What is needs analysis?

elt learner's needs learning goals needs analysis student's needs Oct 22, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

Do teachers always know what learners' needs and learning goals are? In the traditional model of education, teachers decide what learners need to learn. This is because some teachers and parents assume that learners are not aware of their own learning needs.

A limited view of needs analysis is the idea that this analysis is only necessary when designing a course. However, it is important for teachers to review learners’ needs from time to time during the course, as these needs may change as the course progresses. In a more progressive education system, what is taught in the classroom is driven by learners’ current needs and long-term goals.

A holistic view

The purpose of conducting a needs analysis is to identify specific learning needs of target learners (Cowling, 2007). These needs may include preparing for university studies, improving oral communication skills for business meetings or enhancing cashier-customer interactions. Knowing the specific needs of a particular learner allows course designers to develop syllabi that strategically meet these needs. Holme and Chalauisaeng (2006) found that including learners as needs analysts can have a positive impact on learner motivation.

For courses that have fixed learning objectives, identifying individual learners’ needs helps teachers address these specific needs by preparing supplementary worksheets, for example. Knowing these needs also allows teachers to spend more time on areas that require more attention.

Theory and practice

Identifying learners’ needs can be formal or informal. The formal methods include interviewing students individually or in small groups, and using survey forms. Interviews allow teachers to prompt learners to elaborate on a particular need or goal. The practical aspects of this method include preparing a timetable for interviews and identifying a suitable venue.

Although less interactive, using survey forms is more time efficient. In addition, teachers can file the forms for future reviews. For learners who do not feel comfortable discussing their goals and needs with their teachers individually, survey forms might be a good option. These forms should be given to learners in advance so that they have time to reflect and think through what their needs might be.

The informal method is more organic. Identifying learners’ needs may emerge from teacher-learner conversations. For this method to be effective, a systematic way of recording these information is necessary.

To what extend do you know your students’ needs and goals?


Cowling, J.D. (2007). Needs analysis: Planning a syllabus for a series of intensive workplace courses at a leading Japanese company. English for Specific Purposes, 26(4), 426-442.

Holme, R. & Chalauisaeng, B. (2006). The learner as needs analyst: The use of participatory appraisal in the EAP reading classroom. English for Specific Purpose, 25(4), 403-419.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based Independent Researcher and a Research & Development Consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

Image source: shutterstock.com/George Rudy