Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Task Analysis Revisited

It's been a long time since I have posted anything on instructional development. But yesterday the power was out in my office for the entire day, giving me a chance to work from home. There I started to focus on the course development process again.

Learning To Cook: A Quick Task Analysis
Let's take a deceptively simple topic like learning to cook. There are a lot of self-help books out there, recipes, and even websites that give you some general information, and basically throw you into the deep end. Can it really be that simple to learn how to cook? I thought I would run a quick task analysis on the process to see what I could come up with.

I began by tearing down the process of cooking to several jobs. You have the basic understanding of the tools involved, the need for clean environments and fresh food, and the processing techniques to prepare the food. I then looked at the various methods of cooking, depending on the desired outcome. I then ordered them approximately based on the jobs that need to be understood in order to successfully complete the next job. This follows the Constructivist method of instruction, allowing for layered modules that build upon each other.

I ended up with the following breakdown:

1. Equipment
2. Measurements
3. Cleanliness
4. Preparing Food
5. Seasoning Food
6. Heating Food

As actual consumption of the food is not technically part of the cooking process, I left it out of the list. The idea being that once you are done, you can move on to the next job: eating food. ^_^

From these basic jobs expected from a cook, I can then break them down into individual tasks. For example Equipment could be broken down into these sections:
1.1 Cleaning Tools
1.2 Hand Tools
1.3 Preparation Tools
1.4 Cooking Surfaces
1.5 Measurement Tools

These tasks can be broken down even further into sub-tasks, which can be broken down still further into your skills and knowledge. From the eventual breakdown, you get a complete outline of your course, all from the analysis. At this point your instructor can fill in the actual lecture material themselves, either on the fly while teaching or (if in an online environment) with carefully structured lectures.

I could have been quoted as saying that a subject matter expert (SME) isn't necessarily a good teacher. That's because (among other things) a SME doesn't have a concept of task analysis. The second concept that a lot of SME's have trouble with is Cognitive Load, which will be a topic for another post.

If you are looking to teach anything, it's a good idea that you focus a lot of your time in analysis. Task Analysis can take a long time to complete, but in the end it makes the rest of the process a lot easier. You can also target specific portions of your analysis after you have evaluated course success.

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