Setting up an online school - Part 15

Here I will talk about perhaps the most important aspect of the success of any school, the needs analysis. Over the next few blogs I will explain what it is, why it is necessary and how to do it.

Needs analysis

Here I am going to talk about one of the most critical aspects of running a school of any description but especially something as multi-faceted as teaching English. English is the primary language in so many industries and areas that it is very difficult to have a top professional position without a command of English. Over the next few sessions I will cover everything I have learned about needs analysis.

Background

I was the manager for four years for Friends of the Earth Ireland in the early 2000’s, in the process becoming vice chair of Friends of the Earth Europe for two years. Just to quickly explain, Friends of the Earth is an environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) that operates as a network. Each country is independent but must operate according to the agreed rules of the group. It is worldwide but the operational language is English and so at annual general meetings (AGM’s) we all spoke English.

Why am I diverting down this road, I hear you ask? Just to emphasize that even if you are not career orientated but want to make the world a better place, then good English is important and also specific. If you are approached by a worldwide organization to teach, then your needs analysis is what is going to get them onboard and keep them there.

What is it?

So, at a simple level, a needs analysis is finding out what your students need or what their employer wants them to have. The strongest rule in business is finding out what your customers need or want and giving it to them. You cannot go wrong with this principle. You must get good at needs analysis to make a successful business no matter what you are doing from, say, a simple market stall to a global company. If you set up an online school teaching a craft that only you know how to do, then your needs analysis is going to be easy as the students don’t have a choice. They have to come to you.

However, in most cases, you will have plenty of competition. Here is where you can grab yourself a competitive advantage by working hard on developing your skills in needs analysis. First, see what the competition is doing. You may be surprised at how little attention is given to this area. But learn what you can. There are plenty of forms and templates out there on the web that you can adapt but please think seriously over time of creating your own. Put together a needs analysis folder. It is a constant process. Every time you come across an unusual request or situation write it down and see if you can use it in your needs analysis folder.

It is about observation, what works, what doesn’t, what questions should you have asked at the start, what came up during classes, what lessons were learned at the end of the course that you can apply in future sessions? It is the full package and I guarantee you that most schools are too busy doing other things to pay enough attention to needs analysis. If you do, you will be ahead of the game.

A needs analysis feeds into your training plans

What a good needs analysis does is it leads to a strong training plan. They need to be totally linked as one feeds into the other. Now, a textbook is essentially a one size fits all training plan and they have their uses. A good teacher goes beyond the textbook, however, to bring all their experience and knowledge to the task. If you specialize, you will for sure need to devise your own material to some extent or other. You should use the analysis to come up with a training plan whether using standard textbooks or not. At a later point in this series I will talk about creating all your own material but for now we will concentrate on adapting it from other sources.

Advantages

What are the advantages of good needs analysis? You ultimately save time as you deliver the specific training that your client needs. And everyone’s need is that little bit different. Giving exactly what they want will ensure success. The outcomes will be closer to what was expected at the start. You will look professional and show that you care about giving the best possible service. You will deliver that service as you will be using the needs analysis to constantly get better at what you do. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter what you are teaching, you can use it to get better. It is about the golden rule of business – find out what your customers want, and give it to them. You will get lots of repeat business.

What if you hate doing it?

What if you can’t do it? It’s just not what you enjoy doing. I would argue you can’t do without it, not being up against huge teaching organizations that have great advantages. Motivate yourself by visualizing success and why you wanted to go into business in the first place. Use this step by step guide to make it as easy as possible. If you really find it tedious, and your strengths are elsewhere, say sales and marketing or whatever, then you will need to employ someone who can. Many successful people have hired great people to do what they can’t or don’t want to do.

Over the next few sessions I will go through what exactly you need to do, how to constantly work on your needs analysis and your training plans.

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Gus Worth is a highly experienced writer and educator having worked in universities for nearly 20 years and being first published at the age of six. Currently in the English department of the American University in Bulgaria, he also writes extensively for the web and in print for many companies. He has a particular love of online teaching and enjoys helping teachers take their first steps in the exciting world of the future where you can connect with, and help students develop, all over the planet.
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