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Needs assessment research has received considerable support by adult education scholars for many years. Brackhaus (1984), Long (1983), McMahon (1970), Monette (1977) and Pennington (1980) provide some useful overview information on needs assessment. Reading such sources in chronological order also provides an interesting summary of the changes in thinking regarding needs assessment during the past three decades. Some researches have even demonstrated the value of involving learners in assessing needs related to positive effects on achievement or attitudes (Cole & Glass, 1977; McLaughlin, 1971; and Pine, 1980).

Much of the early attention to needs centered around Tyler's (1949) model for curriculum development. From this model grew attention to the importance of understanding a person's perceived or "felt" needs as a beginning point for adult learning activities (Atwood, 1967; Hiemstra & Long, 1974; Knowles, 1980) Knox, 1968; McMahon, 1970). The Tyler model, the importance of felt needs, and the subsequent use of behavioral objectives (Mager, 1962) based on such needs served educators of adults in their instructional planning for many years.

Although behavioral, competency-based, and performance objectives are still discussed in the literature and still used by many instructors as learning guides, their popularity has declined some during the past ten years. Monette (1979) suggests a reason why use of the Tylerian approach has waned:  "Tyler does not explicate a particular philosophy. Exactly what one's guiding philosophy is for stating objectives is extremely crucial. Stating objectives consistently with a philosophy can be as much a virtue as a sin depending, of course, upon what that philosophy is. Tyler's rationale offers neither the necessary criteria for prioritizing need statements nor a governing philosophy" (pp. 85-86).

Monette goes on to suggest that the writings of Paulo Freire (1970) provide a distinctive philosophical orientation and a means for utilizing personal values in designing instructional activities or educational programs. Apps (1979) also discusses Freire and his work in terms of understanding needs information as a basis for planning educational programs or activities. Brookfield (1986) urges the determination of those critical incidents which have caused discomfort, pressure, or difficulty as a means for structuring programs around adult needs.

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An instructional philosophy, attention to values, and the promotion of critical thinking are crucial to our notions of individualizing instruction where personal values of both the instructor and learner are examined in the process of determining learning needs, plans, and approaches. Cheren (1983) refers to such roles as being co-diagnostic in nature. Whatever it might be called, devoting time to the diagnosis of need is important. Knox (1977) suggests that up to one-fourth of the available instruction time can be devoted to initial activities such as assessing needs and translating needs into plans. Our experiences support such a proportion.

The assessment of need actually takes place throughout a learning experience, although many learners or instructors do not realize or take into account the normal changes that occur as a learner gains new knowledge. The individualizing process accommodates such changing needs in various ways as described in earlier chapters.


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