct processes and procedures are in place to enable the individual to benefit from their new knowledge and skills. Likewise, determine how workers feel about the changes, and whether they will interact with coworkers differently than they do currently. Most importantly, have a clear understanding of how each employee will benefit—or not—from any changes in responsibilities or procedures.

Leveraging the Environmental Analysis

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: Human Performance vs. Training: What You Need to Know

Once the environmental analysis is complete and you have developed a working knowledge of the constraints that may ultimately affect the success of the learning program, it’s time to address any cultural obstacles, starting with the policies and practices created by top management.

If the environmental analysis reveals that the organization is ready for training, here are some best practices to follow when developing the program:

  1. Ensure all training initiatives have a clear link to organizational success, which should be communicated to participants at the start of the program. If the training doesn’t help the organization achieve its business goals, then it’s probably not worth the investment.
  2. Training programs should reflect the reality of the workplace and role of the participant. If the environmental analysis was thorough, you should have a clear sense of what it’s like to work in the role and organization, and an understanding of the tasks the participants perform. Design the training in accordance with that knowledge. The training should resonate with the participants, and it should be clear to them how the new knowledge and skills can immediately be applied.
  3. As an outcome of the environmental analysis, you should have a clear sense of what motivates people to succeed within the organization. Design the training based on those intrinsic motivators, because the goal is to help the participants to be successful, which in turn helps the organization to be successful. Extrinsic rewards for completing the training, like gift certificates, are weak tricks that are sometimes employed to overcome a lack of understanding of the environment and the learner.
  4. Training should always align with the participants’ performance goals for it to be a worthwhile endeavor. In addition, management should have a clear understanding of their role for mentoring and coaching once the training is complete. Management needs to be in a position to provide opportunities for the training to be immediately applied, to ensure that true growth and development takes place as a result of the training.

Organizations spend a considerable amount of money on employee training and education, but it’s not worth the investment if the environment of the organization is not conducive to training. While it is important to consider physical/logistical factors when a training program is implemented, it is the nonphysical factors that ultimately determine if training can be effective. A full environmental analysis should be conducted as a first step when designing a training program. If the organization isn’t ready for training, then it’s worthless to proceed.

Tim Youngman is a learning solutions manager with Caveo Learning. He spent 15 years as an instructional designer and eLearning developer, most recently serving as a custom learning solutions architect for Skillsoft. Based in the St. Louis area, he holds a master's in curriculum and instruction from the University of Houston.

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: An Inside Look at Outsourcing in Learning &  Development

Topics: Performance Improvement, Change Management