How can I use a training needs analysis to improve learning?

Cydnie Smith
Smiling woman with long dark hair in a black shirt.
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Have you ever wished you could take a microscope and look closely at the corporate training practices at your workplace?

What could this concentrated viewpoint show or tell you? 

A closer look may reveal critical performance issues within your organization. You may even be able to pinpoint what they are precisely. But you just can't figure out why they're there!

Sure, your leadership team has invested heavily in upskilling and reskilling employees using eLearning programs.

So why does it feel like there's a step missing?

Well, it's possible that there is.

Most companies recognize the importance of employee training and want to dive right into creating a learning and development program. While this enthusiasm is great, this head-first approach often skips crucial steps like conducting a training needs analysis.

In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about conducting a successful training needs analysis, including

Ready to get started?

Is your current online training strategy effectively addressing workplace performance issues?

A survey of 2,500 companies found that organizations with “comprehensive training programs” have 218% higher revenue per employee and 24% higher profit margins. Most companies recognize the importance of employee training and want to dive right into creating their learning and development program. 

While this enthusiasm is great, this head-first approach often skips some crucial first steps. Namely, conducting a training needs analysis.

So what is a training needs analysis (TNA)?

Simply put, a training needs analysis is how organizations analyze the gaps between existing and desired performance levels. The goal of the TNA process isn’t just to implement corporate training but to help design an effective learning and development program that addresses critical performance issues that may affect overall workplace performance. An effective TNA aims to answer important questions, helping you position your training for success. 

Why do you need to conduct training? 

We know corporate training is meant to resolve performance issues. But is training the most effective way to address this need? Or is training simply something you want to do? Performing a TNA helps you weigh factors like organizational feasibility against your actual need for training. Ultimately, it aims to determine whether the benefits of carrying out training outweigh the problems your organization is facing.

Infographic titled, "What's the value of a 'comprehensive training program?'" Below the title, on the right-side is a block that says, "2,500 companies surveyed," and "How does YOUR company compare?" Under these titles is a small bar graph with a single bar that stretches past 100%, 200%, and up to 218%. On the bar is the text: Revenue per employee. To the right of this block is another, with the text, "profit margin increases by 24%" with a donut chart. Underneath these two blocks is a thin, single block that reads, "...but nearly 50% of corporate employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work," with 6 icons of people, 3 of which are shaded. (Sources: &

Who requires training? 

Employee training typically involves, well, employees – starting with the frontline, but also should include mid-managers, directors, executives, or individuals with specialized skills. The problem is that one-size-fits-all learning programs attempt to solve performance problems without considering which employees are struggling (which can be a waste of time and resources).  

TNAs help you parse and analyze the learning data you’ve collected about individuals, departments, and teams to narrow down the employees involved in the deficiency. This determines the target participants for the training and provides insight on how to create an eLearning program that best engages them – yielding better overall results. 

How do you fix the performance problem?

In theory, conducting training should fix a performance problem. But in some cases, training is not appropriate. A training needs analysis investigates how your company or department is performing as a whole. It identifies the skill deficiencies you need to address and directs how you address them.

What is the best way for employees to perform?

Research shows that nearly 50% of corporate employees don’t know what is expected of them at work. Naturally, there is an ideal way to perform to get the best results. But employees can’t meet performance standards if they have no idea what those standards are. TNAs get down to the fine details of the industry and organizational expectations to inform how employees should perform their core job functions.

When is the best time to conduct training? 

Many factors can impact your employees' attendance and engagement with training (holidays, changing priorities, never-ending to-do lists). To improve your chances of success, you must determine the best timing to deliver training. A training needs analysis examines the environment in which your organization operates and answers logistics questions about the learning and development budget, staffing resources, employee availability, etc.

Speaking of the best time to conduct training…

If you’ve arrived here from the article “How to perform a training needs assessment,” then you already know that your training needs analysis comes after completing your initial needs assessment. 

However, for those of you just starting your research, you may wonder what a training needs assessment is. So let’s quickly recap the difference between the two terms.

How does a training needs analysis differ from a training needs assessment?

As you journey through the many stages of training program development, you may notice that “training needs assessment” and “training needs analysis” are used in the same way people interchange the words “tomato (to-may-to)” and “tomato (to-mah-to).” Basically, they’re two ways to describe one thing.

But these two terms actually refer to two very different processes. 

A training needs assessment is step one in your greater performance improvement efforts. This stage aims to compare your workforce’s existing knowledge, skills, behaviors, and abilities with your desired organizational competency level. In short, a training needs assessment pinpoints the performance gaps that need to be filled.

Once these knowledge, skill, ability, or behavior gaps are identified, a training needs analysis zeros in on them to inform the best way to address them. 

Not only is this micro-level view of performance issues integral to creating a fit-for-purpose learning and development strategy on a workforce level, but the benefits of a training needs analysis can also extend to an organizational level.

What are the benefits of conducting a training needs analysis?

Conducting a training needs analysis can cause a ripple effect that positively impacts almost every aspect of your business. So let’s look at some of the major benefits your TNA process can bring to your organization. 

You’ll identify knowledge gaps before they become an issue 

It’s always better to tackle a potential problem head-on rather than become aware of the skills gap after an issue arises. A training needs analysis evaluates your workforce on a micro-level, which allows you to take a more proactive approach to their training.

You’ll create more impactful training programs for your employees

Many L&D plans are often filled with courses you hope will work and content that isn’t relevant to your workforce’s roles and duties – which can render your training program ineffective. Through the training needs analysis process, you’ll identify the skills gaps in your business and the staff members who need additional training in those areas. This insight makes it much easier to tailor your custom eLearning courses to your employees’ needs and wants.  

Who knows? You may even uncover new innovative training modalities and approaches to learning that your organization has not considered before.

Your L&D programs will align with your business goals

While organizations typically employ corporate training to upskill and reskill their employees, your learning and development strategy is most effective when crafted in pursuit of your company’s goals. Unfortunately, the two tend to stray further apart as time passes. Performing regular training needs analyses allows you to compare your current training modules against your company’s goals to ensure they’re on the same track.

You’ll have better-performing employees

Learning and development can improve skills, service, and motivation. But did you know effective employee training can lift productivity by up to 8.6%? Conducting a TNA allows you to streamline your training programs to include more relevant content and deliver it in a way your employees respond to most. More tailored programs can boost employee engagement, resulting in increased knowledge retention rates and overall workplace performance.

You’ll save money and resources

An IBM study shows that every dollar invested in online training results in $30 in productivity. While this should be the case, the issue is that this kind of return is directly correlated with the quality of your learning programs. Simply put? Ineffective training likely won’t yield these kinds of results. So instead of wasting time, money, and resources on unproductive programs, conducting a TNA can help you direct your L&D budget toward comprehensive eLearning that provides a better return on investment.

Did you know? Companies with “comprehensive training programs” have 218% higher revenue per employee and 24% higher profit margins.

By now, you may be ready to dive right into the TNA process (I mean, with so many benefits, who wouldn’t be?). But before you do, there’s one more question that you must ask yourself first…

What do you hope to achieve with your training analysis?

This is a tricky question, but its answer will guide your TNA process and help you to more clearly measure its success (which is great data to have when you need to demonstrate training ROI for your C-suite and leadership team). So, before you begin your training needs analysis, you must work with your eLearning team to determine success metrics and ensure they stay aligned with your corporate training goals. 

With this in mind, I think we’re ready to explore the steps required to successfully conduct a training needs analysis.

What steps do we recommend to conduct a training needs analysis successfully? 

The truth is, conducting a training needs analysis can be daunting, particularly if you’re new to the performance improvement process. To ensure you navigate your TNA smoothly, here are a few simple recommendations to get you started.

Infographic titled, "How to conduct a successful training needs analysis," followed by a 2x3 grid of 6 blocks, containing a title and a graphic. Starting at the top, and going down each row from left-to-right: DECIDE which employee level to analyze — Four rows showing three levels of employees (management, frontline, field worker, other). IDENTIFY struggling employees — a user icon surrounded by 5 other icons which have a checkmark or an 'X' in the corner. OUTLINE job role’s ideal skillset — a secondary row of text that says, "Frontline skills: Customer service rep." Below is a row of 5 highlighted icons titled, "must-haves."  Under it is another row with 2 icons titled, "nice-to-haves." AUDIT your workforce’s skill level —  a secondary row of text that says, "Frontline skills: Customer service rep.," with "have" and "need" beside it. Below is a row of skills with a checkmark or an 'X' beside them. DETERMINE how to fill skill gaps — 4 blocks with a few ways to fill gaps (courses, microlearning, peer-to-peer, continous learning) with a plus icon. GATHER learner feedback — a feedback poll surrounded by smile chart icons and 5 stars.
Click image to zoom in.

Decide which employee level you want to analyze

Your training needs analysis can be conducted on a team level and an individual level. However, to yield the best results, it’s best to focus on one level at a time—the employee level with the largest gaps. It is more efficient to solve one performance issue at a time, and you also stand to see the highest return by addressing the level with the largest skills gap.

Identify which employees are struggling (and which skills they are struggling with

The next step is to determine which employees need the most help. To do this, you can look at turnover rates for each role, review exit interviews that consistently mention a lack of training, identify employee groups that regularly struggle to meet key performance indicators (KPIs), and gather employee feedback through surveys and questionnaires. There’s likely a significant skills gap if consistent performance patterns exist in particular employees or teams.

Outline the ideal skills required to perform a specific job role

Within your selected employee group, evaluate the job duties and scope of their individual roles, then determine the skills critical for success in each position. A good place to start is by reviewing the job descriptions your organization uses to recruit new employees (as well as similar positions within your industry). You can also interview your leadership team, managers, and current employees excelling in each role to gather crucial skillset data that the job descriptions may not cover. Using this data, create a list of must-have skills for a successful employee.

Audit your workforce’s skill level

Once you have your list of must-have skill sets, you can use it to measure your employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities and determine where their skill gaps are.
There are several forms of employee testing, depending on the skills you’re evaluating. Some of these include 

  • Online quizzes: You can leverage your existing eLearning platform to administer quizzes that cover job-specific material to gain insight into each employee’s unique skill set.
  • Skills-based assessments: These are great for measuring more subjective competencies like soft skills. For example, you can have a sales team member complete a simulated call to assess their skills under pressure and evaluate how they handle upset customers. 
  • Self-evaluations: A great supplement to other forms of testing, self-evaluations allow employees to identify where they feel their areas of weakness are.

Determine how you will fill in skill gaps

After you’ve compiled your employee data and identified the largest skill gaps, it’s time to figure out the best training method to resolve the issue.

  • Would your team benefit from microlearning opportunities that are more focused on solving problems they encounter while on-the-job?
  • Do your employees prefer a more adaptive learning style that can adjust to their unique progress and repeat course material until they’re fully confident? 
  • Does your organization require a more blended learning approach to meet its training objectives?

Asking these types of questions will help you determine the most effective way to allocate company resources for the most optimal business outcome.

Check in with your team to gather learner feedback

I wish I could tell you that the training needs analysis process ends when you set up your training.  But as your employees' needs and skills change, so will the results of your TNA. To ensure your teams’ learning experience is effective and valuable, check in with them and gather your learners’ feedback regularly throughout and after training.

What are some additional tips for an effective training needs analysis?

Of course, in addition to these steps, there are some other “do’s” and “don’ts” for conducting an effective TNA. Let’s first look at some of the things you should do when conducting a TNA.

  • Always ensure that any training you offer is in compliance with federal, state or provincial, and local laws.
  • When mapping out your training objectives, consider your company’s goals for the next year (not just the current year).
  • While you want to address skill gaps in your workforce, your TNA should also focus on enhancing existing skills as well.
  • Remember to prioritize competencies that benefit the whole team rather than specialized skills for one or two employees – especially if you have a limited budget. Focusing on majority goals will likely have a much bigger impact on organizational success.

What are common mistakes made during a training needs analysis so that you can avoid them?

Okay – we’ve gone over the list of “do’s,” but there are always two sides to every coin. So, now we’re going to break down some common mistakes that can affect the success of your training needs analysis.

 After all, we want you to get the most from your time investment.

Not gathering enough data

A successful TNA requires crucial information from key decision-makers and leadership teams about their performance expectations and overall business goals. However, if they’re too busy or don’t see the point in getting involved, they may hesitate to get on board, buy into the process, or give it the attention it deserves. Because of this inconvenience, you may be tempted to skip their involvement in the TNA process to save time (and a few headaches). Still, you’ll need their contribution to accurately represent all the skill sets required from every team.

Forgetting to document the process

As you complete your training needs analysis, it’s vital that you document the process. With proper documentation, you’ll be able to compare past and present results to make improvements based on what did and didn’t work. Once you’ve determined the procedures that prove successful for your business, you can reuse them in the future.

Not segmenting your training

It can be easy to take a broad-view approach to your training needs analysis; however, don’t be tempted to execute a plethora of company-wide training just to save time. The whole point of this process is to ensure that your workforce gets the specific training they need to be successful. Organizing your training by department and job role is essential to this process. 

I know it can feel overwhelming to get started with your organization’s training needs analysis. But all it takes is the first step to unlock your training program's full potential (and benefits). Completing a training needs analysis will gather data to create the best training possible for your employees. Once you’ve put in the work in, you’ll have higher-performing employees, better-quality training programs, and of course, a more streamlined allocation of resources, resulting in improved training ROI for your organization.

What are the next steps in my L&D journey? 

Well, it’s time to implement your new TNA-informed training plan! 

To start setting up (or revising) your eLearning program, be sure to check out our Learning Hub. It’s full of informative, free resources that are just a click away, including information about instructional design and creating custom eLearning to help you achieve your training performance goals! And remember, if you ever have any questions along the way, we’re always here to help you make the most informed decisions.

Smiling woman with long dark hair in a black shirt.
Cydnie Smith

Cydnie is an experienced writer, editor, and blogger who believes that accessibility plus a dash of creative storytelling is essential to cultivating a memorable learning experience.

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