How to Conduct a Training Needs Assessment


Published: 28 October 2018

The best educational plans in healthcare should enable learners to gain new skills and knowledge that they can then confidently implement into their practice to improve patient care.

But how do you develop an effective educational plan? This article will discuss:

How to design and develop an educational plan using a training needs assessment that considers the training needs of various stakeholders.

Learning must be viewed as a continuous process involving a partnership between the learner and others (Sullivan and Garland, 2010).

However, the provision of educational programs involves more than simply writing a program and then having it presented. Decisions must be made about:

  • The current educational profile of the staff on the ward;
  • Potential learning gaps; and
  • How the educational sessions will be provided.

Whose Educational Needs We Must Assess

When developing an educational plan, the needs of the organisation and the needs of the learners must be addressed.

The analysis of organisational needs should look at the strategic plan of the hospital or health service and how this aligns with their future plan for themselves and the community (Pilcher, 2016). Education of the staff will not create a positive environment for consumer needs if the organisation is not included in the process.

Identifying and analysing the more specific needs of learners in a particular ward will set your education up for success.

Determining Organisational Training Needs

The main way to determine the training needs of an organisation is to conduct a training needs assessment:

“A training needs assessment is used to determine whether training is the right solution to a workplace problem” (Cekada, 2010, p.28).

During this assessment, an organisation will gather information and analyse the need for training so that a training plan can be created (ACN 2017). There are different categories that training needs assessment can fall under including formal gap analysis, learner identified needs and the anticipation of future needs to name a few.

A typical needs assessment for training purposes will involve asking five questions:

Who is involved in the deficiency? It is important to identify the learners that you will be educating. Not all education that is conducted on your ward may be specifically for nurses. Education can also include administration officers, other health professionals and even the family and patients.

This knowledge will then in turn depict the depth of the knowledge that you deliver and the type of educational delivery service that you use i.e. hands on clinical training or face to face teaching sessions.

How can the deficiency be corrected? This looks at whether training will actually solve the deficiency.

If it is a skill problem caused by having a multitude of casual staff employed in your ward with different staff each time, is training going to be an effective solution?

Often training or education may not be the most efficient or effective way of solving a deficiency.

What is the best way to perform a particular job task? Is this in fact through standard policies? It might be beneficial to consult the staff members to determine their ideas on how to perform particular tasks.

When should training take place to provide the most benefit to staff? Timing will depend on what the deficiency is.

If it is a new group of patients arriving in a few weeks, then training can occur several times over the weeks until they arrive. If it is a new piece of equipment, then short education sessions could be conducted before or after handover over a number of days.

Educators should plan to ensure training is accessible to all staff. You may need to consider making a staff list which is marked off each time a session is conducted to account for all staff (Cekada, 2010).


Assessing and Analysing Learner Needs

When it comes to needs analysis for individual learners in a unit there isn’t one set tool that is used for all situations. There are many different types of needs analysis, some of which overlap between each other in terms of the functions that they serve.

“Methods for assessing learner needs can include reviewing the literature, benchmarking, reviewing documents, seeker learner input, and other data collection methods” (Pilcher, 2016).

So, how do you know which training needs analysis process will enable the educator to best improve the education of your unit?

Collecting Data About and From Learners

Learning needs analysis data collection can be either formal, informal or a combination of both. However, having a formal approach to data collection is important in order to support decisions regarding organisational training, budgets and data for future evaluation (ACN, 2018).

It often starts with conversations with unit managers, supervisors, members of the multidisciplinary team that work within the unit, patients and families, and of course your own staff on the floor.

Another way to determine educational needs of learners is to review the following:

  • Risk management programs that detail falls or medication errors over a period of time;
  • Occupational health and safety records;
  • Mandatory training requirements;
  • Staff surveys; and
  • Feedback from healthcare consumers.

How to Conduct a Training Needs Assessment

All this data gives an indication of gaps in knowledge or skill, or staff requirements as indicated by staff requests for particular educational lessons (Dyson, Hedgecock, Tomkins and Cooke, 2009).

Once sufficient data has been collected, it is then important to analyse it to determine the needs of your learners and understand how to effectively plan your education.

This can involve organising requests if you have chosen a learner needs assessment. There may be a multitude of requests from staff however you may be able to group these into particular body systems to make education easier. It is also important to identify which education need has been asked for the most as this will indicate your most important area of education.

Consultation with your Nurse Unit Manager or the Clinical Nurse Consultant may also allow for further identification of ideas and also support for education sessions (Lockhart, 2006).

Future required knowledge can also be taken into consideration. It is important to consider this if, for example, a unit is to have new equipment delivered, or if they are about embark on student facilitation for the first time.

The educator will also have to review your ward as whole and consider some of the following:

  • Has there been an influx of new staff such as new graduates or an increase in the use of casual pool/agency staff? This could cause a performance deficiency as they will not be used to the practices within the ward and will need education.
  • Has there been an introduction of new equipment into the ward? If the staff have not used the equipment before then there will be a performance deficit until they become aware of how to use it. This may see the need in educating particular staff who can then become resource people for that piece of equipment/resource and this can see the education work being shared.
  • Has the ward seen an influx in a new particular type of patient criteria (such as outliers) that have conditions that your staff are not used to caring for?

Once you have collected and analysed your data, your next decision is around how you are going to provide the educational session to those in your unit that require it.

Adult Learning Principles

Provision of educational programs is more than just gathering people in a room and talking to them. Adult learning styles must be considered, as do the resources needed for the session itself.

Adult learning and its theories and principles form part of the science of adult learning, andragogy.  Andragogy was introduced as a theory in 1968 by Malcolm Knowles, however it was in the 1800s that the term first appeared. Andragogy is a Greek term for “man not boy” and implies self-directedness in learning (Prost n.d.).

In 1980 Knowles made 5 assumptions about adult learner characteristics:

  • Self-concept;
  • Adult learner experience;
  • Readiness to learn;
  • Orientation to learning; and
  • Motivation to learn.

Knowles also suggested four principles of adult learning. One of the most important principles states that adults need to be involved in the planning of their education. Including an assessment of learner needs in an education plan will enable educators to fulfil this key principle.

Unlike teaching children, adult learners will rarely just accept the education. They want to know why they need to learn something. Providing this context is therefore key.

Educators must also remember that adult learners carry with them a raft of previous knowledge, experience and an understanding of what works for them (Gutierrez, 2018, Prost n.d.).

Learning Styles and Engaging with Different Learners

Now that we understand what adult learners need in regard to education, it is important to gain an understanding of the learning styles of our staff. With this understanding educators will then be able to enable their learners to most effectively understand, retain and recall new knowledge and skills.

One model used to define learning styles is the VARK model. This describes four learner types:

  1. Visual;
  2. Auditory;
  3. Reading/writing; and

Visual learners like to look at information when learning, visualising the relationships between concepts and ideas. Therefore, making education highly visual with charts, graphs and images are useful tactics with this learning style.

Auditory learners prefer listening to information, therefore asking questions and then calling for answers help these learners.

Reading/writing learners like concrete items in front of them, which enables them to interact with text. Quizzes and short answer questions which allows the learner to write down their responses are useful.

Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing and enjoy role playing and similar scenarios (Nakano, 2016).

It is important to use variety in your education sessions to keep learners actively involved and engaged. This could be done by combining a number of strategies or methods to cover several learning styles at once.

With technology growth and flexible learning strategies creative thinking is needed to provide meaningful dialogue and learning opportunities (Felton. Cook and Anthony, 2014)

As an educator it’s important to recognise that introducing new knowledge or skills to learners can often cause negative feelings from staff if they feel that they need to change practice, learn new information or cannot see benefit of the education as it is not directly related to their practice (Dyson, Hedgecock, Tomkins and Cooke, 2009).

Feedback and Evaluation

It is important for educators to encourage feedback from learners. There are a number of reasons why feedback is important:

  • It facilitates improvement and growth;
  • It encourages learners to actively participate in a learning conversation with the education team;
  • Feedback can be used to help the educator improve their teaching style;
  • It can guide the content of the education (Oermann, Conklin, Rushton and Bush, 2018).

Not everyone likes to receive personal feedback however it is important for career growth and development.

When conducting an evaluation or asking for feedback it is important to consider whether the feedback is relevant to their learning or whether it considers elements that cannot always be altered such as air-conditioning and how comfortable the chairs are.

Having said this, the analysis of the feedback and evaluations of the education program should be an ongoing process. The chosen topics may be ones that need frequent re-education due to changes in staff mix and you will want to identify whether the education has been successful which can be determined through further data collection of risk management reviews, medication audits and work occupational health and safety reports.


This article has provided an overview of the needs that you should consider prior to conducting educational resources for your ward.

Your staff and the patients require up to date knowledge and skills that can only be provided when a complete needs assessment has been undertaken. This will not only provide a well educated and highly skilled staff for your ward but also care for your patients that goes beyond holistic care providing a safe, professional environment in which they can be looked after.


  • Australian College of Nursing, 2017, Theme 3: Learning guide- Topic 1”Learning needs analysis. Graduate Certificate of Leadership and management.
  • Cekada, TL 2010, “Training needs assessment: Understanding what employees need to know”, Professional Safety, 55, no. 3, pp. 28-33
  • Dyson,L, Hedgecock, B, Tomkins, S and Cooke, G 2009, Learning needs assessment for registered nurses in two large acute hospitals in Urban New Zealand, Nurse Education Today, 29, 821-828.
  • Felton, A, Cook, J and Anthony, R 2014. Evaluating a co-facilitation approach to service user and carer involvement in undergraduate nurse education. Nursing Standard, 32(20) DOI:10.7748/ns.2018.e10620
  • Gutierrez, K, 2018, 3 Adult learning theories every E-learning designer must know.
  • MacLean, D, 2017, Personal Interview with Nursing Director Education and Research, 23rd November, 2017.
  • Nakano, C, 2016, The four different types of learners and what they mean to your presentations. Infographic.
  • Oermann M, Conklin J , Rushton, S and Bush, M, 2018 Student evaluations of teaching (SET): guidelines for their use. Nursing forum 2018: 53: 280-285.
  • Pilcher, J, 2016, Learning Needs Assessment, Journal for Nurses in Professional Development, vol 32, no 4, 185-191
  • Prost, H, n.d, Teaching adults:What every trainer needs to know about adult learning styles.
  • The Adult Learning Theory-Androgogy of Malcolm Knowles (2013) com


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Sandra Dash View profile
Sandra Dash began her nursing career in 1993 in New South Wales working in trauma, orthopaedics and ICU. Sandra then spent the next 9 years working in the Northern Territory, NSW and Victoria with the Australian Defence Force. During this time she found her beginning in Nursing Education, teaching at both University and TAFE levels earning a Master’s of Health Science (Nursing Education). In 2010, Sandra moved to Queensland and began the most rewarding career in palliative care, through which she has not only cared for people at a distressing time in their life, but has also been able to continue her passion for education.