Remote needs assessment

A preliminary check by a trainer or a consultant in preparation for a hands-on laboratory training or another virtual cooperation activity with a laboratory.

Area of application

A remote needs assessment is conducted to collect and exchange relevant information prior to hands-on laboratory training,  a virtual classroom training or another cooperation activity with a laboratory. Relevant information might include needs and expectations of the participants, technical background and practical skills as well as laboratory setup and available equipment.


Remote needs assessment is an interactive format as it entails collection and exchange of information between the trainer, consultant or mentor and the laboratory staff. The interaction can take place asynchronously (over email, via a survey or a polling tool, pre-recorded videos, etc.) or synchronously (interviews, preparatory meetings, etc.).

Virtual mode

The advantage of a remote needs assessment is that it allows for flexibility in the communication. It is also cheaper in comparison to on-site visits in terms of travel and accommodation costs. The disadvantage is that due to the inability to be on site in the laboratory, it is more difficult to gain understanding of the laboratory setup as well as the available devices and accessories. 


There are two main objectives for conducting a pre-assessment: to gain a better understanding of the trainees and of the laboratory. This allows the trainer to better adapt the training methodology and content for the specific context of the training in terms of trainees needs and expectations as well as what is possible given the laboratory setup. 

The needs assessment has two main phases:

  • 1) collecting data on the trainees and the laboratory
  • 2) analysing the data in order to adapt the training concept and methodology based on the analysis.


Data collection

With regard to the first phase (data collection), there are several (non-mutually exclusive) methods through which this can be done: i) a survey, ii) interviews, and iii) observation of the laboratory. Each is described below.



The first step in conducting a survey is to decide what information to collect.

To increase the response rate among trainees it is recommended to keep the survey:

  • short: ideally not more than 10 questions
  • focused: ask only for the most relevant information, that you will be able to analyse
  • user-friendly: clear questions formulated in a simple language

The second step in conducting a needs assessment survey is to decide how to conduct it, i.e. what online tools to use. One option is to prepare an excel sheet and share it with participants, asking each trainee to fill it, and then put together all the responses. Another option is to set up an online survey (e.g. in Moodle or TedMe or using another suitable tool).
With regard to the content of the survey, it is a good idea to include questions about the trainees and about the laboratory.

For each participant, it is helpful to know:

  • Trainee background: name, current position, educational background and qualifications (e.g. degree), professional background (e.g. number of years at NMI)
  • Prior knowledge on the subject of the training such as familiarity with relevant technical guidelines or own experience with writing guidelines
  • Practical skills such as familiarity with laboratory methods, laboratory devices and accessories (cables, connectors, etc.)
  • Language skills
  • Prior experience with virtual trainings

For the laboratory setup, it is helpful to know about:

  • Availability of relevant devices and their manuals
  • Availability of relevant accessories (connectors, cables, instruments, supplies)
  • Availability of remote connectivity software on laboratory computers linked to the measurement instruments
  • Potential problems with internet connectivity

For a list of proposed questions, see the link at the bottom of the page.


In addition to the needs assessment survey, subject to time availability, it might be necessary to conduct one or a couple of interviews with laboratory staff to get a better sense of the situation in the laboratory and to validate the results of the survey.

Observation of trainees and laboratory

In addition to the survey, subject to time availability, it might be necessary to observe the trainees and the laboratory. This can be done either in real time via a livestreamed tour of the laboratory or through pre-recorded videos.


Data analysis

The second phase of the needs assessment focuses on the analysis of the collected data. The table below presents a list of risks that might be identified on the basis of the data analysis and proposed mitigation strategies.





Too many participants

Consider how to structure the training so that everyone gets a chance to practice and ask questions. Alternatively, identify an inner circle of participants who receive the main benefits of the training and an outer circle who mainly observe the training; see also Classroom training, Virtual laboratories, Web-based Training

Variation in the technical preparation/ background of the trainees

If trainees have significantly different skills and knowledge levels, consider asking more advanced trainees to conduct an internal training for the rest

Language issues

If language comprehension appears to pose a problem, consider bringing in an interpreter

Issues with digital literacy

Schedule a technical check prior to the training or get an IT person involved to support the laboratory in order to clarify any issues with the digital tools that will be used in the training

Trainees unfamiliar with some useful technical guides

Ask trainees to download and read the guides and to write down all relevant questions that might arise

The trainees have already drafted a technical procedure/ instruction

The trainer should read it and keep notes of any possible shortcomings or weak points (to be discussed during or after the training)

Diverging expectations between trainer and trainees

Schedule a meeting to discuss and clarify the expectations



Unstable or insufficient internet connectivity

Check with the laboratory whether there is a time of the day when the internet connection is typically stronger and schedule the training sessions accordingly;

discuss other solutions with an IT person;

use stationary LAN cable internet rather than the wireless connection

Missing devices or accessories (cables, connectors, etc.)

Check if it is possible to borrow from other laboratories or clients

Problems with understanding the setup diagram

Consider holding a preparatory meeting for clarification;

show via a pre-recorded video or livestream the instrument setup in the trainer’s lab

Uncalibrated devices

Consider whether this is critical for the training objectives

Laboratory devices unfamiliar to the trainer

The trainer should request and review the device manuals

Remote connectivity software not available on lab computers connected to the measurement instruments

Ask the laboratory staff to install such software. Check in advance whether a license fee is required and whether the laboratory has a policy for prior approval on software installations

The laboratory uses software that the trainer is unfamiliar with

Consider scheduling a “technical check” meeting to familiarize the trainer with the software


When designing the needs assessment survey, it makes sense to divide the questions in two categories: one about the participants and one about the laboratory; the questions about the laboratory do not need to be answered by all trainees (if they are all from the same laboratory) as the answers will most likely be the same so there is no need to waste time by duplicating work. These questions might be resolved quicklier via an interview and a livestreamed laboratory tour.

As part of the needs assessment for hands-on laboratory training, in some cases it might be helpful to prepare a diagram of the devices and connectors as a basis for understanding what needs to be available in the laboratory as well as to be able to assess trainees understanding of the diagram.




Remote needs assessment in preparation for a virtual hands-on laboratory training can be time consuming but is a necessary and worthwhile investment to ensure the smooth running of the training itself.



The time for the trainer to prepare and conduct the needs assessment and analyse the data needs to be budgeted. License fees for necessary software applications or costs for mobile data to ensure good internet connection might be additional costs.



A videoconferencing software is necessary for the virtual meetings between the technical expert/trainer and the laboratory staff. It is recommended that the expert and laboratory staff agree beforehand on the software to be used and have all the necessary information at the beginning of the pre-assessment.



conducts the needs assessment in preparation for his/her hands-on laboratory training or other virtual collaboration activity.

Laboratory staff:  
provide documentation and other necessary information (e.g. manuals, technical guidelines, etc.) participate in needs assessment survey, interviews or laboratory observation or prepare a pre-recorded video.


Irene Flouda, Suzana Lange

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