Setting up an online school - Part 16

In this article I will continue about needs analysis and how to put it together, the problems that can arise and how to address them.

Needs analysis 2

This time I will continue about needs analysis and how to practically achieve it. The first thing is to stress to the client or student how important it is and your wish to deliver the best training you can. So you need to ask for their time to sit down and go through what they want and where they wish to be at the end. Most likely it is not a good idea to be asked to be paid for this as it is exploratory and it is possible that you may not be able to deliver what they want. Certainly, if you are a one-person operation then you may not feel you can handle certain subjects. Big schools may be able to charge for exploratory sessions but I doubt if, at the start, you could. However, the fact that you have put free time into it may make a potential client feel that you will be conscientious.

Personally, I always said yes and boned up as hard as I could before the classes. I liked trying new things and have taught a diverse range of specialist subjects like English for Finance, for Law, Logistics, Sales and Marketing and many more.

If you have a team of teachers then it might be best to get them involved in the needs analysis on their specialist subject.

Park your ego

The first thing I would say is to park your ego when creating your needs analysis. It is about what your client needs not what you are good at delivering. Really listen to what they are saying and take extensive notes. Find out about the deliverables and time frames. Companies normally understand that there is no quick fix when it comes to teaching English however they rarely want indefinite classes. One huge area to discuss are the levels of the students, they will need to be approximately similar as the class will get bogged down if not. You must insist on this as, if levels are different, then teaching, and class dynamics become difficult.

The importance of checking levels

You should always test the levels of students before starting no matter what level they say they are. There are plenty of level tests on the internet that you can use. After a while it becomes easy to assess levels and you can nearly do it after a short conversation.

If you are teaching a specialist area, then a one level difference may be manageable. Say, mixing B1 and B2 or B2 and C1 for example. When teaching for companies, it may be difficult to get enough of a group at the same level but do not be tempted to have a big mismatch. Nobody will enjoy it and you probably won’t be able to deliver what you wanted. If there is a mismatch, insist you have to have separate groups so the teaching can be effective. If they don’t want to spend on separate groups then you are probably best to advise them to start with one group where the levels are aligned.

Employers needs versus employees needs

These are the type of things your needs analysis should address. Another area I call employer versus employee. The client, the employer, may have specific ideas but the employees something different. You are unlikely to get to talk much to the students before classes start but make it a priority in the first session to find out what they feel they want and if there is a big discrepancy between that and what the client wants then it needs to be discussed as you may then have resistance by the pupils. A way around it is to have a needs analysis form passed around them first before the classes have started and determine what their priorities are.

Questions to ask

You need to find out where their strengths and weaknesses lie, are they good at writing but not speaking, for example? How long have they been learning English? Have they had a native speaker teacher before? How much do they use English in work? And how? Mostly writing? Speaking on the phone? There are examples on the internet and you should modify to find out what you need to know before you start. Try to combine what the employer wants with what the employees want.

I once had a class that didn’t work for this reason and did the needs analysis with the boss but not with the staff. I did a level test first so the levels were reasonably aligned but not a needs analysis. There was resistance to the direction of the classes from only two students out of eight but it was enough to affect the class dynamic, the learning outcomes and everyone’s enjoyment. I never got any more classes from that company and it was a lesson to be learned, to try and get the potential students involved at the needs analysis stage. While the boss is the priority client, you may need to be creative and try to align what the employees want with what the chief wants.
In the next blog I will continue with needs analysis and look at how it needs to be a constant process not a discrete one. And how to put needs analysis into everything you do.

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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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