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  • Writer's pictureIrina Ketkin

The difference between Training Needs Analysis (TNA) and Learning Needs Analysis (LNA)

Training vs Learning

You’ve heard of training and you’ve heard of Learning. But do you know what they mean and what’s the difference? Let’s find out together!

While many professionals may use the terms interchangeably, they are in fact different.

Training is knowledge transfer in a classroom setting (though it can be both online and offline). Training usually involves 2 parties - a trainer, lecturer or any subject matter expert and a trainee (or a group of trainees).

Learning, on the other hand, is knowledge transfer in any setting. It is a process of acquiring new knowledge and behaviours as a result of practice, study or experience. Learning can happen in a range of ways and doesn’t have to involve other people. We learn when we read books and articles, listen to podcasts, watch someone else do a task, get coached or mentored, prepare and work on a personal development plan or even when just talking to colleagues or friends.

Practically, this means that training is a form of learning, but it is not the only one. So why limit your needs assessment to only training?

Training Needs Analysis

We really like CIPD’s definition: “a one-off isolated event looking at the needs for a specific training activity“. Training needs analysis is usually an ad hoc event related to a specific training. It doesn’t necessarily tie into the larger organisational strategy and it is something that happens only once. A training needs analysis can help you establish who needs training and what kind of training they need? For example, a group of people want to improve their Microsoft Excel skills and they attend a training for it. In other words, it doesn’t have to be tied to the big picture or the strategic plans of the business.

Learning Needs Analysis

Let’s stick with CIPD’s definition of a learning needs analysis: “A current or future health check on the skills, talent and capabilities of the organisation (or part of the organisation), systematic gathering of data about employees’ capabilities and organisational demands for skills“.

When it comes to LNA, as you can see, the orientation is towards the future and finding out what are the specific skills, talents and capabilities available today and what will be needed tomorrow. The gathering of data is a systemic process, meaning one that happens regularly, and it happens on two levels – from people’s perspective and from organisational perspective. This means people are regularly asked to assess their current capabilities, particular skills and knowledge that help them do their job; but at the same time the business communicates regularly what capabilities it would need in the future to reach its goals.

Doing a learning needs analysis helps you understand what are the goals of the organisation and what performance improvement is needed to reach those objectives, what particular knowledge, skills and behaviours the organisation requires and how people learn best. It gives us a higher-picture overview of the learning. And yes, some of these needs could be met with a training. But majority – won’t!

Example of LNA

In practical terms this could look like this. At the beginning of the year, the managers would agree with their teams on the most crucial skills and knowledge required to complete their work. At the same time, the business, in the face of the CEO, HR Director or other C-level executives, would publish a list of all the skills and knowledge that are deemed important to help the organisation reach its yearly targets. During the regular 1-on-1 meetings, the manager would ask their team members to rate their current skills on a scale of, say, 1 to 5. Throughout the year then, the managers would make sure that their teams have all of these skills and knowledge at a workable level (this level would be agreed across the business). This allows the organisation to keep track of all current capabilities and compare them to whatever the needs of the business are. Which means we can easily and quickly respond, should there be a need for it.


If you focus on the learning needs, you may discover that the issue isn’t lack of knowledge how to give feedback, but lack of appropriate culture within the organisation. Perhaps, managers don’t encourage their people to give regular feedback, or feedback isn’t seen as a learning opportunity by employees. You see, these discoveries would require very different approaches. For example, instead of trainings, you would consider culture building initiatives.

Learning encompasses so much more – it touches upon the personal, team and organisational development processes.

Training needs analysis is important, but you would get a much better understanding of the organisation and its functions, if instead you focused on a learning needs analysis.

To learn more about learning needs assessment or how to perform it in your organisation, head over to The L&D Academy. We offer a lot of free resources to help L&D practitioners with their day-to-day responsibilities.


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