Impacts of Task Analysis and Needs Analysis in Microlearning
What is Task Analysis?
Task Analysis is one of the oldest foundations in the training practice. It means several things to many professionals. Essentially, it is the process of analyzing how a task is accomplished. The analysis covers all factors that are necessary to perform a job such as physical and cognitive skills, duration and frequency. Some of the original proponents of traditional task analysis or behavioral task analysis were Munsterberg (1909), Gilbreth (1909), Taylor (1911), Conrad (1951) and Crossman (1956).
Associated concepts accompanying Task Analysis are:
- Chaining: Burrhus Frederic Skinner is credited for the term “chaining.” He theorized that when a given response produces or alters some of the variables that control another response, a “chain” is formed (The B.F. Skinner Foundation, 2014). A complex task is broken down into small units. Each step or link strengthens the next step and response. Chaining leads to mastery of the task.
- Training Needs Analysis or TNA is the process of identifying training needs in an organization for the purpose of improving employee job performance.
- Task Analysis has contributed to successful solutions in complex training as demonstrated in military, healthcare, heavy industries training, complex simulation, and recently in designing products such as the UX design (Interaction Design Foundation, 2016) and software (Bass et al. (1995) that enhances day-to-day experiences.
The Remnants of Task Analysis Gone Wild?
Task Analysis evolved as part of training and learning science because of the need to identify the activities that learners needed to be trained on. In complex situations it demands extensive new knowledge acquisition. In these cases “front-end analysis” is a must.
With Task Analysis comes some practices that have gone wild or out of control. The following are anecdotes that we often hear and observe:
“Learners must learn the step by step process.”
“Learners don’t know what they don’t know.”
“Training must be based on needs analysis.”
In today’s high-speed environment and connected workers and learners, does task analysis accelerate or impede learning on the go or learning on need, a way or method we call Microlearning?
Consider These Reflections
“Learners must learn the step by step process.”—The Barista—Self-Correcting, Learning and Doing
See a video of a Barista.
In the practical world, when problem solving is the mode of work on the job, learning step by step—although it sounds safe and soothes the comfort level of trainers and designers—does not necessarily happen or is unreal. Admittedly, there are steps that are so closely linked they must be learned and applied in sequence or simultaneously. Technologies in embedded tips, solutions, guides and references enable the learners and workers to find the steps and knowledge, almost instantly without having drilled down in formal or previous training. The error-correcting process of tools makes it possible for a learner to fix the problem and correct the actions before submitting the final action (Quinn, 2009). Learners are doing and learning at the same time.
Microlearning and micro-actions, on the other hand, facilitate the trial and error and simultaneous learning and doing method.
“Learners don’t know what they don’t know.”—Untidy Learning and Experiences
Task analysis helps create a very clean, clear and well-defined training structure and plan. In the real world, most learning activities are untidy, disorganized, random, disorderly and do not follow a plan. When trainers say “Learners don’t know what they don’t know” they are missing a key ingredient in worker performance—that learners and workers have experience—whether low or high—and they bring these experiences into their work. The workers may not perform a well-defined task based on the “ideal” work condition, but they perform (Pink, 2011).There are so many invaluable implicit knowledge on the job, which no amount of formal and structural task analysis can capture.
A Microlearning plan helps capture the informal knowledge that forever would be lost without allowing untidy experiences and learning to be captured.
See a video on recursive learning.
“Training must be based on needs analysis”—Wishful Thinking
After working with hundreds of clients and thousands of learning professionals in my workshops, I have the distinct impression that we see an increasing number of learning programs that fail the test if they are subjected to the classical training needs analysis process. One of the key reasons is that a significant amount of content is not task-based but rather more informational. Additionally, the volume of knowledge and rapid change provides less incentives to follow a formal training needs analysis process. We should not feel guilty if we fall into this trap. It is good to reflect that perhaps the formal needs analysis is being replaced by such methods as a dynamic collection of rated content, instant insights from learners while at work and growing a need for Microlearning—making content smaller—so workers can use it quickly to match a need. I think this has some relationship to what Michael Allen describes in his book “Leaving ADDIE for SAM.” This is what we would call instant application of learning. We now see learners grabbing a tiny lesson to quickly solve a problem. This is, to my mind, a response to a need of learning, which skips formal learning needs analysis.
Microlearning is veering from traditional task analysis, which emphasizes formal and hierarchical learning (institutionalized setting), and toward a less formal setting. Although Microlearning breaks down complex tasks into segments or units, there is no need to learn these units in sequential order. In this sense, it can be concluded that in today’s learning environment, Microlearning encourages that learners jump, skip, learn and apply what they can at the point of need.
The B. F. Skinner Foundation. B.F. Skinner Science and Human Behavior. 2014
Interaction Design Foundation. Task Analysis a UX Designer’s Best Friend
Bass, Andrew et al. A software toolkit for hierarchical task analysis. Applied Ergonomics, 26(2), April 1995, pp. 147–151
Clark Quinn. Ignoring Informal. 14 October 2009
Daniel Pink. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. April 5, 2011
Bunson, Stan. Front-end analysis: blueprint for success (part I). June 11, 2011
Krüger, Nicole. Micro-E-learning in information literacy. 31 May, 2012
Reinemeyer, Erika . Edward Lee Thorndike (1874–1949). May 1999
Ray Jimenez, PhD
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”