Front-end Analysis: Blueprint for Success (Part 1)

Front-end analysis (FEA) is the “blueprint” for creating instruction. A FEA, conducted early in the process, will save time and money. A FEA defines project requirements, describes the ideal performance or instruction to meet the project requirements, and identifies acceptable alternatives.

2-parts article on Front End Analysis

Well-defined requirements at the beginning of a project usually produce an excellent product. Subject-matter experts (SMEs), instructional systems designers (ISDs), workers, and instructors are some of the potential participants in a FEA. FEA is a process that determines whether a problem may be amenable to solution by training, or whether you need a different solution.

In this two-part presentation of Front-end Analysis, I will show you:

  • The FEA process and its rationale, outcomes, and benefits (Part 1)

  • An explanation of the many elements that may be part of an FEA (Part 1)

  • Methods for gathering information (Part 2)

  • How to conduct an FEA (Part 2)

  • Producing the FEA Report (Part 2)

[Note from the Editor: This is a bit different from tutorials we have run in the past. You might consider this article and the next as checklists, or as a summary of items to consider in the design process, after you have determined that instruction is the appropriate course of action, rather than or in addition to task redesign, a job aid, reference materials, or other interventions. Although we have many more ways to support learning, top-down design is still effective for many requirements, and in fact front-end analysis may help the designer determine the optimum blend of learning pathways. If you are new to eLearning design, look on what you find here as more tools in your kit, not as an obstacle course.]

The FEA process, rationale, outcomes, and benefits

Use the following processes to identify the current learning or performance status of your students or trainees:

  • Define the learning or job as it exists now

  • Define the best possible learning or job outcome after training or other solutions

  • Rank the new goals in order of importance

  • Identify discrepancies between “what is” and “what should be”

  • Determine positive areas of learning or job performance

  • Set priorities for actions

    • List all possible solutions along with the impact of not providing any solution

    • Define the impact of each solution with regard to time, money, and customer satisfaction

    • Make recommendations, based upon learning or performance goals, desired results, financial resources, and other relevant factors

Rationale

The FEA process provides the who, what, when, why, and how of instruction:

  • Who – Identify your real client (decision-maker rather than an intermediary.)

  • What – Determine the reason for this instructional or training request.

    • Mandated training

    • Orientation training for new hires

    • Instruction or training based upon the need to fix performance deficiencies

    • Other

  • When – Examine training requirements and identify alternative approaches to training job tasks.

  • Why Provide the client with enough information to meet training needs within budget, time, and personnel constraints. The FEA offers options with different training potentials and cost estimates.

  • How Determine methodologies to gather your data – questionnaires, interviews, and job observation.

Outcomes

The outcome or results of FEAs include:

  • Improves ability to produce “on-target” courses effectively

  • Facilitates the design and development of instruction to satisfy the needs, goals, and objectives of the target audience

  • Enables students to enroll in appropriate content rather than the total instructional package

Benefits

Benefits of an FEA include:

  • Improving cost estimates

  • Collaborating to identify and quantify project requirements

  • Developing, evaluating, and cost estimating “alternatives to instruction”

  • Identifying and mitigating risks at an early stage of the project when revisions are easier and less costly.

What is Front-End Analysis?

FEA involves a series of separate analyses. There are a number of such analyses; I have described a dozen of them below.

[Editor’s Note: It is not always necessary or advisable to pursue all 12 in depth for a given project, but a designer should consider whether each one is needed or not. It is as much a mistake to default to doing all of them as it is to default to doing none of them. Experience is your best guide, together with time and budget available. (There is no point in spending more on analysis than the solution to a problem is worth.)]

Problem analysis

By identifying where specific problems exist in your instruction or work place, you can narrow your training to specific parts of the instruction or training. Reducing training time should reduce your training cost. FEA focuses on specific tasks rather than training for your entire program.

First identify the business or instructional need. Identify the performance requirements. What external forces, for example, the political environment, may influence the problem?

Next, define the problem. The client, including the necessary stakeholders, should define the business or instructional problem. Prepare all questionnaires and complete all prior readings before meeting with your clients. Client time is extremely valuable.

Lastly, determine the solution to the problem. If training solutions will solve this problem, which ones best fit the client’s needs? If training cannot solve this problem, possible solutions may include electronic bulletin boards or newsletters.

Job description

A job description explains how a person performs the job. You write job descriptions in general terms.

First, check to see if a job description exists for the task that you are analyzing. If the job description is current, use it as an early step to draft your task analysis. If the job description is outdated, modify it by editing the main tasks. If a job description does not exist, describe the main tasks that make up the job performance to satisfy the instructional need.

A job description may include special circumstances such as hazards or safety warnings. At a minimum, the completed job description should contain the:

  • Position title,

  • Generic position description,

  • Specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for a successful project completion, and

  • A list and explanation of performance measures used for the job tasks

Task analysis (measurable behavior)

Task analysis provides the analyst with all the tasks necessary to solve a problem. Use a task analysis to determine the status and the business process of your problem. Use the define/identify/identify/identify (DI3) process to:

  • Define the performance need this task analysis will satisfy

  • Identify all job related duties. Generally, describe the tasks necessary to complete the job

  • Identify, sequence, and describe the individual tasks

  • Identify all sub-tasks (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) that support the identified tasks. What are the specific responsibilities? For example, performance objectives or learning objectives for completing the job description.

More detailed job descriptions usually provide a better starting point for the task analysis.

Needs analysis

The next step is to conduct a needs analysis to determine your business or instructional needs. These needs should provide the information necessary to create the FEA report.

  • Where are we? (current status)

  • Where do we want to go? (future status)

  • What is the best way to get there? (present analysis of alternatives)

Environmental (situational) analysis

What are the organizational, physical, socio-cultural, and/or economic factors that may affect your FEA? Are there any detracting factors or enhancing factors that may affect job performance or instructional need? Examples of influencing factors are noise (outside road drilling), temperature (80°+ indoor temperature when the outdoor temperature is 90°+), or ventilation (inadequate ventilation for classroom activities). If people are working under poor environmental factors such as poor lighting or inadequate ventilation, it is harder for them to perform their jobs well for an extended period.

Audience analysis

Audience analysis determines the learner’s or job performer’s characteristics, intellectual skills, and subject knowledge level before the instruction or training is developed. Audience analysis may determine who will take the course and how they will use the information in the job performance area or instructional setting. What are the background and learning characteristics of the trainees as they relate to the job performance or instructional need? Use audience analysis to analyze the population of your students or trainees.

Areas for audience analysis include:

  • Skill, knowledge, and attitudes

  • Experiences

  • Subject-matter entry errors into the job performance or instructional setting

  • Demographics – ages, socioeconomic status, and ethnicities

  • Goals – what do the trainees or students expect to get out of the class?

  • Uses – how will the trainees or students use the information from the training or instruction?

  • What are the best methods of instruction for these trainees or students?

  • Motivation – What motivates them – money, jobs, personal growth, or something else?

Examples of types of audience analysis information are:

  • Level of audience expertise

  • Educational level of audience

  • Experience level of audience

Ensure your information is current or recently updated.

Objectives analysis

What domains and levels of the objectives do you need to satisfy the job performance or instructional need? What is the goal of this job performance or instructional need? Objectives must clearly communicate what you expect the trainees to learn. The objectives include:

  • Course objectives: clearly state what you expect the trainee to do or learn at the end of the course

  • Terminal objectives: clearly state what you expect the trainee to do or learn at the end of the unit

  • Lesson objectives: clearly state the knowledge and skills the trainee will demonstrate at the end of a lesson

Content analysis

Content analysis is the detailed approach to task analysis directed toward the analysis of instructional content rather than job performance. Use content information to decide which information is most critical. Break the information down into individual concepts and consult taxonomies.

Job performance or instructional experts may provide excellent sources of reference information. Subject matter experts (SMEs) are usually the main resource for this material. Technical documentation may provide excellent references. The main question that SMEs answer is, “Do these tasks, and the order in which they are listed, reflect total successful job performance or instructional needs?”

Four steps to consider for conducting content analysis are:

  • Identify key characteristics of the content

  • Address validity considerations

  • Develop potential test items

  • Validate potential test items

Data analysis

Use data analysis to collect information and compare current data with previous data. Many sources exist to research information to complete a data analysis, such as periodicals, technical manuals, course materials, and information clearinghouses.

Instructional analysis

Whereas a task analysis focuses on job performance, an instructional analysis focuses on the step-by-step instructions that take learners all the way to achievement of the objectives.

The completion of an instructional analysis provides the analyst with all the tasks necessary to conduct the instruction. Use instructional analysis to determine the status and instructional need of your problem. Use a define / identify / identify / identify process to:

  • Define the instructional need that this instructional analysis will satisfy

  • Identify all steps – describe the information necessary to complete the instruction

  • Identify, sequence, and describe the individual instructional components

  • Identify all sub-tasks (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) that support the identified tasks. What are the specific responsibilities? For example, performance objectives or learning objectives for completing the job description.

Media and technology analyses

Use a media analysis to select the most effective and cost effective media to fit the instructional or training situation. Media analysis, for the purpose of instructional or training content, is a five-step process. These five steps are:

  1. Identify instructional concepts, course, and lesson strategies

  2. Identify sensory stimulus requirements for each learning objective (LO)

  3. Identify the sensory stimulus for all available media

  4. Match the sensory stimulus requirements with the sensory stimulus feature to identify a candidate list of media

  5. Select the best media format available based on resource constraints, classroom logistics, electronic capabilities of media distribution, and other relevant factors

Use a technology analysis to select the most effective and most cost effective technology to fit communication needs.

This technology analysis should analyze technology available for reference and/or performance support, testing and assessment, material distribution, and delivery of the instruction.

Critical-incident analysis

Use critical-incident analysis to obtain data on the critical part of job performance or instruction. Use the following five steps to conduct Critical Incident Analysis:

  • Select an incident

  • Review / verify the material

  • Put material into a timeline

  • Review the material with the experts

  • Ask “What if” questions at specific, critical parts of the incident

After your task list is complete, it is important that you determine:

  • What tasks are critical (must train) to the job performance or instructional need

  • What tasks are beneficial for the learner to know

  • What tasks will not need training

Criteria for task selection, beneficial tasks, and deselection of tasks may include:

  • Frequency – How often is the task performed?

  • Difficulty – How hard is it to perform this task?

  • Criticality – How important is it to perform this task?

  • Time – Are there time limitations for this task?

  • Impact – What is the impact if they do not perform this task properly?

Summary

This article has presented the information you need to gather during your FEA that will insure the instructional content you develop (if any is required in order to fix a performance problem) will be effective. In next week’s feature, I’ll discuss some of the methods available to obtain the information from stakeholders.

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