As part of my e-learning proposal which I submitted this week, I had to identify and analyse examples of tasks for my learners. I used Gagne’s approach to describe the tasks in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes.
Task analysis involves breaking down activities into discrete steps. Informally, we do it all the time; we make lists, we follow recipes and we leave instructions. Formal task analysis has its origins in early 20th century theories of scientific management (see Taylor). However, it still underpins how we design content in many forms from instructional design to software documentation as well as informing User Experience (UX) studies (this Wikipedia page for more information).
My introduction to task analysis was as an undergrad business student when I studied theories of organisational design (this was Management Theory 101). There was a book, there was a 10-week term and there were 10 chapters with a theory per chapter but there was also fog, confusion and pain and lots of it. It made no sense, undergraduate me just didn’t get it (talk about ignoring your audience’s needs!). More recently, task analysis reappeared during this Masters as I studied Instructional Design. However, this time it wasn’t theoretical, conducting a task analysis was core to many assignments so because there was context and I had to apply the theory to projects it made much more sense.
Ask Many Questions
But while task analysis is the basis of course design and curriculum development it can be difficult, slow and just plain old awkward to achieve well. So, what can you do to improve the process?
Research your audience. Talk to as many SME’s as you can. Pin down the needs of your learners and then go talk some more! The type of questions you need to get answers to are not, for example “What are the principles of data protection?” but rather “what data protection concerns do employees need to consider when sending e-mails?” and more importantly “Why would employees choose to take data protection into account during their work?”
In conclusion, while task analysis has its origins in the time and motion studies of the manufacturing environment, with tasks being observable, much of what e-learning and training success is dependent on intellectual skills and attitudes.
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