Mind the Gap Analysis

The “Cadillac Conundrum”

Lately, I’ve struggled with a saying that I’ve heard when it comes to developing training, without first conducting a learner’s needs analysis—also commonly referred to as a gap analysis.

We should build the Cadillac of training — let them customize it in the field.

My contention is how do we know that the “Cadillac” is the right solution for the needs of the learners? To go with their analogy, how do we know that a luxury sedan is the right vehicle for the need — what if it’s the equivalent of going off-road? A major part of selecting the right solution comes from conducting a sound learning needs analysis — also known as a gap analysis.

Cars buried in mud

My boss recently asked me to help with documenting how to conduct a gap analysis, but I wasn’t sure how to explain the process to those who aren’t familiar with Instructional Design principles. As I combed through my collection of Instructional Design resources and some of my favorite blogs, I was reminded of how my professor first described it to us.

A gap analysis is figuring out where the learners currently are, identifying where they need to be, and then figuring out the best way to span the gap between.

And that’s when it hit me…bridges! Now I must admit something that any of my friends or family can attest to — I love analogies. Sometimes they get a little far out there, but just bear with me.

Building Bridges Through Gap Analysis

A good gap analysis is like building a bridge, and like certain locations require a certain type of bridge, different needs are best addressed with certain solutions. Now I realize that I’m not the first person to come up with the “bridge the gap” idea — I’m more interested in how we decide to best span the gap.

Training won’t always be the best solution to address the identified gap — and that’s OK! The goal should be to use a solution that minimizes the time/effort required to develop while maximizing the return on investment (ROI) in terms of changing behaviors/performance. So what types of bridges can we build, and more importantly, when should we build them? Here’s my list of types of instructional bridges and their best uses.

No Bridge Necessary

It’s amazing to me how many people aren’t willing to admit that training isn’t the answer after taking the time to conduct a gap analysis. These are the figurative cracks in the sidewalk — the time and effort to develop a training solution greatly outweighs any potential ROI. Are people forgetting to refill the coffee pot? Send out an email — training isn’t going to help here. Crack in Sidewalk

The Homemade Bridge

Do you have a group of people who have never made coffee before in their entire lives? There’s relatively small gap, but we don’t need a Starbucks barista simulation exercise or formal training program. Something quick and dirty will do the job just fine — let’s keep the time/effort to ROI ratio in mind here. These are the sorts of gaps that can be best addressed by a job aid. Document the necessary steps and post them next to the coffee maker or send them out in an email.

Sometimes the gap analysis will show you only need an improvised solution such as a job aid.

The Covered Bridge

Is there a completely new concept or process that no one has experience with? Perhaps as a part of the latest cost reduction efforts your folks need to also harvest and roast the beans in addition to brewing the coffee — enter facilitated, or instructor led, training. Granted technological solutions are becoming more widely accepted and preferred, some organizations and learners still prefer the good ole’ training binder and a facilitator in a formal classroom, and that is completely fine. Just keep in mind that this solution is more likely to be a one-size fits all and more difficult to sustain or update.

Covered Bridge

The Suspension Bridge

But what about learners that aren’t located close to each other? No worries — through the wonders of modern technology, we have the option of eLearning. This option does more than make it possible to span large geographical areas though. eLearning is much more adaptable and scale-able to a variety of needs, and can be delivered in the office, at home, or even on mobile devices!

Suspension bridge in the woods

What’s Next?

Now that you’ve uncovered the cause for the issue, and selected the best type of solution to bridge the gap, you’re now ready to design the vehicle the learners will use to cross the bridge. Remember to not just jump to a solution, it’s the initial gap analysis will greatly influence how effective any training solution will be.

Mike Jones
Hi, I'm Mike. I design and develop high-quality learning solutions that focus on outcomes—meeting the needs of the client, their organization, and their learners. As an Instructional Designer and L&D Professional, I have had extensive experience creating eLearning, blended, and traditional Instructor-led Training (ILT) in corporate, medical, and non-profit settings. My passion for lifelong learning and cutting edge technology is only furthered through collaborating with others that are just as passionate about helping people.

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