CSH - Bryan Hopkins Consulting

Bryan Hopkins Consulting
Learning and development services for international organisations
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Making decisions in a learning needs assessment

A learning needs assessment is a major exercise in decision-making, what content should be included (and excluded), what learning methods to use (and not use), and what pedagogical principles will be effective (or not).

If we approach a learning needs assessment from a systems thinking perspective we can see the learning as a 'system of interest', and then need to make some decisions about what we will include (or exclude) from the system. These are, in systems thinking language, boundary judgements, but in reality are decisions.

Systems thinking practitioners can use a tool called Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH) to help with this decision-making. Developed by a Swiss academic, Werner Ulrich, CSH makes us ask 12 boundary judgement questions.

When we have the answers to these questions then we have a comprehensive, and as holistic as is practical, description of what our system for learning should consist of.

Learning strategies for sustainable organisations uses a CSH approach in a systematic method for carrying out a learning needs assessment for designing a sustainability-focused learning strategy.

The 12 boundary judgment questions:

1. Who benefits from the system?
2. What is the purpose of the system?
3. What is the measure of success of the system?
4. Who makes decisions about the system?
5. What system resources and constraints does the decision-maker control?
6. What conditions of the system’s operation are outside of the control of the decision-maker?
7. Who is involved in the design of the system?
8. What expertise (knowledge and experience) is needed to design the system?
9. What guarantees of success do the sources of expertise offer?
10. Who will represent people that are affected by but not involved in the system?
11. What opportunity do people affected by the system have to avoid its effects?
12. What is the worldview underlying the design of the system?

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