Needs Analysis in Curriculum Development

Report on the Third Chapter of Jack Richard’s book (Curriculum Development in Language Teaching, 2002. USA Cambridge)

By Felicia M Lekatompessy


Curriculum development should be viewed as a process by which meeting learners’ needs leads to improvement of learners’ learning. Therefore, curriculum developers should gather as much information as possible toward the learners’ needs. This procedure used to collect information about the learners’ needs by Richards (2002, p.51) is called as the needs analysis (NA). It is also said by Iwai (1999) as activities that are involved in collecting information that will serve as the basis for developing a curriculum that will meet the needs of a particular group of students. While Brown (1995, p.21) as quoted by Takaaki (2006) also elaborate it as the systematic collection and analysis of all relevant information necessary to satisfy the language learning requirements of the students within the context of the particular institutions involved in the learning situation.

Historically, needs analysis was introduced into language teaching through the ESP movement among 1960s to 1970s. Even though, this needs analysis was not advocated only for ESP, but also for second/foreign language students in general. In fact, needs analysis have been conducted informally for years by teachers who wanted to assess what language points their students needed to learn. Indeed, the various activities usually called “approaches” are different expressions of this desire to figure out what students need to learn. Information sources for such informal needs analysis might include scores on an overall language proficiency test, facts gathered from a background questionnaire that asks where and for how long students have had previous language training, or impressions gleaned from teacher and students interviews about the students’ cognitive and linguistic abilities (Iwai et al, 1999). Further, for Johns (1991), the needs analysis is the first step in course design and it provides validity and relevancy for all subsequent course design activities. This information should include the desired outcomes or expectations of a high quality program, the role of assessment, the current status of student achievement and actual program content. The information should also consider the concerns and attitudes of teachers, administrators, parents and also the learners. While the data should include samples of assessments, lessons from teachers, assignments, scores on state standardized tests, textbooks currently used, student perception and feedback from parents.

Therefore, looking to the significance of the needs analysis in curriculum development of language teaching, the discussion of this chapter will provide a depth understanding toward the needs analysis in terms of approaches to needs analysis and consider the purposes of needs analysis, the nature of needs, who needs analysis is intended for, who the target population is, who collect information, what procedures can be used, and how the information collected can be used. The ultimate purpose of elaborating those components is that at the end of the discussion, it is hoped that institution and even we as the teachers are able to recognize the importance of the needs analysis and try to implement it in improving the curriculum or at least in providing a better and appropriate teaching learning environment that is suitable to the learners’ needs.

The Content of the Chapter Report

A. The Purposes of needs analysis

Richards (2002, p.52) on his discussion toward needs analysis says that the first step in conducting a needs analysis is to decide exactly what its purpose or purposes are. Basically, needs analysis in language teaching may be used for a number of different purposes, such as:
• To find out what language skills a learner needs in order to perform a particular role, such as sales manager, tour guide, or university student
• To help determine if an existing course adequately addresses the needs of potential students
• To determine which students from a group are most in need of training in particular language skills
• To identify a change of direction that people in a reference group feel is important
• To identify a gap between what students are able to do and what they needs to be able to do
• To collect information about a particular problem learners are experiencing

Khan (2007, p. 46) on his dissertation explains that needs analysis conducted for the purpose of evaluating learners’ and teachers’ attitudes, opinions and beliefs towards a proposed or intended change or innovation should have the following frame work (adopted from Dudley-Evans & ST.John, 1998, p.125):
• Information about the learners related to their purpose of pursuing a learning program. Their attitude to learning English language, their previous learning experiences, cultural background should also form a part of this information gathering process. This information can be gathered through various sources including institutional and through the learners themselves
• Present situational analysis which may provide information about the effectiveness of the prevailing program
• Information regarding the preferred styles of learning or learning needs
• Information regarding the importance of particular skills for the learners and their preferences for their learning those skills
• Information regarding the role relationship between teacher and learners
• Information regarding the preferences for teaching learning activities

This idea is also elaborated by Songhori on his paper entitled Introduction to needs analysis (2007, p. 21) that concepts of needs analysis includes environment situation – information about the situation in which the course will be run (means analysis); personal information about learners – factors which may affect the way they learn (wants, means, subjective needs); language information about learners – what their current skills and language use are (present situational analysis); learners’ lacks (the gap between the present situation and professional information about learners); learners’ needs from course – what is wanted from the course (short-term needs); language learning needs – effective ways of learning the skills and language determined by lacks; professional information about learners – the tasks and activities English learners are/will be using English for (Target Situation Analysis and objective needs); and how to communicate in the target situation – knowledge of how language and skills are used in the target situation (register analysis, discourse analysis, genre analysis).
Further, due to the purposes of needs analysis, Gagne (1979) as elucidated by Miller and Seller (1985, pp.205-206) also put the first priority to the needs analysis as one of the 12 steps in design instruction that based on “logical, systematic thinking” and “empirical test and fact finding”. According to Gagne, perceived needs usually fall into three types: a need to conduct instruction more effectively and efficiently for some course which is already a part of curriculum; a need to revitalize both the content and the method for some existing course; or a need to develop a new course”.
Therefore, Richards adds that the times to conduct a needs analysis are prior to, during or after a language program. Further, Case on his article toward Business and ESP Needs Analysis says that there are two times needs analysis can be done which are before class and during the first class. Needs analysis before class can be done by giving the students a form to fill in or by asking them questions in the level test and making notes to be passed onto the future teacher. While the process during the class will depend on the situation, as follow:
• In one-to-one classes, the teacher can simply ask them the questions and write down the answers. For this, a reminder list of possible questions and a form to write the answers down on are useful.
• In group classes, they can ask each other questions about themselves and the language, or they can negotiate priorities or even the syllabus together.
• To ask each other the questions, the teacher will need to give them some help by brainstorming some categories of questions, such as the question words brainstorm above. They will then need a format to write them down on. Negotiating a syllabus can be done by giving them a list of things to prioritize by importance/usefulness, and then ask them to agree together on those priorities in ever larger groups
Needs analysis is also considered as a crucial development of systematic curriculum development. In Brown’s (1995, p. 21) Systematic Approach to Designing and Maintaining Language Curriculum below (Figure 1), needs analysis is the first phase of an ongoing quality control process.

Based on this model, the purpose of conducting NA is to systematically gather information in order to design objectives. While goals are “general statements about what must be accomplished in order to attain and satisfy students’ needs,” objective refers to “precise statements about what content or skills the students must master in order to attain a particular goal”. The next logical step in curriculum development is the development of tests based on a program’s goals and objectives. Then, with at least preliminary sets of needs analysis, objective and test in hand, curriculum planners are in the unusual position of being able to deal rationally with the problem of materials. It is relatively easy to adopt, develop, or adapt materials for a program that is well defined in terms of needs analysis, objectives, and tests. Further, the teachers and students should be aware of what the objectives for given course are and how the testing will be conducted at the end of the course. To those ends, teachers need support and also need to be intimately involved in the process of curriculum development and revision. This process has traditionally fallen solely on the teacher’s shoulders. Teachers have also been responsible for selecting or developing course tests and materials. Hence, objectives, tests and material development should all be group efforts drawing on the expertise, time, and energy available from everyone involved in the program. This kind of support can help teachers do a superior job at what they are hired for teaching. Finally, evaluation might be defined as the systematic collection and analysis of all relevant information necessary to promote the improvement of the curriculum and to assess its effectiveness within the context of the particular institutions involved. In other words, once identified, needs can be stated in terms of goals and objectives which, in turn, can serve as the basis for developing tests, materials, teaching activities, and evaluation strategies, as well as for reevaluating the precision and accuracy of the original needs analysis (Iwai et al, 1999, p.6). Consequently, the needs analysis might be considered as an integral part of systematic curriculum building.
Practically, in some cases, learners’ language needs may be relatively easy to determine, but sometimes it will not so easy to identify. Learners’ language needs will be straightforward to determine if learners need to learn a language which is for very specific purposes, such as for tourism, nursing, hotel industry, and so forth. This specification will guide the curriculum planner to set up appropriate tasks due to their needs immediately. However, for students learning English as a secondary school subject in an EFL context, determination of their needs is relatively complicated since they may not have any immediate perception of needs. Therefore, in this case, the curriculum planners should consult to their parents, teachers or others to find out what knowledge of English they expect high school graduates to achieve. In short, needs analysis thus includes the study of perceived and present needs as well as potential and unrecognized needs.

B. What are needs?

Learners often find it difficult to define what language needs they have and cannot distinguish between needs, wants and lacks (Kavaliauskiene and Užpaliene, 2003, p.1). It was Allwright (1982) as quoted by West (1994) who made a distinction between needs (the skills which a student sees as being relevant to himself or herself), wants (those needs on which students put a high priority in the available, limited time or in other words it is what learner feels she/he needs), and lacks (the difference between the students present competence and the desired competence or what learner does not know). His idea were adopted later by Hutchinson and Waters (1987), who advocate a learning-centered approach in which learners’ learning needs play a vital role. If the analyst, by means of target situation analysis, tries to find out what learners do with language, then learning needs analysis will tell us “what the learner needs to do in order to learn (Hutchinson and Water, 1987).
Richards explains that needs are often described in terms of a linguistic deficiency, that is, as describing the difference between what a learner can presently do in language and what he/she should be able to do (2002, p. 54). It suggests that needs have objective reality and are simply there waiting to be identified and analyzed. On the other hand, Richards’ proposition is slightly different to Porcher’s. Porcher (1977, in Brindley 1984, p. 29) as quoted by Richards clarify that need is a thing that is constructed and dependent on judgment and reflects the interest and values of those making such judgment. Therefore, the teachers, learners, employers, parents and other stakeholders may have different views as to what needs are. For example, in considering the needs of immigrants, representatives of majority population may see the immigrants’ needs as achieving cultural and linguistic assimilation and hence may want a needs analysis to identify the language skills immigrant require in order to survive, and assimilate into the dominant culture. In fact, however, those immigrant minorities in English-dominant societies also have other kinds of needs that might be related to housing, health care, access for children’s’ school, services, and others. It is like what Auerbach (1995) says as quoted by Richards that English teaching has often been viewed as a “neutral transfer of skills, knowledge, or competencies” and that such an approach is based on the needs of social institutions, rather than language learners. Due to this problem, then the curriculum should facilitate or fill in this gap. In this case, he adds that planning an ESL curriculum is not only involves identifying students’ language needs, but seeks “to enable them critically examine the existing order, and become active in shaping their own roles in it” (Auerbach, 1995, p. 15). In other words it can be concluded that learner’s needs cannot be determined alone by institution, teachers, parents, or even society, but it is the learners themselves as the main sources that should be involved in determining their own learning needs, particularly in language learning needs ((Kavaliauskiene and Užpaliene, 2003, p.2).

C. The user of needs analysis

A needs analysis may be conducted for a variety of different users. For example, in conducting a needs analysis to help revise the secondary English curriculum in a country, the end users include curriculum officers in the ministry education, who may wish to use the information to evaluate the adequacy of existing syllabus, curriculum, and materials; teachers who will teach from the new curriculum; learners, who will be taught from the curriculum; writers, who are preparing new textbooks; testing personnel, who are involved in developing end-of-school assessment; and staff of tertiary institutions, who are interested in knowing what the expected level will be of students existing the schools and what problems they face (Richards, 2002, p. 56).
Determining the likely audiences is an important first step in planning a needs analysis in order to ensure that the information they needs is obtained and that the needs analysis will have the impact it is designed to have. Therefore, the audiences might be involved in small-case needs analysis such as done by a single teacher on his or her class would consist of the teacher, other teachers, and the program coordinator.
Further, needs analysis can have a political dimension. It can be used to support a particular agenda, for example by giving priority to one group to the exclusion of others within a population or in order to justify a decision that has already been made on economic or other grounds. Hence, there are different stakeholders where needs analysis is being undertaken. Stakeholders are those who have a particular interest or involvement in the issue or programs that are being examined, and it is important to try to get a sense of what their different agendas are. Connelly and Clandinin (1988, p.124) as quoted by Richards identify stakeholder as “a person or group of person with a right to comment on, and have input into, the curriculum process offered in schools.” That is why different stakeholders will want different things from the curriculum.

D. The Target Population

According to Richards, the target population in a needs analysis refers to the people about whom information will be collected. For example in conducting a needs analysis to determine the focus of an English program in public secondary school in an EFL context, then the target population might include policy makers, ministry of education officials, teachers, students, academics, employers, vocational training specialists, parents, influential individuals and pressure groups, academic specialists, and community agencies.
Basically, sampling is an important issue in determining the target population. Sampling involves asking a portion of the potential population instead of the population and seeks to create sample that is representative of the total population. For example, in conducting a needs analysis of studying foreign languages at a New Zealand university (Richards and Gravatt, 1998) toward students’ motivation for selecting a language course, dropping a language course, or choosing not to take a language course, then the sample that might be taken from the whole population of New Zealand university students are: 1) students currently enrolled in a foreign language course, 2) students previously enrolled but no longer studying a language, 3) students who have never studied a foreign language. Actually, there are some factors influenced in determining the approach of sampling, such as the homogeneity of the population in terms of kinds of skills, attitudes, or knowledge being sought or the need to study subgroups within the sample (based on sex, language groups, or other factors).

E. Administering the needs analysis

Planning a needs analysis involves deciding who will administer the needs analysis and collect and analyze the results. Needs analysis will be vary in their scope and demands, from a survey of a whole school population in a county to a study of a group of thirty learners in a single institution. Thus, the administrators on a needs analysis of the language needs of non-English-background students studying at a New Zealand University might involved the researcher team made up of two academics and a research assistant; colleagues in different departments who discussed the project and reviewed sample questionnaires; students who piloted the questionnaire; academic staff of the university who administered some of the questionnaires; ad secretarial support involved in preparing questionnaires and tabulating data.

F. Procedures for conducting needs analysis

There are a variety of procedures can be used for conducting needs analysis and the kind of information obtained is often dependent on the type of procedure selected. Therefore, the use of a triangular approach (collecting information from two or more source) is advisable to get very comprehensive and sufficient information. For example, in conducting needs analysis of the writing problems encountered by foreign students enrolled in American universities then information could be obtained from many sources, such as from samples of students writing, test data on students’ performance, reports by teachers on typical problems students face, opinion of experts, information from students’ via interviews and questionnaires, and so forth.
Procedures for collecting information during a needs analysis can be selected from among the following:

• Questionnaires
This is one of the most common instruments used in collecting information. Questionnaire is divided into two types, which are a set of structured questionnaires consists of structures items (in which the respondents chooses from a limited number of response) and unstructured questionnaire in which open-ended questions are given that the respondents can answer as he or she chooses (Richards, p.60). Riduwan (2008, pp. 71-72) on his book entitled Belajar Mudah Penelitian Untuk Guru-Karyawan dan Peneliti Pemula adds that there is checklist type used in collecting information, in which the respondents can check based on each aspects and it usually used with the scaling types.
Basically questionnaire is easy to prepare, they can be used with large numbers of subject and relatively easy to tabulate and analyze, and many information can be administered through this instrument. However, except of its advantages above, questionnaire also has disadvantage since the data is usually too superficial and imprecise that will often need follow-up to gain a fuller understanding of what respondents intend. For that reason, it is essential to identify ambiguities and other problems before being administered by piloting the questionnaires.

• Self-ratings
Self-rating consist of scales that students or other use to rate their knowledge or abilities. This might also be included as part of questionnaire as what has been stated above by Riduwan toward checklist type. However, the information collected through this instrument is too impressionistic and not very precise.
Interviews allow for a more in-depth exploration of issue that the questionnaires though it will take longer time to administer. It can be done through face-to-face or over the telephone. An interview may often be useful at the preliminary stage of designing a questionnaire, since it will help the designer get a sense of what topics and issue can be focused on the questionnaire. Therefore, it is better to conduct a structured interview that allows more consistency across responses to be obtained. The example of the interview form is provided below which is taken from needs analysis of business section in (

Due to these questions, Hutchinson and Waters (1987) as quoted by Songhori (2007) suggest a framework for analyzing learning needs which consists of several questions, each divided into more detailed questions, as follows:
1. Why are the learners taking the course?
• Compulsory or optional;
• Apparent need or not;
• Are statuses, money, promotion involved?
• What do learners think they will achieve?
• What is their attitude towards the ESP course? Do they want to improve their English or do they resent the time they have to spend on it?
2. How do the learners learn?
• What is their learning background?
• What is their concept of teaching and learning?
• What methodology will appeal to them?
• What sort of techniques bore/alienate them?
3. What sources are available?
• Number and professional competence of teachers;
• Attitude of teachers to ESP;
• Teachers’ knowledge of and attitude to subject content;
• Materials;
• Aids;
• Opportunities for out-of-class activities.
4. Who are the learners?
• Age/sex/nationality;
• What do they know already about English?
• What subject knowledge do they have?
• What are their interests?
• What is their socio-cultural background?
• What teaching style are they used to?
• What is their attitude to English or to the cultures of the English-speaking world?

Finally, as Allwright (1982, quoted in West, 1994) says that the investigation of learners’ preferred learning styles and strategies gives us a picture of the learners’ conception of learning.

• Meetings
A meeting allows a large amount of information to be collected in a fairly short time. However, information obtained in this way may be impressionistic and subjective and reflect the ideas of more outspoken members of a group.
• Observation
Observation of learners’ behavior in a target situation is another way of assessing their needs. However, people often do not perform well or natural when they are being observed, thus this has to be taken into account. Besides, observation is a specialized skill which needs specialized training on knowing how to observe, what to look for, and how to make use of the information obtained.
Collecting learner language samples
Collecting data on how well learners perform on different language tasks and documenting the typical problems they have is useful and direct source of information about learners’ language needs. Hence, language samples might be collected through the means of written or oral tasks, simulations or role plays, achievement tests, and performance tests.
Task analysis
This refers to analysis of the kinds of tasks the learners will have to carry out in English in a future occupational or educational setting and assessment of the linguistics and demands of the tasks.
Case studies
With a case study, a single students or a selected group of students is followed through a relevant work or educational experiences in order to determine the characteristics of that situation. For example, a newly arrived immigrant might be studied for three months toward his/her daily language experienced in English, situations in which the language used, and the problems encounters. Although the information from this instrument cannot be generalized, it provides very rich source information that may complement information obtained from other sources.
Analysis of available information
Some relevant information provided in various sources such as on books, journals articles, reports and surveys, or records and files, can be used in conducting needs analysis. This procedure is normally the first step in a needs analysis because there are very few problems in language teaching that have not been written about r analyzed somewhere.

Besides procedures above, there is other instrument proposed by Takaaki on his research toward Construct validation of a general English Language Needs Analysis Instrument. This procedure is called as General English Language Needs Analysis Instrument (GELNA). This particular instrument was developed in 2005 in two general English programs for university students with the following courses: speaking, listening, writing, reading, cultured-oriented, test-preparation, and computer-assisted language learning (CALL). The GELNA has seven sections which correspond to the seven courses offered in the program. This instrument was designed to measure the extent to which the overall curricular goals matched students’ perception of their own learning needs. The primary purpose of this instrument was not to obtain information on the students’ bio data, motivation, strategies, and learning styles, but to see how congruent the curricular goals were with the avowed students needs. The model of GELNA can be shown on the table below:

Table 1. English translation of the items in the GELNA, Ver. 1

Section 1: Culture-oriented Course
I need to learn concepts in cross-cultural communication such as cultural values.
I need to practice many activities that make me understand my own culture and aware of cultural differences.
I need to learn how to handle situations when I encounter cross-cultural differences.
Section 2: CALL Course
I need to practice making my homepage in English.
I need to take a class that uses authentic audio-visual materials such as videos, CDs, and audio*.
I need to take a class that uses computers for learning.
Section 3: Listening Course
I need to practice listening to be able to understand stress pattern and intonation.
I need to practice watching dramas in English in order to be able to understand the content.
I need to practice listening extensively to get the main ideas.
Section 4: Reading Course
I need to learn reading skills such as reading rapidly and getting the gist.
I need to practice reading by focusing on the grammar of English texts and translating them into Japanese.
I need to study the structures of English sentences.
Section 5: Speaking Course
I need to learn to discuss issues effectively in English.
I need to practice making a speech and presenting ideas in English.
I need to take a class in which my final grading is decided based on my score on test performance such as a speech.
Section 6: Test-preparation Course
I need to take a class where I solve many TOEIC, TOEFL, and STEP questions.
I need to learn test-taking strategies to solve problems in TOEIC, TOEFL, and STEP.
Section 7: Writing Course
I need to practice writing papers in English.
I need to practice writing business letters in English.
I need to take a class in which my final grading is decided based on the result of my paper.

The differences between the GELNA and the previous needs analysis instruments is that GELNA clearly stated the avowed goals of the language programs and the items are designed to specifically tap into theoretical constructs by embedding the phrase “need to” in the wording. Takaaki says that by stating “need to”, the GELNA attempt to avoid some of the ambiguity of earlier needs analysis instrument.

G. Designing the needs analysis
Designing a needs analysis involves choosing from among various procedures above and selecting those that are likely to give a comprehensive view of learners’ needs and that represent the interests of the different stakeholders involved. Decision on choosing particular procedures should consider some factors such as collecting, organizing, analyzing and reporting the information collected. It is important to make sure that needs analysis does not produce information overloaded. Therefore the reason for collecting should be stated clearly to ensure that only information that will actually be used is collected. The step by step procedures can be followed in investigating the learners’ needs are:
1. literature survey
2. analysis of a wide range of survey questionnaires
3. contact with others who had conducted similar surveys
4. interviews with teachers to determine goals
5. identification of participating departments
6. presentation of project proposal to participating departments and identification of liaison person in each department
7. development of a pilot student and staff questionnaire
8. review of the questionnaires by colleagues
9. piloting of the questionnaires
10. selection of staff and students subjects
11. developing a schedule for collecting data
12. administration of questionnaires
13. follow-up interviews with selected participants
14. tabulation of responses
15. analysis of responses
16. writing up of report and recommendations

Those sixteen procedures above are appropriate or commonly used for larger-scale needs analysis. While for smaller-scale needs analysis such as that of a teacher or group of teacher assessing the needs of new groups of students in a language program, the procedures might consist of:
1. initial questionnaire
2. follow-up individual and groups interview
3. meetings with students
4. meetings with other teachers
5. ongoing classroom observation
6. tests

H. Making use of the information obtained
The data obtained from data collection process usually summarized in the form of ranked lists of different kinds. Therefore, more analysis and research would be needed to further understanding what is implied by each answer, before the information obtained could be used in course planning. It is so important since there is no direct application of the information obtained from needs analysis. In fact, there might be a number of different points of view emerged as to what should be changed, for example:
Learners’ view : more support for learning needed and reduction of the amount of material they had to study
Academic’s view : better preparation for tertiary studies needed in terms of reading and writing skills
Employers’ view : better preparation for employment required in terms of basic communication skills
Teachers’ view : better grasp of grammar needed by learners

From the case above, it is also important to remember that because needs are not objective facts but subjective, then the interpretation of information from a larger variety of sources, a great deal of consultation is needed with the various stakeholders to ensure that the conclusions drawn from a needs analysis are appropriate and relevant.
Finally, the findings should be reported by using various formats in forms of a full written document, a short summary document, a meeting, a group discussion, or a newsletter.

III. Conclusion

This discussion indicates that needs analysis has a vital role in the process of designing and carrying out any language course and considered as a crucial component of systematic curriculum development. However, learners as the main sources in needs analysis often find difficult to define what language needs they have. Therefore, as the teacher or even institution should be aware of their impetus on successful teaching by conducting this needs analysis through some procedures. At least there are some advantages might be obtained by conducting needs analysis, such as:

1. In a learner-centered curriculum, teachers’ reconciliation in content selection though extensive consultation with the students about their learning needs and interest is critical. Therefore needs analysis helps teachers create in-class activities in which the students can utilize learned skills and knowledge as tools to meet their real-life needs in meaningful ways.
2. Needs analysis can helps teachers understand “local needs” of students or the needs of a particular group of students and make practical decision in pedagogy and assessment for improvement, and also for the selection of appropriate teaching methods in a program.
3. In proficiency-oriented instruction/curricula, needs analysis helps teachers understand the potential difference in learning expectations between themselves and their students.
4. Obtaining input from the students about a planned or existing program through a needs analysis is fundamental to the design, implementation, evaluation and revision of the program.
5. Needs analysis may provide the basis for planning goals and objectives for a future program, and also for developing syllabus design and teaching materials for the course.
6. A program that attempts to meet students’ perceived needs for the students will be more motivating and successful.

V. Bibliography

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Interview Form. [Online]. Available: [Retrieved on February 17, 2009].
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