“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here ?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don ’t much care where” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk,” said the Cat.”
― Lewis Carroll
This article aims to shed light on how ELT professionals can design and personalize courses with a needs analysis questionnaire or interview. From a prescriptive point of view, it’s important to know students goals and needs so a proper course of action can be drawn up and then implemented. In this piece, I endeavor to highlight the importance of needs analysis and how it can be used for the purpose of tailor-made course design.
To begin, I’d better bring into the open what needs analysis means. Thornbury describes it as “the process of specifying learners’ language needs in advance of designing a course for them” (2006:142). Bearing this in mind, one can clearly state that needs analysis brings into the open the DNA of our course programme. Thornbury also states that “subjective information, such as the learners’ attitudes, expectations and preferred learning style can also feed into the overall analysis” (id, ibid).
Can “needs analysis” help you with ongoing courses?
Can “needs analysis” help you with ongoing courses?
Kathleen Graves points out that needs analysis (also called needs assessment) “is used as an ongoing part of teaching, it helps learners to reflect on their learning, to identify their needs, and to gain a sense of ownership and control of their learning” (2000:98). Her take on needs analysis is interesting since, contrary to what is normally seen, needs analysis can be used throughout the course as a thermometer and compass for the course.
So, to summarize, we can conclude that needs analysis forms can be helpful since they:
- Reveal students’ needs
- Help us understand their preferences
- Provide us with relevant info to choose a course book (or not to choose/use a course book)
- Give learners a sense of control over their course
- Allow room for tailor made courses
- Help teacher and learners to have focus throughout the course
- Mitigate the odds of trial and error in keeping with course design
So, a needs analysis may, for instance, focus on students:
- Learning background
- Learning preferences
- Positive experiences in learning English
- Negative experiences in learning English
- Feelings towards English learning
- Take on using course books
- View on language acquisition
- Expectations on the course
Can an interview serve as “needs analysis”?
A needs analysis can be a questionnaire or even an interview! The latter can be tricky as teachers might be dealing with an avalanche of information and chances are that precious raw data may be overlooked. Hence, the use of recording devices or note taking is highly recommended. Either case, it’s important to save the data for later consultation. Throughout the course, one may want to refer back to the questionnaire and even allow access to learners so they can, on some milestones in the course, update their needs analysis answers.
Three aspects of great concern for outstanding private teachers are: student’s success, satisfaction and, consequently, students’ retention. All three can be nurtured by a good needs analysis and the inherent use of the data in the design of a tailor made course. More often than not, is empiricism and tradition the guide for many ELT professionals. This ranges from choosing course books to using a lesson framework. One aspect we should favour is the reflection upon those choices and how these same choices suit our learners rather than ourselves or our teaching background. Countless times, I’ve seen teachers using materials far from appropriate with learners who not only opposed the book’s take on ELT but also had no room in voicing their frustration. Methodological conflict points can be preempted through needs analysis forms/interviews. As Nunan suggests, “these potential points of conflict can be revealed through needs analysis. For example, the data might indicate that the majority of learners desire a grammatically-based syllabus with explicit instruction. If teachers are planning to follow a non-traditional approach, they may need to negotiate with the learners and modify the syllabus to take account of learner perceptions about the nature of learning and language learning” (1988:18)
Our verdict 🙂
It is undeniable that there are noticeable benefits for the use of needs analysis, especially if you are a private English teacher. You will make your decisions more student centred, increase chances of students’ success, satisfaction and retention. Ultimately, you may even increase your revenues (due to students retention and word of mouth).
Our experience suggests that a needs analysis interview is as good as or even better than a form. One favourable aspect is the conversational tone it allows. It makes the whole process friendlier and interactional. If you do it online you may also record the interview for later analysis. Softwares like zoom allows that and it’s quite easy to use. If you’d like to have a free sample of a needs analysis interview just download it from our database by clicking here. It’s completely free.
So, what’s your experience with needs analysis questionnaire? If you haven’t used any, would you like to start using it? Are there any limitations to needs analysis interviews? Please voice your feelings in the comments below 🙂
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s adventures in wonderland. Volume One Publishing: 1998 pp 89
Graves, Kathleen. Designing Language Courses. Heinle Cengage: 2000
Nunan, Dvid. Syllabus Design. Oxford University press: 1988
Thornbury, Scott. An A to Z of ELT: A Dictionary of terms and concepts. Macmillan: 2006