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Needs and situation analysis

An overview of needs and situation analysis in course design
© Edge Hill University

When designing a language course, it’s important to understand who your learners are and the context in which the learning is going to take place; this is done through conducting needs and situation analyses, respectively. These will form the foundation of course design.

Needs analysis

According to Graves (2000), a needs analysis is “a systematic and ongoing process of gathering information about students’ needs and preferences, interpreting the information, and then making course decisions based on the interpretations in order to meet the needs” (p. 98). Through a needs analysis we seek to discover the learners’ abilities, needs, and purposes for learning.

A popular model for assessing leaner needs was proposed by Hutchinson and Waters (1987) who famously categorised needs into “necessities”, “lacks”, and “wants”.

Necessities: What the learner has to know to function effectively in the L2

Lacks: What the learner knows and does not already know about the L2

Wants: What the learner thinks they need from learning the L2

We can discover the learners’ necessities, lacks, and wants through testing, interviewing, recalling past performance, consulting involved parties such as teachers, analysing samples of texts, and investigating the situation where the L2 will be used.

Situation analysis

A situation analysis, sometimes called environment analysis, is “the identification of key factors that might positively or negatively affect the implementation of the curriculum plan…such factors could be political, social, institutional, administrative etc.” (Richards & Schmidt, 2010, p. 532). When conducing a situation analysis, we can ask the question what social, economic, political, educational, and institutional factor impact the curriculum? Through conducting a situation analysis we can make sure that the course is suitable, practical, and realistic.

A situation analysis model (Dubin and Olshtain’s, 1986)

Click on the link below to view Dubin and Olshtain’s (1986)’s model of sources of information for language program policy. From the model we can see that four external factors—the language setting, patterns of language use in society, the political and national context, and group and individual attitudes—help us to determine who the learners are, who the teachers are, why the programme is necessary, where the programme will be implemented, and how the programme will be implemented.

Classroom factors

As well as looking at the wider environment, a situation analysis should also take into account classroom factors such as class size, teacher availably, time, and learner motivation. These factors can either lead to favouring (positive) or disfavouring (negative) conditions that we must factor into our course design. For example, if it is known that class sizes are going to be large then this would be reflected in the materials design with for example a large amount of group work and use of special large class techniques such as think, pair, share. on the contrary, if it is known that class sizes will be small, activities such as individual presentations can be factored into the course design.

Consider the following questions and post your comments below:

  • Have you ever experienced a needs analysis as a learner and/or a teacher?
  • What were the processes involved? What was the result? Were the results operationalised?
  • If an overseas teacher who had never been to your country before was hired to teach in your school, what are some of the things he or she should know about schools and learners of English in your country?


Dubin, F. & Olshtain, E. (1986). Course design. Cambridge University Press.

Graves, K. (2000). Designing language courses: A guide for teachers. Heinle and Heinle.

Hutchinson, T., & Waters, A. (1987). English for specific purposes : a learning-centred approach. Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. C., Schmidt, R. W. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Longman.

© Edge Hill University
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