Running Head: Implications of Needs Assessments in Program Development Implications of Needs Assessments in Program Development Krystle Robinson Student # 0216731 Red River College, Certificate in Adult Education Program The Pas Site EDUC-1095 Program Development Assignment # 2 Instructor: Dr. Kathryn McNaughton Submitted: February 12, 2011
IMPLICATIONS OF NEEDS ASSESSMENTS IN PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT 2Know, Alan B. (n.d). Critical appraisal of the needs of adults for educational experiences as a basis for program development. Retrieved from: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED022090.pdf Implications of Needs Assessments in Program Development Development of new programs is often the response to an identified need. These needsare best identified through the process of a needs assessment. Needs assessments may be used tosupport the development of a new program by identifying the needs of prospective learners,employers and other stakeholders. When considering adult learning in program development, wemust take into consideration the diverse needs of adult learners. In Knox’s (n.d) article, CriticalAppraisal of the Needs of Adults for Educational Experiences as a Basis for ProgramDevelopment, he grapples with the term “need” and explores the major variables significant toadult educational needs. In his discussion, he also describes methods for appraising needs inorder to apply them in program development. While Knox strongly believes identification ofneeds is a key component for developing any adult education program, he argues that “theidentification of the needs of people as a basis for developing education programs is anexceedingly difficult process” (p.1). Although the process may be difficult, the author suggeststhat if we critically examine the needs of adults, we could significantly increase the benefits forlearning institutions and prospective adult learners. In the first part of the article, Knox (n.d.) highlights the difficulty of defining need bydiscussing the many different needs that people have. He argues that there are many types ofneeds and that if we are to use needs as “a basis for program development, they must be relevantenough to the learner to evoke the requisite effort and attention” (p.1). Therefore, we need tocautiously appraise the needs we identify as they relate to the learner and to the education
IMPLICATIONS OF NEEDS ASSESSMENTS IN PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT 3program. He questions the definition of need asking “Is an educational need the same as otherneeds” (Knox, n.d., p.1), further articulating the importance of clearly defined needs as a basisfor meaningful program development. After reviewing several definitions of need, Knox (n.d.)concludes that a need is “a gap between a present, or initial, or existing set of circumstances andsome changed set of circumstances” (p.2). He suggests that once this gap is identified it can beused as “a basis for decisions regarding how to design and promote a program” (p.3). Therefore,a needs assessment is a useful tool to help identify need and inform program development. In analyzing the definition of need, the author cautions against individual need versussocietal needs. The process of a needs assessment is not clear cut and we need to ensure we donot generalize societal needs to represent the needs of each individual. Knox points out that theseare two different types of needs and “from an adult education standpoint, should be viewed assuch” (p.4). In research conducted in Canada and the United States on education programs,Knox states that many programs are developed based on labour market demands relative “totime, place and circumstance” (p.4). This makes need identification exceedingly difficult because“the adult education program planner…must identify those needs relevant to a particularprogram” (p.4). From the author’s analysis, it is evident that when conducting a needsassessment, we must establish a clear language around the idea of “need” and carefully examinethe results of the assessment to understand “who” perceives this to be a need. For example, in theworkplace, the identified need may vary depending on if you asked the employer or the worker.They may have two very different needs and Knox argues that this has to be taken intoconsideration because it “will have direct implications for program objectives” (p.5). In the second half of the article, Knox points out the importance of appraising needs. Hestresses the importance of including potential learners for the program in a needs assessment. He
IMPLICATIONS OF NEEDS ASSESSMENTS IN PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT 4suggests that if prospective learners can identify that a gap exists they are more likely toparticipate as they will feel there is a need to complete a specific program to attain a higher levelof personal achievement. According to Knox (n.d), including the potential participant “providesa basis for the program planner to more effectively demonstrate the relevance of the educationalprogram issues to the potential participant’s needs” (p.16). This demonstrates an underlyingtheme in most if not all adult education programs—programs must be designed and developedbased on need and relevancy. Further, it once again highlights the importance of needidentification through a needs assessment process. Once the needs have been clearly identified itis also necessary to include them in program design. Knox (n.d.) suggests that descriptiveinformation about the needs can provide a “basis for selecting that combination of subject matter,resource persons, and methods that most effectively contribute to the achievement of programobjectives” (p. 17). These ideas demonstrate the multiple benefits and uses of the data collectedduring a needs assessment. In the concluding discussion, Knox suggests that when considering adult needs as a basisfor program development it would be “helpful to separate the concepts educational need andsocial problem” (p.21). Knox concludes that although “the existence of a social problemfrequently indicates that educational needs exits” it would not be useful to base programdevelopment “primarily on social problems” (p.21). His insightful discussion clearlydemonstrates that there are no easy solutions or processes when it comes to determining needsand using that data to design and development programs suited for adult learning. Reflection Program Development is a complex process. There are several things to take intoconsideration such as need, market demand, feasibility and resources. Knox’s article captures
IMPLICATIONS OF NEEDS ASSESSMENTS IN PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT 5the significance of need identification as the basis for meaningful program development.Although he criticizes current practices suggesting more could be done, he isn’t clear on “how”to do things better. One thing he is clear on is the fact that needs assessments can make or breaka program and that the implications of needs assessments in program development are huge. Conversely, this leaves many unanswered questions about why some post-secondaryprograms have such low enrolment numbers. If research supports the fact that needs assessmentsin program development are best practices, than it would be safe to assume that these processeshave been done before implementing a new program. Yet some programs have few students. Itleads one to wonder the same question Knox asks “need, as perceived by whom?” (p.5). If thereis market or industry need and demand what is keeping students from enrolling in theseprograms Perhaps this lends credibility to Knox’s argument that educational programs for adultsneed to be relevant to their personal needs and the fact that potential learners have to recognize“that a gap exists…if he is to participate” (p.6). If that is the case, how do post-secondaryinstitutions begin to address skill shortages when there is limited interest or personal need fromindividuals? These implications are also reflected in the current development of the EducationalAssistant Program at the University College of the North. Enrolment numbers are minimal. Thisis due largely to the fact that this credential is not a requirement for employment within the localschool division as well as other Northern school divisions. So, what is the need? There is a needbut perhaps it is localized as Knox suggests; by “time, place and circumstance” (p.4). Perhapswe need to reevaluate the need to determine and more specifically identify “whose need it is.”Some community school divisions have offered incentives for staff to complete the additionaleducation. In other divisions, staff—whether trained or not—receive the same pay. In other parts
IMPLICATIONS OF NEEDS ASSESSMENTS IN PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT 6of the Province, this education is a requirement for employment, so perhaps the program designmay need to consider alternative delivery methods. This personal example exemplifies the samepoint the author is trying to make. When considering adult learning and program development,determining need can help to define any program you wish to create. This might be a post-secondary program such as a certificate, diploma or degree; or, in my line of work it might beworkshops or support programs. This article also shed light on the diverse definition of “need”. The definitions discussedhighlight the importance of considering the various definitions when designing a needsassessment. For example, labour market demands might indicate a need for trained heavyequipment operators. However, employers may suggest that the need is actually for equipmentoperators trained on specific types of machines. Although these needs are similar, the distinctionis that the employer is also seeking additional skills/knowledge on certain types of equipment. Indesigning the program, you would want to ensure that you met both needs; this is a recentexample of where graduates of the Heavy Equipment Operator Program were not able to obtainemployment with several companies as they had not been trained on some specific equipment.This example would suggest that the program design may not have considered all “needs” whendeveloping subject matter. Therefore, understanding the definition of need as it relates to theprogram your developing is essential. Another implication resulting from Knox’ discussion would be considering need in theevaluation of programs. Once you have determined the identified needs in a needs assessment,you can use that information to inform program development. Alternatively, you can use thosesame needs to evaluate whether a program has been effective. In doing so, you could determinewhat worked, what didn’t work, what changes could be made and make recommendations on
IMPLICATIONS OF NEEDS ASSESSMENTS IN PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT 7possible changes in program design. This links back to the earlier discussion on low enrolmentin certain programs. If the needs of adults is the basis for meaningful program development,than it would only make sense to use needs to evaluate programs. The needs of individuals,society, and the labour market are constantly changing. Accordingly, it would be best practice tomake the necessary changes within programs to continue to meet the needs and demands of allstakeholders. What is being suggested is that enrolment numbers and need have perhapsdecreased in certain programs in response to the changing needs and demands of individuals,society and the labour market. For example, perhaps there is still an individual and market needbut the program isn’t meeting the employers need. There are several variables of need toconsider, as Knox suggests. As a prospective educator, it is important to be aware and have anunderstanding of the needs of adult learners within your program. It is important to considervarious ways for determining need. This leads to questions on personal need. As an adult learnerwithin a post-secondary program, how is what I am learning relevant to my professional needs?Personal goals? Society’s need? When thinking of myself, I think of my learners. Where arethey in program development and how can we assure that their needs are being met.