A Formative Evaluation of a Task-based EFL Programme for Korean University Students


5.2 Brief literature review

5.2.1 Objective needs analysis

Initial "objective" needs analyses focused on identifying learners' real world communicative requirements so that courses could be designed reflecting these and preparing users for their intended use of the target language (TL). Munby's model (1978) is the most well-known of this type, and became "An unavoidable reference point" (Tudor 1996:66), though West (1994) mentions that its rigour and complexity "tended to halt rather than advance development", and Tudor notes that it deals only with target situation analysis (TSA), ignoring deficiency analysis ("present situation analysis" - PSA, cf. Allwright 1982), strategy analysis (Oxford 1990) and means analysis (West 1994; Tudor 1996). Munby's model contained nine components, relating to the learners' communicative requirements (participant, purposive domain, setting, interaction, instrumentality, dialect, target level, communicative event, and communicative key), and Tarone & Yule (1989) later covered much the same ground with a four-level framework: i) global level (situations, participants, communicative purpose, target activities); ii) rhetorical level (organisational structure of the communicative activities); iii) grammatical-rhetorical level (linguistic forms required to realise the forms in level ii); and iv) grammatical level (the frequency of grammatical and lexical constructions in the target situation). Both models imply that a needs analysis should progress from an identification of learners' target language needs, to an analysis of the communicative activities they will need to perform in order to achieve those goals, and the linguistic forms by which these activities will be realised (Tudor 1996:72).

5.2.2 Subjective needs analysis

As recognition grew in the 1980's and 1990's of the existence and importance of psychological, cognitive, cultural and affective learning needs, a "subjective" interpretation arose in which needs are seen in terms of the learner as an individual in the learning situation (Brindley 1984a:63), and attention was given to "factors of a psychological or cognitive nature which influence the manner in which learners will perceive and interact with the process of language study" (Tudor 1996:126), categorised in terms of: i) individual differences (introversion-extroversion, tolerance of ambiguity, risk-taking, cognitive style); and ii) learning style (psychological, cognitive, sensory differences). Along with this expanded view of the learner, it was also acknowledged that Robinson's (1991:21) call for the educator to access the "knowledge and conceptual networks" involved in the students' specialist disciplines was impractical in the majority of cases, especially at the beginning of a course, and that instead, learners needed training in identifying their learning needs (including specialist terms and concepts) and formulating them into goal-setting:

If subjective psychological needs felt by the learner are to be taken into account as well as objective communication needs, then some kinds of mechanisms have to be built into the learning process which allow for systematic consultation and negotiation between the two parties. Information has to be exchanged about roles and expectations. (Brindley 1984a:72-73)

Such a "mechanism" implies not only ongoing learner training in identifying learning needs, setting learning goals, planning a course of study, and reflection (self-assessment and reappraisal of goals), but also a change of roles and power structure (Stevick 1976) as negotiation of course content and direction leads to modification of teacher/learner expectations, and teachers gradually transfer control of learning. This process of "learning how to learn" and of negotiating classroom learning parameters takes time (Brindley 1984a:76; Nunan 1988c; 1994b) and is not always comfortable for teachers or students, as established "truths" are challenged and perhaps found inadequate. However, problems associated with objective needs analysis (e.g. the impracticality of obtaining sufficient pre-course data, the need for the teacher to be an expert in the students' special fields, and the responsibility for producing a course to meet students needs in those fields) tend to originate from a view of the teacher as all-knowing expert and transmitter of required knowledge, which is rarely the case in specialised ESP courses such as English for nurses, international trade, accounting, or particle physics (though see Widdowson's [1978a] call for English to be used in teaching other subjects at high school level), and a joint "exploration of the learners' needs, both by the teachers, and by the learners themselves" (Tudor 1996:76), is more appropriate[1].

5.2.3 A combination

Both objective and subjective approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Widdowson (1983; 1987) states that specifying precise product-oriented needs results in restricted competence (cf. Maley 1980; Holec 1984), and Tudor (1996:94) points out that objective needs analyses do not make sufficient use of the learners' own knowledge of their learning goals, and that data collection is difficult to realise. On the other hand, Dubin & Olshtain (1986:102) warn that "assessment of individual needs could result in multiple course objectives ", while Reid (1987) and Tudor (1996) observe that most teaching methods and teaching styles favour one set of learning style preferences over another, and that a subjective needs analysis has to take this into account, either by matching the teaching style to students' preferences (similarity), or by exposing learners to various styles to enrich their awareness of learning options (complementarity). Thus a simple analysis of "objective needs " will not produce a teaching syllabus (Richterich 1972), but it can be a useful beginning in a two stage objective/subjective approach (Tudor 1996:94), in which information on learners and their intended use of the TL is collected before or at the start of the course, and is developed through collaborative exploration of their communicative agendas[2] and the process of language learning.

Brindley (1984a:76) points out that negotiation "is a complex and subtle process", and that flexibility, understanding, co-operation and collaboration are important aspects. He proposes a model of a learner-centred system, including negotiation, information exchange, awareness activities, evaluation and feedback, learning activities, and objective-setting in consultation, all of which help the learner to become aware of and reflect on learning needs, and to set future goals based on those needs. Brindley's model (appendix B-16), can be seen as a continuous needs analysis, initiating a process of learning. Notable is its cyclic nature, and its lack of an obvious start- or end-point. Information exchange is the traditional place at which to begin needs analysis, but students have usually spent time in some sort of (self-)evaluation and discussion of their learning needs prior to arriving on a course (especially if they are participating by choice), and are typically conscious of these concepts to some extent. Even the statement "I am not good at English" implies a level of awareness, evaluation, feedback, negotiation, and objective-setting on the part of the speaker, whether this is well-informed or based on prejudice and popular learning-myths, and whether it is used to enhance future learning or to justify its discontinuation ("I cannot learn, so I will stop trying"). Thus Brindley's model describes a cyclic process of investigation of objective/subjective needs, which can be entered at any point, and which can continue during (and after) the course.

Continue reading Chapter 5: Needs Analysis:The Study

[1] Objective needs analyses also take no account of what the learner can actually do (West, R., personal communication, 2000).
[2] Conceptual and pragmatic knowledge realised in occupational, interactive, and cultural/affective domains (Tudor 1996:94).