In the field of education a "needs analysis" is synonym to the way it is commonly known, which is as "needs assessment". The needs analysis is actually the fourth out of a total of five different and specific steps that must be taken into consideration in order to define what are the specific actions to consider for syllabus design.
Let us first define what is a "need". From many current definitions, one of the most-accepted comprehensive definition comes from Reviere (1996). He describes a "need" as
A gap between real and ideal that is both acknowledged by community values and potentially amenable to change (p. 5)
This definition amply covers the five steps that will be discussed shortly.
Purpose of a Need Analysis in syllabus design
The purpose of the needs assessment in syllabus design is to ensure that the learning system is serving the student population properly, using the correct interventions, tapping on live resources, using/spending government funding wisely, and expecting realistic results. Since needs analysis does not consider what has been done PRIOR to the application of the needs assessment, we can conclude that its second purpose is to provide future opportunities for the application of best practices.
Needs analysis is only one part out of five steps, as stated before. Here they are:
- Users and Uses (McKillip, 1998). This is the first step of the process and it is based on the identification of the population that is to be served, and also the description of what concern, need, or even goal, is at hand. Without this essential information, there is no other way to establish a plan of action that would produce a quality syllabus that can serve who it needs to serve, or do what it needs to accomplish.
- Identify your primary, secondary, and tertiary populationas well as the environment where the intervention will take place (Altschuld et al., 2000). Basically, your primary target group are the students as direct recipients, whereas the secondary level would include the teachers and staff that will provide the intervention services. The tertiary level consists on the available resources. An Environmental scan will also provide enough information about the institution, where it is, what is its mission/vision/goal, what it has, what it lacks, and how it is currently working.
- Identify the actual need/s- Notice how this is merely done after a comprehensive and full evaluation has been made about every single factor present PRIOR to deciding anything.
- ---> Assess/Analyze the need (NEEDS ANALYSIS) <----- here is when the actual analysis come into play. Variables to consider include: are there any conflicts?; Is the plan to solve the need viable?; Are the resources in place?; Is everybody willing to work toward implementing an effective plan?; How can we make people "buy into" the plan at hand?
- Spread the word- EVERY time a needs analysis is conducted and recommendations are made, it is the responsibility of the learning institution to communicate to its primary and secondary target populations what is the plan that will be used, what are the identified needs, and what are the resources that will be used.
As you can see Needs Analysis is a comprehensive strategic planning tool that includes many important factors ranging from people, to budget, to philosophical applications. It is done for serving students as best as it can be done.