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Task Analysis (The 5 Basic Formats) and Instructional Design

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone interested in methodologies relating to training/learning resource development and in particular, multi-media Instructional Design.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) Several of my earlier blogs present various methodologies used during the process of developing training/learning resources, all of which are crucial to ensuring the learner is presented with accurate, valid, and appropriate instructional content. Perhaps the most important of these methodologies is Task Analysis.


(02.2) There are 5 basic formats of Task Analysis. One size does not fit all.


(02.3) Task Analysis is used to ensure a complete understanding of the performance(s) required of learners in the execution of their roles, which in turn informs the content requirements of the instructional resource.


(02.4) If a Task Analysis is not properly conducted, the resulting instructional material will fail to provide learners with the required knowledge essential to the performance of the task(s) under consideration.

03 Structure of This Article

  • (04) Introduction
  • (05) The Purpose of Task Analysis in Instructional Design
  • (06) The Five Formats of Task Analysis:
    • (06.1) Cluster (verbal skills)
    • (06.2) Conceptual Graph (concepts)
    • (06.3) Hierarchical (intellectual skills)
    • (06.4) Information Processing (cognitive tasks)
    • (06.5) Procedural (procedural skills)

04 Introduction

Image of a Flow Cart showing Start, End, Decision, Process.

(04.1) Task Analysis evolved from the work of behaviourists. Over the years, Task Analysis evolved in-line with the principles of Cognitive Psychology, and then Constructivism.


(04.2) According to Jonassen, Tessmer, and Hannum (1999)1, Task Analysis comprises five distinct functions:

  1. Develop an inventory of all tasks;
  2. Classify tasks according to learning outcomes;
  3. Organise tasks in order of priority;
  4. Identify and describe the components of tasks, goals, or objectives;
  5. Define the sequence of instruction to ensure effective learning and, therefore, task performance.

(04.3) According to Jonassen et al. (1999)1 there are five forms of Task Analysis:

  • Activity;
  • Content (subject matter);
  • Cognitive;
  • Learning;
  • Performance (job).

(04.4) Reference

1. Jonassen, D. H., Tessmer, M., and Hannum, W. H. (1999)
(External link, opens in a new tab/window). 
Task Analysis Methods for Instructional Design

05 The Purpose of Task Analysis in Instructional Design

(05.1) The Purpose of Task Analysis, in multi-media Instructional Design, is to:

  1. Identify instructional goals and objectives;
  2. Describe, in detail, the tasks a learner will need to perform;
  3. Specify the knowledge type characteristic of the task:
    • Declarative - Facts about things;
    • Procedural - How to do things;
    • Structural - Problem solving;
  4. Identify learning outcomes appropriate to instructional development;
  5. Sequence tasks, in order of priority;
  6. Identify instructional strategies to promote learning;
  7. Specify learning environments (e.g., Computer Aided Instruction, e-Learning, Multi-channel) and media types (e.g., Text, Graphics, Animation, Video, Emulators, Simulators; Augmented Reality);
  8. Design and develop performance assessments;
  9. Identify an evaluation strategy.

(05.2) Learning outcomes will influence which of the five formats of Task Analysis is to be used.

06 The Five Formats of Task Analysis

Select each of the Task Analysis formats, below, for a detailed description.


Graph plotted against X and Y values, producing three clusters.

(06.1.1) A Cluster Task Analysis is used to analyse goals relating to verbal information skills, where no logical order is required to meet the stated goal(s).


(06.1.2) Before conducting a Cluster Analysis, it is essential to confirm no logical order applies to the steps required to meet the goal. Once confirmed, identify the clusters, or categories, of information in each step. Oliver (2002) suggests the following procedure when analysing such goals:

  1. Identify the main concept;
  2. Determine how the knowledge is structured (e.g., parts, kinds, classes);
  3. Identify first-level headings, second-level headings etc.;
  4. Identify anything related to the information being taught.

06.1.3 References


(06.2.1) A Conceptual Graph Analysis is used to analyse goals relating to concepts. This can broadly be thought of as goals relating to the theory or understanding of the way something is done, not doing something.


Image showing the relationship between web and data servers.

(06.2.2) Constructing a Conceptual Graph involves a formal and detailed collection of:

  • Nodes;
  • Relationships and;
  • Questions.

06.2.3 Nodes

Nodes can include concepts, goals, actions to be performed, or events to take place.

06.2.4 Relationships

There are specific relationships for each type of node.

06.2.5 Questions

Probing questions are developed for each type of node.


(06.2.6) A Conceptual Graph Analysis has two (optionally 3) stages1:

  1. Creating a basic Conceptual Graph;
  2. Use probing questions to find deeper information to add to the graph;
  3. Validate the Conceptual Graph: An expert performs the task to search for missing information.

(06.2.7) The six steps to follow, in conducting a Conceptual Graph analysis1, are:

  1. Clarify the uses for the graph information;
  2. Choose a set of situations for the expert to analyse;
  3. Construct the initial graph;
  4. Prepare a list of follow-up questions;
  5. Modify the graph;
  6. Review the final graph.

06.2.8 Reference

1. Jonassen, D. H., Tessmer, M., and Hannum, W. H. (1999)
(External link, opens in a new tab/window). 
Task Analysis Methods for Instructional Design


(06.3.1) A Hierarchical Analysis is used to described tasks executed in sequential steps, each task being a prerequisite to the next.


(06.3.2) In this context, a hierarchy describes the path of experiences a learner must follow to achieve a behaviour that appears higher in the hierarchy1. Instruction is then designed to enable the learner to progress up the hierarchy.


Image showing the process of solving a mathematical problem.

(06.3.3) To construct a hierarchy, a comprehensive list of tasks, comprising a job or function, must be identified. There are three main steps to constructing a hierarchy:

  1. Group the tasks - For inclusion in a group:
    • Select tasks that bear close resemblance to each other;
    • Each task must be included in at least one group, but a task may also be common to more than one group;
    • Label groups with terms that emerge from the job or function being analysed;
    • Initial grouping of tasks may be tentative. The composition of the groups may change as a result of decisions made later. Do not hesitate to re-group tasks when appropriate;
  2. Organise tasks, within each group, according to hierarchical relationships for learning:
    • Ask yourself "What must be learned in order to perform the task?";
    • Having identified essential pre-requisite relationships, re-evaluate the relationship between each pair of tasks by asking "Can a super-ordinate task be performed if the learner cannot perform the sub-ordinate task?" The super-ordinate skill must require the pre-existence of the sub-ordinate skill;
    • The learning types (domains) of the tasks should match horizontally;
  3. Confer with a Subject Matter Expert to determine the hierarchy’s accuracy - This step occurs concurrently with 1 and 2 above.

06.3.4 Reference

1. Seels, B. and Glasgow, Z. (1990)
(External link, opens in a new tab/window). 
Making Instructional Design Decisions, 2nd Edition


(06.4.1) An Information Processing Analysis is used to break-down a goal into its constituent parts, identifying what a student needs to learn to achieve the goal1.


Flow Chart showing the information processed to identify a Rhombus.


(06.4.2) The question to consider is...


"What are the mental and/or physical steps that someone must go through in order to complete this learning task1?"


(06.4.3) Use a defined procedure such as follows:

  1. Collect as much information as possible about the task and the content implied by the goal. Use this to become familiar with the terminology involved. Create a set of questions that could be asked of a Subject Matter Expert;
  2. Re-write the goal in the form of a representative test question;
  3. Ask several individuals who know how to complete the task and do one of the following:
    1. Observe them completing the task and ask them to talk aloud about their thought processes as they complete the task;
    2. Observe them completing the task and record the steps;
    3. Have the individuals record the steps in writing as they complete them, or;
    4. Ask them to simply write down the steps they would use to complete the task. Techniques a) and b) give the most information because experts often forget some of the steps they go through when completing a task;
  4. Review the steps recorded in step 3 and ask questions about the process of completing the task. This will help you to find out the unobservable cognitive knowledge that underlies the expert's behaviour;
  5. If more than one expert was used, review the findings and find the common steps and decision points collected from steps 3 and 4;
  6. Identify the shortest, simplest way to complete the path, noting factors that require this simpler path;
  7. Make notes of factors that may require more steps or more complex steps;
  8. Choose the steps and circumstances that best match the intentions of the goal;
  9. Make a list of the steps and decision points appropriate for the goal;
  10. Confirm the analysis with other experts1.

06.4.4 Reference

1. Smith, P. L., and Ragan, T. J. (1999)
(External link, opens in a new tab/window). 
Instructional Design


(06.5.1) Procedures are strictly defined. Each step is clear and unambiguous to the learner:

  • Procedures can be simple:
    • The learner follows one set of steps in a sequential fashion;
  • Procedures can be complex:
    • having many 'branching' decision-points.

(06.5.2) Regardless of the complexity of the procedure, a Procedural Analysis breaks-down a task (mental or physical) into steps the learner must take to successfully complete the task.


Flow Chart showing the procedure to cook rice.

(06.5.3) The steps (mental or physical) comprising a task are arranged linearly and sequentially, from start to finish. The steps are often illustrated with a flowchart1, or list. Examples of procedural tasks include:

  • Logging-in to a computer;
  • Starting a vehicle and driving away;
  • Sending an e-mail.

06.5.4 Conducting a Procedural Analysis

  1. Confirm the procedure is applicable;
  2. List all steps of the procedure and all decision-points;
  3. Apply the steps, and decision-points, in order;
  4. Ask a Subject Matter Expert to confirm the procedure and end result is correct.2.

06.5.5 Evaluating a Procedural Analysis

  1. Appropriate use of Procedural Analysis;
  2. All steps are included;
  3. All steps stated in performance terms (verbs);
  4. The analysis is valid and accurate;
  5. Appropriate use of, e.g., flowchart.

06.5.6 References

  1. Seels, B. and Glasgow, Z. (1990)
    (External link, opens in a new tab/window). 
    Making Instructional Design Decisions, 2nd Edition
  2. Smith, P. L., and Ragan, T. J. (1999)
    (External link, opens in a new tab/window). 
    Instructional Design

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Any part, or all, of this article may be linked-to or copied for non-commercial purposes. Any linked or copied content to include the following...


Task Analysis (The 5 Basic Formats) and Instructional Design by Tim Cliffe © 1997-2020.


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