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Research Trends in Learning Needs Assessment: A Review of Publications in Selected Journals from 1997 to 2023

Hee Jun Choi
1 and
Ji Hye Park
Department of Education, Hongik University, Seoul 04066, Republic of Korea
Department of Education, Kookmin University, Seoul 02707, Republic of Korea
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2024, 16(1), 382;
Submission received: 1 December 2023 / Revised: 27 December 2023 / Accepted: 29 December 2023 / Published: 31 December 2023


This study analyzes existing research on learning needs assessments to identify key insights into the discipline and propose implications for future studies. Eighty-nine SSCI journal articles from 1997 to 2023 were reviewed. The findings are as follows. Firstly, concerning the nature of learning needs, prominent fields identified included education, social welfare, medicine and nursing, business, and psychology. Research identifying the learning needs of medical staff was the most prevalent, followed by K–12 teachers, lifelong learners without professional goals, university faculty, and social workers. Notably, Europe and North America were the primary research regions. Secondly, researchers mostly employed quantitative data, then combined methodologies, and qualitative data. Numerous studies involved only target learners in their needs assessments, with fewer involving stakeholders. Many studies did not employ multi-faceted approaches combining different source inputs or incorporating complementary needs assessment methods. Future needs assessment studies should involve diverse individuals and integrate indicators such as relevant test results or performance appraisal outcomes to obtain more trustworthy data for the needs assessment process. Most studies containing quantitative analysis components used mean values to determine learning needs. The ranked discrepancy model is recommended when conducting ordinal surveys for learning needs assessment to avoid misinterpretations and inaccurate conclusions.

1. Introduction

Many global organizations have endeavored to provide high-quality educational programs that contribute to sustaining the continuous development of their organizations and the individual growth of their members. These efforts by both public and private sector organizations may be aligned with Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [1]. SDG 4 emphasizes “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
Advancing technology and new work methods can make it challenging for employees to remain current and equipped with the necessary skills to perform their jobs proficiently. Thus, many private and public sector organizations, including K–12 schools and higher education institutions, have provided their employees with various training programs so that they can remain current with the latest developments in their fields and acquire the skills necessary to perform effectively [2]. According to a recent training industry report [3], U.S. expenditures on training exceeded USD 100 billion for the first time in 2021–2022. This implies that training programs are considered essential in providing organizations with a competitive edge; thus, their effectiveness may be directly related to organizational survival and success.
To develop a feasible and effective training program, it is critical to conduct a rigorous training needs assessment, also known as a learning needs assessment [4]. A training or learning needs assessment can be defined as a process for improving learners’ performance by identifying specific areas where improvement is most needed, such as knowledge, skills, and attitudes [4,5]. This is the first phase of the training development process and a powerful performance improvement tool. It identifies what is and is not working within an organization [6] and enables the prioritized sequencing of training needs to guide choices about subsequent actions [7]. Thorough needs assessments are crucial because they are likely to result in training goals that reflect the intended learners’ actual learning needs and can shape the successful initiation of training program projects [4,8,9]. A training or learning needs assessment is part of front-end analysis, which also encompasses performance analysis [4,10]. Performance analysis aims to precisely identify problems related to organizational results, discover their causes, and propose applicable solutions [11,12]. If performance analysis identifies a problem that can be solved through training or learning, a needs assessment should be conducted as the next step of front-end analysis. Accordingly, a training or learning needs assessment, coupled with performance analysis, is essential to establishing training goals that respond to real organizational problems or opportunities and, ultimately, to developing effective training programs or curricula.
There are several approaches to training or learning needs assessment that instructional designers (i.e., training program or curriculum developers) can adopt. These include the Borich model, the Delta N method, the weighted total index approach, and the ranked discrepancy model [13,14,15,16]. However, despite the variety of options, no single learning needs assessment approach has been universally accepted or empirically proven to be superior [17,18]. Nevertheless, it appears that numerous instructional designers have adopted a needs assessment approach to identify learning needs, often without considering specific criteria that are appropriate for their ultimate goals and methodological approaches [16]. The reason might be that they have overlooked the question of which needs assessment approach(es) they should adopt based on specific criteria for their training, curriculum development projects, or research studies. Considering this aspect, it can be meaningful to clearly understand recent studies related to training or learning needs assessments conducted over the last several decades with a focus on how various needs assessment methods were utilized.
Therefore, it is crucial for instructional designers and researchers in related fields to thoroughly review and follow the procedures of previous needs assessment studies that have been properly implemented to develop effective curricula or training programs. Unfortunately, locating previous studies from the past several decades that offer useful insights into practical guidelines and research trends in learning needs assessment has been challenging. Considering these challenges, it is very important to systematically analyze and reflect upon existing needs assessment studies published in prominent international journals since the 1990s to understand the status of such studies and advance related knowledge within the discipline. The reason for choosing a review period after the 1990s is that studies related to training or learning needs assessments began to be published mostly after the 1990s [19]. After reviewing articles pertinent to the study, it was determined that only papers published post-1997 met the search criteria. These criteria encompassed aspects such as paper type, the incorporation of empirical data, and topical relevance. Consequently, the review period for this study spans from 1997 to 2023.
Accordingly, this study systematically investigates training or learning needs assessment research studies published in Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) journals from 1997 to 2023. It aims to reveal the current status of research on training or learning needs assessment and to provide insights for more rigorous research design through the review and synthesis of the existing literature, and by challenging currently used research methods. Identifying the current trends in bibliographical data and scrutinizing methodological approaches are significant. This information can offer insights into the deficiencies of prior research and, consequently, will be highly beneficial for conducting future research that contributes to the enhancement of the discipline.
The SSCI journals are the sole focus of analysis because these journals are widely accessed, boast high impact factors according to journal citation reports, and ensure research quality. To this end, this study addresses the following research questions:
  • What is the status of the learning needs assessment studies published in SSCI journals from 1997 to 2023, considering the number of studies per year, academic fields, target learners, contributing countries and continents, keywords, subject areas, and contributing authors and institutions?
  • Which research designs have been employed in learning needs assessment studies?
    What types of data (quantitative, qualitative, or combinations of both) have been collected in the studies?
    Which needs assessment approaches or data analysis methods have been adopted in the studies?
    Who has participated in the needs assessments as respondents, considering learners and other stakeholders such as senior managers, immediate superiors, peers, and instructors?
    What types of learning needs (i.e., knowledge, performance, and consequence competencies) have been identified in the studies?

2. Methods

This study examined training or learning needs assessment papers published in the SSCI database from January 1997 to November 2023 which were selected via a systematic search and selection process. Two experienced researchers, fluent in both their native language and English, conducted the search for and screening of papers on training or learning needs assessment. Their analysis was exclusively limited to papers written in English due to their language proficiency. The keywords used in the search were training needs, learning needs, training needs assessment, training needs analysis, learning needs assessment, and learning needs analysis. The search utilized the Web of Science database and identified 827 articles.
The two researchers separately selected the papers to be analyzed in the current study from the initial sample of 827 articles. The main criteria for selection included classification as an article among various types of papers (e.g., articles, book reviews, editorial materials), the use of empirical data to identify training or learning needs, and topical relevance at the abstract level. The articles chosen by the two researchers were compared to verify selection consistency. Any inconsistencies were resolved through the discussion to finalize the selection. For instance, studies that focused primarily on the summative evaluation of training or educational programs, or on the development of a needs assessment measurement tool, rather than on identifying specific training or learning needs, were excluded. This refined the focus for the subsequent procedure. Consequently, a total of 89 articles were selected for review in the current study. The data collection process is summarized in Figure 1. A PRISMA flow diagram provides a simple and realistic solution for illustrating the screening flow of relevant papers [20].
In the next step, the two researchers analyzed the selected articles considering 11 criteria as defined in Table 1. To ensure accuracy and clarity of analysis, the researchers independently analyzed the 89 articles and then compared their findings. Regarding the types of learning needs, some studies ambiguously or inclusively used terms such as knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Therefore, the two researchers discussed the interpretations of these until they reached a consensus on the research results.
This study employed descriptive statistics to identify the research status (number of studies per year, academic fields, target learners, contributing countries and continents, keywords, subject areas, and contributing authors and institutions) and research designs (types of data, data analysis methods, respondent groups, and types of learning needs) utilized in the 89 selected studies.

3. Results

3.1. Research Question 1: The Research Status of the Selected Articles

Figure 2 presents the number of training or learning needs assessment articles published per year during the selected period. Among the 89 studies from January 1997 to November 2023 selected for analysis, the greatest amount of research related to learning needs assessment was conducted in 2023, followed by significant research in 2019. Overall, since 2019, more research has been conducted compared to previous years. More specifically, the number of studies published in the year with the highest research output before 2019 was five, while the number of studies published in the year with the lowest research output after 2019 was also five. These results indicate that studies focused on training or learning needs assessments have been increasing since 2019.
The main academic fields in which learning needs assessment research occurred were education, social welfare, medicine and nursing, business, and psychology as shown in Table 2. Among them, the majority of the research was conducted in the field of education (38 papers, 42.70%). Analyzing the field of education, relevant research was conducted in areas such as teacher education (21 papers, 23.60%), higher education (14 papers, 15.73%), language education (2 papers, 2.25%), and special education (1 paper, 1.12%). The research conducted in the field of social welfare was represented by 20 studies, comprising 22.47% of the total. Meanwhile, the medicine and nursing field was represented by 16 studies, comprising 17.98% of the total research. Business-related research encompassed ten studies, making up 11.24% of the total, while the field of psychology was the focus of five studies, constituting 5.61% of the aggregate.
Table 3 shows the frequencies and percentages of the target learners addressed in the selected training or learning needs assessment studies from 1997 to 2023. Among these studies, research identifying the learning needs of medical staff was the most prevalent (23, 25.56%), followed by that of K–12 teachers (20, 22.22%), lifelong learners without professional goals such as foster parents, custodial grandparents, and divorced individuals (13, 14.44%), university professors and staff (11, 12.22%), social workers (9, 10.00%), K–12/college students and staff members in companies (6, 6.67%, respectively), and psychologists (2, 2.22%). It is noteworthy that the total frequency and percentage of the articles targeting learners who belonged to educational institutions (i.e., K–12 teachers, university professors and staff, and K–12 & college students) were 37 and 41.11%.
Table 4 presents the frequency and percentage of the continents and the frequency of each country from which data were collected to identify training or learning needs. The majority of learning needs assessment research was conducted in Europe and North America, comprising 35.95% and 26.97% of the total, respectively. Multiple studies were conducted in Asian, African, and Oceanian countries, with representations of 14.60%, 11.24%, and 8.99%, respectively. Additionally, two studies (2.25%) collected data to identify training needs in South America. By country, the highest proportion of research was conducted in the United States (21 papers, 23.60%), followed by the UK (12 papers, 13.48%), Türkiye and Australia (8 papers, 8.99%, each), and multiple European countries (4 papers, 4.49%).
Table 5 presents the frequency of the top 10 keywords found in the selected 89 articles. The most frequently occurring keywords were those related to “education”, “learning”, or “training”, appearing 66 times. This was followed by “needs assessment” or “needs analysis” (39 times), “professional development” (31 times), “teacher” or “teacher education” (24 times), “health care” (18 times), and “children” or “adolescents” (14 times). Additionally, most keywords in the articles appeared only once. The table below provides more specific information.
Table 6 displays the primary subject areas categorized by academic field in the selected articles. In the field of education, the predominant topic was teaching competencies for in-service teachers and college instructors, followed by pre-service teacher preparation and emotional intelligence. In social welfare, two main subject areas emerged: improvement of family well-being, and social issues including child abuse, sexual assault, and alcohol and drug addiction. In medicine and nursing, the focus was primarily on cures for specific illnesses, followed by mental health and nursing skills. In the business field, management and leadership skills were the key topics. Lastly, in psychology, the psychologist development subject area was notably prevalent. Most other subject areas appeared only once.
Table 7 summarizes contributions in the selected 89 articles and shows leading authors and institutions. Carolyn Hicks, the most-published author, contributed four articles related to training or learning needs assessment during the period. Additionally, the University of Birmingham emerged as the leading institution in this research area. More specific information is presented in Table 7.

3.2. Research Question 2: The Research Design of the Selected Articles

Table 8 shows the types of data that the selected studies utilized to identify learning needs. Among the 89 studies, quantitative approaches were most common (38 papers, 42.70%), followed by the use of the combination of qualitative and quantitative data (27 papers, 30.33%), and lastly, qualitative data alone (24 papers, 26.97%). The 38 studies that used quantitative data mostly utilized questionnaires containing multiple-choice questions. The 27 studies, based on both quantitative and qualitative data, were conducted using a combination of multiple-choice questionnaires and diverse qualitative data collection methods, such as one-on-one interviews, focus group interviews, observations, and open-ended questionnaires. The remaining 24 qualitative studies collected data using focus group interviews, document analysis, semi-structured interviews, observations, open-ended questionnaires, or various combinations of these methods.
Table 9 presents the data analysis techniques adopted by the selected studies to systematically identify learning needs. The most prevalent method used was content analysis (24 papers, 26.97%), followed by a combination of descriptive and content analysis (22 papers, 24.72%), descriptive and inferential analysis (17 papers, 19.10%), descriptive analysis (16 papers, 17.98%), descriptive, inferential and content analysis (5 papers, 5.62%), the Borich model (2 papers, 2.25%) and others, such as the modified priority needs index, multiple criteria decision-making model, and effect size model (3 papers, 3.37%). Remarkably, the selected studies did not make extensive use of approaches optimized for identifying and/or prioritizing learning needs. Among the training or learning needs assessment approaches employed in the selected studies, the Borich model was used in only two studies, while the modified priority needs index, multiple criteria decision-making model, and effect size model were each used in only one study. Of the 65 studies containing a quantitative analysis component, 51 (57.30%) used mean values to determine learning needs.
Table 10 shows the frequency and percentage of respondent groups who participated in the selected studies. Among the 89 studies, 59 studies (66.29%) collected data from only target learners, and 20 studies (22.47%) collected data from both target learners and stakeholders. The remaining 10 studies (11.24%) collected data from only stakeholders. The stakeholder respondents included senior managers, immediate supervisors, instructors, content experts, etc.
Table 11 indicates the types of learning needs identified in the selected studies. The majority of learning needs were identified in terms of training areas or topics (35 papers, 39.33%), followed by both knowledge and skills (24 papers, 26.97%), only skills (11 papers, 12.36%), only knowledge (4 papers, 4.49%), and knowledge, skills, and attitudes (4 papers, 4.49%). More specific information is provided in Table 11.

4. Discussion

4.1. Research Status of the Selected Learning Needs Assessment Articles

This study examined the research status of the training or learning needs assessment studies published in SSCI journals from January 1997 to November 2023. This encompassed the number of studies per year, the academic fields, the target learners, the contributing countries and continents, keywords, subject areas, and contributing authors and institutions of the 89 selected studies. The finding that more research has been conducted since 2019 compared to previous years is expected given the acceleration in the development and adoption of new knowledge, skills, and technologies evident in recent years. Understandably, these turbulent societal and technological changes would generate greater educational needs than ever before [21,22].
Among the 89 studies, the academic fields in which learning needs were identified included education, social welfare, medicine and nursing, business, and psychology. Further analyzing the field of education, the ordered frequencies were teacher education, social welfare, medicine and nursing, higher education, business, psychology, language education, and special education. These findings result from the changing nature of professionals’ standards in every field regarding what practitioners should know and be able to do, along with the emphasis on accountability in the educational sector [23]. This is especially the case for K–12 teachers and faculty members in higher education institutions.
Regarding target learners, the research on identifying the learning or training needs of medical staff was the most prevalent, followed by those of K–12 teachers, lifelong learners without professional goals, university professors and staff, social workers, K–12 and college students, staff members in companies, and psychologists. Interestingly, the majority of target learners were adults who were beyond the typical age of compulsory schooling. Adults are often required to continuously improve and refine their job-related skills for their own and their organization’s survival and prosperity [24]. Therefore, they are usually the main target audience of training programs. Notably, most studies identified the learning needs of medical staff. The results of the current study imply that medical staff are increasingly responsible for enhancing their professional competencies in the rapidly changing medical environment [25,26,27]. This includes staying abreast of new developments in patient care, disease management, and treatment methods. Accordingly, there is a critical need for medical staff to have access to and participate in timely training programs. Additionally, the study indicates a growing demand for K–12 teachers to equip their students with essential knowledge and skills for their adaptation to and survival in the living and working environments required by future societies [28]. According to Bitter and Loney [29], the knowledge and skills required of students in the future can be acquired through deeper learning which allows for mastering core academic content, critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication, the ability to work collaboratively, and learning how to learn and foster academic mindsets; all of which teachers must instill in their students within the classroom. Therefore, it is necessary to consistently provide in-service and pre-service teachers with training programs and curricula related to deeper learning.
Regarding the continents and countries in which data collection identified learning needs, the majority of studies were conducted in Europe and North America, with the highest proportion in the United States. This finding might be attributable to the relatively large investment in workforce professional development within the United States and Europe [30,31]. It is noteworthy that significant research has been conducted in Asia and Africa, following the lead of the United States and Europe. In the case of Asian countries, their ongoing economic development would have led to heightened interest in professional development. On the other hand, African countries are presumed to be focusing on the training and talent development of their workforces to overcome their relatively less developed economic situations. SDG 4, which highlights ensuring quality education, is regarded as the hub around which the other SDGs revolve, and conducting training or learning needs analysis is critical in the curriculum implementation process to achieve SDG 4 [32,33]. From this perspective, the fact that relatively many studies related to training or learning needs assessment have been conducted in Asian and African countries is considered a positive sign for achieving SDG 4, as well as other SDGs.
The results regarding the frequency of the major keywords and primary subject areas were very closely associated with those regarding the academic fields. In the selected articles, the top keywords, such as “education”, “learning”, or “training”; “needs assessment” or “needs analysis”; and “professional development”, were keywords that frequently appeared in articles in all academic fields. In examining the remaining keywords, “teacher” and “teacher education”, which are typically associated with the field of education, appeared most frequently in the selected articles. Additionally, the most common topic of training or learning programs discussed in the selected articles was teaching competencies for in-service teachers and college instructors, as anticipated. Regarding the leading authors and institutions, only five authors have published multiple articles related to training or learning needs assessment [34,35,36,37,38,39], and the University of Birmingham was the top institution that has yielded studies in this area [34,35,36,37,40]. These results imply that training or learning needs assessment is a research topic that has attracted attention from various authors and institutions in a range of academic fields.

4.2. Research Design Used in the Selected Learning Needs Assessment Articles

Among the 89 selected studies, quantitative data was used most frequently, followed by combinations of qualitative and quantitative data, and the use of qualitative data alone. Each study collected data through various methods including one-on-one interviews, focus group interviews, observations, multiple-choice questions, open-ended questions, or combinations of these methods. Furthermore, the majority of the studies involved only target learners in the needs analysis procedure, while the number involving stakeholders or both target learners and stakeholders was relatively small. Regarding the types of learning needs, most were related to training areas or topics, followed by configurations of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. In terms of the data analysis methods utilized, the most prevalent approach was content analysis for qualitative data, followed by descriptive analysis with or without content and/or inferential analysis. Surprisingly, the selected studies made little use of specialized needs assessment approaches such as the Borich model [41,42]. This finding might imply that researchers paid little attention to theories and systematic approaches specifically associated with learning or training needs assessment. The Borich model, which is the most representative approach for specialized needs assessment and provides value to instructional designers, has the following strengths [14,16,43,44,45].
First, the Borich model has a practical advantage in that it can be easily applied without complications related to data analysis and instrument construction [14]. Another of its advantages might be that it can be utilized for both formative and summative evaluations because of the versatility of the data it generates. Formative data, which disclose the perceived significance of the competencies being taught, can function as a check to assess the training’s relevance and as a guide to determine the need for additional training [14]. Summative data, which reveal the extent to which trainees have achieved competencies compared with those who used other training programs, can serve as an overall program assessment [14].
An additional advantage of the Borich model is the format of the instrument for rating the relevance or importance of each competency to trainees’ current job function and their perceived level of attainment in each competency. Borich stated that each competency could be subdivided into “knowledge”, “performance”, and “consequence” competencies in a questionnaire for rating competency attainment levels and could therefore provide a more detailed and comprehensive assessment [14]. Specifically, the knowledge competency reflects the ability to correctly recall, paraphrase, or summarize understanding of subject information, the performance competence reflects the ability or skill to accurately execute the behavior in a real or simulated environment, and the consequence competency reflects the ability to yield desirable outcomes [14]. Borich maintained that these distinctions enable respondents to make more accurate judgments in rating each competency attainment level [14], resulting in more reliable and precise data collection, and ultimately contributing to the development of more effective and efficient training programs. Accordingly, instructional designers should identify three attainment levels (knowledge, performance or skills, and consequence) for each professional competency to reveal more detailed and accurate information on their target learners’ training needs.
Unfortunately, the Borich model has some limitations. The model is grounded in the assumption that performers can objectively and best judge their competencies and the relative importance of each competency required of them [14]. This assumption appears to overlook the predictable problems associated with using self-report questionnaires. Demetriou, Ozer, and Essau [46] argued that self-report questionnaires may have critical shortcomings, such as social desirability bias, which is the tendency of individuals to respond in a socially acceptable manner, and acquiescent or non-acquiescent response biases, in which individuals respond in certain ways regardless of the question’s content.
Especially in the case of learning needs assessments, respondents may not provide honest answers to questions related to their knowledge, performance, and consequence competencies due to fear of negative repercussions. They may also struggle to accurately assess their performance and/or consequence competencies due to a lack of objective criteria and information needed for accurate judgments [46]. Therefore, it can be difficult for performers to assess all aspects of their own knowledge, performance, and consequence competencies accurately and objectively. Consequently, the challenge remains to determine who can accurately and objectively judge performers’ (i.e., prospective trainees’) levels of knowledge, performance, and consequence competencies. To ensure data reliability, it may be advisable to engage multiple individuals and utilize various sources in needs assessment processes.
Another challenge emerges in determining how to perform an integrative analysis of data when multiple individuals or sources are utilized within a needs assessment process. A quadrant analysis model, first used by Gable, Pecheone, and Gillung [47], can be one of the most appropriate tools for this analysis type. This is because quadrant analysis is performed using a 2 × 2 matrix wherein one dimension represents the discrepancy between the importance and performance levels of each competency rated by performers and the other represents the discrepancy between the importance and performance levels of each competency as rated by senior managers or immediate supervisors conducting work performance appraisals of their employees. The competencies that fall within Quadrant I constitute priorities in learning needs, while those falling within Quadrant IV could be considered indicators of success [18]. Additionally, the competencies falling within Quadrants II and III require reinforcement through learning or training. Consequently, to make use of a multi-faceted approach that combines input from different sources and incorporates various assessment methods, instructional designers must adopt a quadrant analysis model to synthesize the collected data.
The most vulnerable aspect of the Borich model lies in its use of the group mean importance rating to address errors arising from individual perceptions of competency importance. In the model, weighted discrepancy scores for each professional competency are calculated for each individual by multiplying the discrepancy score by the group mean importance rating [14]. Some scholars strongly criticize the use of mean values to describe items measured on ordinal scales due to the inherent limitations of ordinal data and the assumptions made when using mean values [16,48,49,50]. For this reason, Narine and Harder [16] recently developed the ranked discrepancy model, which is optimized for addressing ordinal and non-normally distributed data, as an alternative to the Borich model. Consequently, when instructional designers and researchers in related fields utilize a particular approach for specialized needs assessment, they must maximize its strengths and address its limitations to ensure rigorous and precise needs assessments.
The results of this study have implications for future research. Firstly, a considerable number of the selected studies did not employ a multi-faceted approach combining different input sources and incorporating complementary needs assessment methods. Future training or learning needs assessment studies should involve multiple individuals, such as instructors, administrators, or peers, as well as target learners. They should also integrate other indicators, such as relevant test results or performance appraisal outcomes, with questionnaires or interviews to obtain more trustworthy data within the needs assessment process [46]. It might also be desirable to utilize multiple needs assessment or data analysis methods to balance the strengths and weaknesses of each, and effectively identify the learning needs of the intended learners [17,18].
Secondly, many studies have not separately identified attainment levels for each professional competence. To develop effective and efficient training or curriculum structured around the exact deficiencies of target learners, instructional designers must separately identify each discrete competence attainment level for each professional competency [14], regardless of whether it is assessed in a survey questionnaire or interview.
Lastly, more than half of the studies containing the quantitative analysis component used mean values to determine learning needs. The survey items used in these studies were measured using ordinal scales with results that exhibited non-normal distributions; thus, deriving means and drawing conclusions based on the results could very likely lead to misinterpretations and inaccurate conclusions [16,48,49,50,51]. When conducting a survey for a learning needs assessment, it is often necessary to use an ordinal survey. However, in such circumstances, rather than deriving needs based on the mean values of each item, it might be more appropriate to use the mentioned ranked discrepancy model to assess discrepancies between the importance and performance levels of each item [8,16,52]. Consequently, instructional designers and researchers in related fields must exercise caution when selecting a learning needs assessment approach or model based on the nature of needs assessment studies. Their focus and efforts are expected to significantly contribute to assuring quality education and effectively realizing SDG 4, which emphasizes the importance of providing inclusive, equitable, and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

5. Conclusions and Limitations

This study concludes as follows: Firstly, over the past several decades, research on training or learning needs assessment has spanned across various academic fields. These include teacher education, social welfare, medicine and nursing, higher education, business, psychology, language education, and special education. The primary aim of this research has been to develop high-quality learning programs tailored for adult learners, with or without professional goals. The research has primarily occurred in Europe and North America, followed by Asia and Africa. It is essential to continue conducting research on training and learning needs assessments for a broader spectrum of learners in increasingly diverse countries to support sustainable global progress, particularly in relation to SDG 4. The frequency of major keywords and primary subject areas closely corresponded with those in academic fields. As for the leading authors and institutions, only five authors have published multiple articles on training or learning needs assessment, and the University of Birmingham is the leading institution in producing studies in this area.
Secondly, it was observed that data collection often focused solely on target learners, and decisions were made based on inaccurate information and/or statistics that did not align with the characteristics of the collected data. To ensure accurate and honest responses in competency assessments, it is crucial to include diverse stakeholders beyond just the target learners, who may fear negative consequences or lack objective standards for self-evaluation. Traditional mean importance ratings in quantitative needs assessment studies are problematic for ordinal data, so adopting the ranked discrepancy model, which suits ordinal and non-normal data, is advised. Additionally, breaking down professional competencies into knowledge, performance, and consequence levels allows for more precise judgments and reliable data collection. Consequently, it is imperative to employ more rigorous needs assessment methods, gather input from a diverse range of stakeholders, and utilize analytical techniques tailored to the data’s attributes to effectively achieve the fundamental goal of needs assessment.
This study is limited to the analysis of 89 articles published in SSCI journals from 1997 to 2023. However, there are additional articles published in peer-reviewed international journals that are not SSCI-listed. Therefore, future research would benefit from reviewing a more comprehensive set of articles. This would help to broaden the knowledge base concerning training or learning needs assessment.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, H.J.C.; analysis, H.J.C. and J.H.P.; writing—original draft preparation, H.J.C.; writing—review and editing, J.H.P.; funding acquisition, H.J.C. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was supported by Hongik University Research Fund 2023.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. PRISMA flow diagram of the paper selection process.
Figure 1. PRISMA flow diagram of the paper selection process.
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Figure 2. Number of learning needs assessment studies published per year.
Figure 2. Number of learning needs assessment studies published per year.
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Table 1. Definitions of the 11 analysis criteria.
Table 1. Definitions of the 11 analysis criteria.
CategoryAnalysis CriteriaDefinition
Research StatusNumber of Studies Per YearThe number of learning needs assessment articles published each year from January 1997 to November 2023.
Academic FieldThe predominant discipline in which learning needs were identified.
Target LearnersGroup to be trained or who need to participate in learning.
Contributing Countries & ContinentsCountries and continents from which data was collected.
KeywordsKeywords that frequently appeared in the articles.
Subject AreasPrimary training and learning topics in the articles categorized by academic field.
Contributing Authors & InstitutionsLeading authors and institutions in the articles.
Research DesignData TypeQuantitative data, qualitative data, or a combination of quantitative and qualitative data collected and analyzed.
Analysis Models (Methods)Process of systematically applying logical and/or statistical techniques to describe, synthesize, and summarize collected data.
RespondentsParticipant groups who responded to survey questionnaires and/or participated in interviews and/or focus groups.
Learning or Training Needs TypeA taxonomy of knowledge, skills, attitudes, capabilities, and/or training areas (topics) derived from the data analysis.
Table 2. Academic fields in which learning needs were identified.
Table 2. Academic fields in which learning needs were identified.
Academic Fieldn%
EducationTeacher Education2123.60
Higher Education1415.73
Language Education22.25
Special Education11.12
Social Welfare2022.47
Medicine and Nursing1617.98
Business 1011.24
Table 3. Target learners.
Table 3. Target learners.
Target Learnersn%
Medical Staff2325.56
K–12 Teachers2022.22
Lifelong Learners w/o Professional Goals1314.44
University Professors & Staff1112.22
Social Workers910.00
K–12 and College Students66.67
Staff Members in Companies66.67
Note. The total number of target learners is 90 because one study targeted two groups of learners, social workers, and medical staff.
Table 4. Contributing continents and countries.
Table 4. Contributing continents and countries.
ContinentsCountries (n)n%
EuropeUK (12), Türkiye (8), Spain (3), Greece (2), Netherlands (1), Ireland (1), Portugal (1), Multiple countries (4)3235.95
North AmericaUSA (21), Canada (3)2426.97
AsiaSouth Korea (2), China (2), Bangladeshi (1), India (1), Taiwan (1), Thailand (1), UAE (1), Vietnam (1), Pakistan (1), Singapore (1), Hong Kong (1)1314.60
AfricaSierra Leone (2), South Africa (2), Uganda (2), Ethiopia (1), Nigeria (1), Tanzania (1), Zimbabwe (1)1011.24
OceaniaAustralia (8)88.99
South AmericaChile (1), Peru (1)22.25
Total 89100.00
Table 5. Top 10 keywords.
Table 5. Top 10 keywords.
1Education, Learning, or Training66
2Needs Assessment or Needs Analysis39
3Professional Development31
4Teacher or Teacher Education24
5Health Care18
6Children or Adolescents14
Table 6. Primary training and learning topics categorized by academic field.
Table 6. Primary training and learning topics categorized by academic field.
Academic FieldsPrimary Subject Areas
EducationTeaching Competencies for In-Service Teachers or College Instructors (12), Pre-Service Teacher Preparation (5), Emotional Intelligence (2)
Social WelfareImprovement of Family Well-Being (5), Social Issues including Child Abuse, Sexual Assault, or Alcohol & Drug Addiction (4)
Medicine and NursingCures for Specific Illnesses (6), Mental Health (3), Nursing Skills (2)
BusinessManagement Skills (3), Leadership Skills (2)
PsychologyPsychologist Development (2)
Table 7. Leading authors and institutions.
Table 7. Leading authors and institutions.
1Hicks, Carolyn41University of Birmingham5
2Hennessy, Deborah22University of Central Florida3
2MacPhail, Ann22University of Michigan3
2Guberman, Ainat22New York University3
2Czerniawski, Gerry25Gazi University, Ankara University, University of Melbourne, University of Hong Kong, etc.2
Table 8. Data types collected.
Table 8. Data types collected.
Data Typesn%
Quantitative Data 3842.70
Qualitative and Quantitative Data2730.33
Qualitative Data2426.97
Table 9. Analysis methods.
Table 9. Analysis methods.
Analysis Methodsn%
Content Analysis2426.97
Descriptive and Content Analysis2224.72
Descriptive and Inferential Analysis1719.10
Descriptive Analysis1617.98
Descriptive, Inferential, and Content Analysis55.62
Borich Model22.25
Table 10. Respondent groups.
Table 10. Respondent groups.
Target Learners5966.29
Target Learners and Stakeholders2022.47
Table 11. Types of learning needs.
Table 11. Types of learning needs.
Types of Learning Needs Identifiedn%
Training Areas KnowledgeSkillsAttitudesCapabilities
O 3539.33
OO 2426.97
O 1112.36
O 44.49
OOO 44.49
O O 22.25
O 11.12
O OO11.12
O O11.12
O O11.12
OO 11.12
O O 11.12
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Choi, H.J.; Park, J.H. Research Trends in Learning Needs Assessment: A Review of Publications in Selected Journals from 1997 to 2023. Sustainability 2024, 16, 382.

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Choi, Hee Jun, and Ji Hye Park. 2024. "Research Trends in Learning Needs Assessment: A Review of Publications in Selected Journals from 1997 to 2023" Sustainability 16, no. 1: 382.

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