Rossett (1995) described needs assessment as an initial inquiry of information about situation. , Jonassen, Tessmer, and Hannum (1999) explained the purposes of needs assessment include:

  1. To determine if learning is a solution to an identified need, and if so, how serious the learning need is; the result is prioritized inventory of learning goals.
  2. Needs analysis is the data gathering and decision making process that instructional designers go through to determine the goals of any instructional system
  3. Needs analysis identifies the present capability of prospective learners or trainees, the desired outcomes, and the discrepancies between those

When do we do needs assessment?
Rossett (1995) pointed out the importance of the needs assessment as a driving force affecting every other aspects in the instructional design system, i.e. design, development, use and evaluation.

"Needs assessments are done when the instructional technologist is trying to respond to a request for assistance. Needs assessments gather information to assist professionals in making data-driven and responsive recommendations about how to solve the problem or introduce new technology." (p. 184)

Rossett (1995) described the major information that needs assessment tends to identify:

  1. Optimal Performance: What is it that the learner/performer need to know or do?
  2. Actual Performance: What is it that the learner/performer actually know and do?
  3. Feelings: How do the learner/performer feel about the topic, training about the topic, the topic as priority, and confidence surrounding the topics
  4. Causes: Rossett incorporated the work of Bandura (1977) and Keller (1979, 1983) into a system that recognizes four kind of causes:
Lack of skill or knowledge
Flawed Environment
Improper Incentive
Unmotivated Employees
Information needed Are the learners able to do the task? Environmental support Feeling, consequences of task performance Feelings

Possible Data Sources

Records and outcomes, observations, interviews Observations, interviews, focused groups Observations, records, interviews, questionnaire Interviews, questionnaires
Possible Solutions Training, job aids Improved tools or forms, workplace redesign, job redesign Improved policies, better supervision, improved incentives Training, information, coaching, better supervision


Data Collection Tools

The process of Needs Assessment

  1. Identify Purpose Based on Initiators: According to Rossett (1995)There are three initiators:
  2. Identify Sources: Where is/Who has the information that I need? Can I access such information?
  3. Select Tools for getting information: What are appropriate ways to collect data? What are the questions to ask in the interviews and in the surveys? What are under observations?
  4. Conduct the needs assessment in stages in order to search for the information needed:
  5. Use findings to make decision: Analyze the data and identify the gaps, determine the causes of the gaps and identify the kinds of interventions to resolve the gap.

Typology of Questions (Rossett, 1995)

Smith and Ragan (1999) categories three sides of needs assessment:

  1. Discrepancy Model: this focuses on the gaps between "what is" and "what should be"
  2. Problem-Finding, Problem Solving model: this takes a broad view in terms of performance technology. The model focuses on resolving the causes of the problem, and the non-instructional solutions are considered.
  3. Innovation Model: it examines changes or innovations in the educational system or organization and determines whether new learning goals should be added to the curriculum.


Jonassen, D. H., Tessmer, M., & Hannum, W. H. (1999). Task analysis methods for instructional design. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Rossett, A. (1995). Needs Assessment. In Anglin, G. J. (Ed). Instructional technology: Past, present, and future, p.183-196. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.

Smith, P. L. & Ragan, T. J. (1999). Instructional Design. 2nd. Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.