Instructional Design Element 1: Analysis

🕑 5 minutes read | May 17 2024 | By Richard Head, TTA Learning Consultant

In a previous post (“What’s the ROI from Training?” is the Wrong Question) I talked about the end product—the output—of a training/learning effort and that training is only one element of a change initiative. What I’ll do in this series, beginning here with “Analysis,” is explain the basics of a tried-and-true instructional design model: Instructional Systems Design, or ISD. One thing to remember here is that, just because we’re using the term “Instructional Systems,” we’re not just talking about a training event. There are many ways of helping people learn, and a traditional classroom course is only one.

Note that “training” has now been largely superseded by the term “learning and development.” “Training” usually implies a push of information/instruction into people’s heads. “Learning and development” implies that the employee/learner has a more active, directive part in the equation and often the learning takes place outside the traditional classroom. Still, for this post we’ll continue using the term “training.”

Instructional Systems Design (ISD) has several variants, but they all come down to the same essential functions: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. The “ADDIE” model, is often referred to.

Analysis: The Often-Overlooked, But Critical Component

Analysis asks two essential questions:

  1. What is the organizational problem, issue, or opportunity that needs to be addressed?
  2. What is required to address the problem, issue, or opportunity? (Hint: More staff training isn’t always the answer).

In order to answer those two questions, a series of other questions must be asked. Instructor-led classroom training is expensive and time-consuming so if we can meet the need with other methods, so much the better. (Other methods might include training aids/checklists (aka “job aids”), peer coaching, coaching by SMEs, job shadowing, self-study, online self-study courses, group self-study, etc.)

Here are some of the essential questions and tasks that comprise the Analysis phase of Instructional Systems Design (ISD):

  • What’s going on in the organization that needs to be changed, fixed, or eliminated? A key question: What is it that you want your people to do differently? What behavior needs to change? What outputs and productivity changes need to happen?
  • What do you want from this process? You should look at measurable outcomes such as financial performance, increased productivity, reduced scrap rate/rework/warranty work, increased market penetration, etc.
  • We need training on…” puts the cart before the horse. Saying that workers need new skills, and that more training is required, is the approach we should take only after going through the other steps below.
  • What is the job need? Is this a new skill workers need or an existing skill that needs to be updated?
  • How do we determine whether current workers have the skills, knowledge, or attitude to perform the work? Might our problem entail a much different skill set that our current workers don’t have and/or don’t have the education, background, and experience to master?

 FEA—Front-End Analysis: Necessary or Not?

There’s a rubric in instructional design called Front-End Analysis. Its purpose is to answer some of the questions above, but in far greater detail and depth. A FEA can save time and money, and will likely produce a much better result than just “winging” the analysis phase or hoping that you remember the kinds of questions to ask.

The essential element in a FEA is “problem analysis.” That answers the question, “What’s broken or necessary, and what will it take to fix it or address it?” There’s a flip side to this effort called “needs analysis,” which asks, “Where are we now, where do we want to go, what’s standing in our way, and what needs to change to get us there?”  A SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) might be helpful, as is Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI starts by looking at what the organization does well and really wrings it out, thus emphasizing that there are lots of things we do well, even in the face of major changes that are necessary.

Next comes “task analysis,” which lists everything that’s being done now, what tasks might need to be changed or eliminated, and what the likely outcomes from the change effort might be.  Keep in mind that, at this point, we’re still not talking about a “training event,” because there are possible solutions to the problem or opportunity that might not involve traditional training. We’re talking about a “change event.”  There are other elements of a FEA that we’ll get into when we talk about the Design phase of ISD.

The point of FEA is that it creates a formal, step-by-step process for the analysis phase. You don’t have to follow each step, and some steps might not even be necessary, but having an analysis process document can be helpful, especially if you and your team lack experience, or if you have executives or other decision-makers who are insistent that “more training” is needed.

Pause, Be Curious, Ask Tough Questions

Automatically assuming that “we need training” to solve a business need is going to produce half-measures at best, and can be a giant waste of time and money at worst. Spending time and effort to conduct a thorough training/learning needs analysis will produce solid information about what’s really required to satisfy the requirements of the changes happening in the company. A big element in analysis is simply asking questions by showing curiosity and, often, a contrarian attitude.

Once you’ve been through the analysis phase, you’re ready to design an “intervention.” You notice I didn’t yet say “training event or training effort,” because there can still be ways to address the issues or opportunities that don’t involve training. That’s one of the outcomes of the analysis phase: Does our research indicate that we need a training effort or does the research indicate that we might achieve our goals with other means.

That next phase, Design, is what we’ll cover in the Instructional Systems Design model. We might design training, or we might design a different kind of change initiative that gets us there faster, cheaper, and better.


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