Monday, 26 January 2015

Needs Analysis For The Real World - revisited!

After something of an absence, I am blogging again! It's quite a nice feeling.

Last Saturday I gave two workshops (each delivered twice) at Katedra Nyelviskola in Budapest. I'm pleased to report that the audiences in both cases seemed really engaged and I learnt quite a bit from them, too. So over the course of my next three posts, I plan to share the slides from the workshops and summarize what appeared to be the lessons learned from the participants.

My first workshop was a 90-minute session titled "From Needs Analysis to Pecha: two useful frameworks for language teachers". As these two frameworks were quite distinct from each other, I plan to address each in a separate post. So here are the slides from my Needs Analysis workshop.

The key messages I sought to convey here were:

1) Customization of training (a purposeful deviation from course books) is possible to the extent that the customer has paid for it. However, it is generally up to us Business English trainers to elicit a statement of training needs from our learners that specifies where they most need help in their day-to-day duties.

2) If learners have a burning need, they will tell you anyway. For everything else, we need to ask the right questions.

3) In business terms, this is not a question of linguistic knowledge so much as performance challenges faced by our learners while at work. Trainers need to think much more like a solution provider here: they need a problem definition to work with. In Charles Rei's terminology, we need to "target the performance gap".

4) Charles Rei's "Communicative Event" questionnaire - which is referred to on slide 23, subject to minor alterations - is a good way to elicit a definition of the learners' areas of current difficulty.

5) By adding a "Communicative Event" strand to the course description, we can show how we intend to address these needs.

6) If the needs analysis is reviewed regularly - by means of 360 degree feedback, if need be - the training plan can be refined and continuously improved.

7) Business English learners ought to be motivated by relevant training and relevant homework. Trainers should use the workplace as the starting point wherever possible, and set homework that helps learners with their jobs, too.

If trainers are flexible and open with their learners, this "ESP" approach can deliver superior training outcomes and mitigate a number of known classroom management problems. It may not be the right choice every time, but I have suggested "rules of thumb" for when and when not to use it in my slides.

The reception this talk received seemed very positive. Some of the points I learnt from the event participants were as follows:

1) Often, language school trainers are asked to perform high-level (i.e. not especially specific) needs analysis when they meet a client for the first time.

2) However, a course description may already have been produced which implies the course needs to be taught "by the book".

3) Often, nothing much may be standing in the way of customisation - but trainers need to feel confident doing it. The "communicative event" description is easy to understand and easy to implement - the participants appeared to agree that it can help them right away.

4) It was felt that a review of needs analysis shouldn't occupy too much class time - perhaps no more than 10 minutes. If a learner wants to complete a fresh "Communicative Event" description in the light of changing responsibilities or lessons learned, this can be set as homework.

Overall, I found the session very encouraging and I am very grateful to those trainers (Alex Case, Evan Frendo, Charles Rei, Mercedes Deambrosis Viola) who influenced me en route to my giving the presentation. If you like the slides or have any questions to ask, do let me know.

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