TLDR: Steal these habits from journalism to build a strong approach to needs analysis.
If you've heard me talk at all about learning design or if you've taken the "One Thing You Can Do TODAY to Level Up from Learning Designer to Learning Strategist" quiz, you may have heard me say this:
Stop thinking like an educator! Start thinking like a journalist.
Now, what do I mean by that?
Educators focus predominantly on the student experience. This is great when you're delivering learning directly to learners. Students are usually learning for learning's sake. We're hoping with the right information, they'll start to find connections to their own lives that help them navigate adulthood, but there's no clear, specific end goal or need to fulfill.
When it comes to learning and development, especially in the business sector, your job is to solve problems and address business need (even if the SME tries to convince you people just need to "understand" or "be aware").
To architect learning solutions, you need more insight.
You need the whole context.
You need the truth.
And journalists are phenomenal at uncovering the truth.
When I say journalist, I'm talking about those old school investigative reporters, NOT talking heads or inflammatory OpEd writers.
I want you to be a truth seeker.
Let's talk about how you can make that happen.
Aim to uncover.
I want you to hold your client's/colleague's problems up to the light and find out what's really going on.
Don't settle for the surface without digging in. Is it really that people just don't know what they're doing, or is something preventing them from doing the work?
Explore the issue from multiple angles. Don't believe the first person who tells you what's going on.
At the very least, address the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, why) and how.
Work with sources.
Journalists are amazing at identifying the right people to talk to and the right questions to ask. So think about who you need to connect with to really get the full picture.
Journalists are also great at building relationships and earning trust quickly so that they can get the information they need from their sources. To consult with your clients/colleagues effectively, you'll need to do the same.
Ask: what's really going on here?
It's easy to get emotionally invested in learner's perspectives, stakeholder's perspectives, or our own perspectives and obscure the truth.
Collect stories, but also collect data.
And let the data speak. Try not to put your spin on what you see.
Remember, you're not debating. You're looking for evidence.
Journalists are excellent storytellers. They take in all kinds of information-- interviews, documents, prior news stories, trends-- and find the connections.
Then, they turn it into easy to digest, often brief content for mass consumption. News articles are written in plain language that can be understood by people from many different walks of life. They start with a lede that gets their big ideas right out front. They simplify complex data. They help people see what's in it for them. And they think about story arc.
If you're going to make a case for your findings and recommendations, you'll need to do the same. You won't get buy in for your vision-- especially if it's going against what you were originally told was needed-- if you can't communicate with stakeholders and non-L&D folks.
Journalism is a pursuit of truth. It can be hard work. It can ruffle feathers. It can bring uncomfortable topics to the surface. But the ultimate goal is to serve the public.
The same is true of needs analysis.
While these aren't all the skills you'll need to level up to learning strategist, they are important ones. These are skills that will help you transition from roles where you get new course orders every week to ones where you get to design meaningful solutions. They're also skills you'll need if you plan to step into consulting, freelancing, or management.
So take a moment to assess yourself:
Are you thinking like an educator, or are you thinking like a journalist?
Want to learn more about leveling up?