Task Analysis: Lost In Translation

Posted on

The task analysis is the most important part of instructional design: but what if you have an overly complicated topic? For instance, suppose you have a language that you would like to teach (German, French, Perl, C++), and you want to break it down into usable, manageable chunks for instruction. How would you do it? The idea is daunting; so daunting in fact that many language instructors simply go to the established curriculum design from ages past, and go with it. While it has a proven track record, is it really the way to go?

The analysis should instead be hinged not on what could be taught, but what the end goal is based on. This is called the Problem-Solution document, or a clear declaration of what need you intend to meet and the degree that need will be met. So, with this in mind, the language goal isn't as daunting. Here is an example:

The Problem
Many people do not have a working knowledge of German, and therefore cannot function well within an all German-speaking environment.

The Solution
Provide the learner with basic grammar, vocabulary, and phrases to allow for productive interaction within a German-speaking environment, to the extent that the learner is able to understand basic requests and communicate same.

The above outlines a specific, measurable need: students need to understand basic requests when spoken to them, and communicate those same basic requests in a coherent fashion. Notice, a comprehensive discussion of the language is not required, nor a comprehensive history of the language. Just the basics that can be measured by success in both understanding and communicating with someone in a German environment. Already we have avoided the most common pitfall in most reference books that bill themselves as "learning tools". Learning materials are not course materials, and vice versa. There is a time for detail, and a time for simple instruction.

So, with the goal in mind, we can start our learning process on the following premise: 1) our learners need to understand some basic grammar, 2) our learners need to know come basic vocabulary, 3) our learners need to know how both grammar and vocabulary work together to create a comprehensible phrase. Then, the phrases can be tested to see if the comprehension of our students is where it should be. Now that we have our three "jobs" to accomplish within the course, we can move on to the various tasks that are required to understand the grammar, vocabulary, and phrase utility.

Often times you may hear (or read as the case may be) me complain about instructional books, primarily from the Tech industry. This is because the Tech industry (among others) has been inundated for years by experts that definitely know their stuff, but don't necessarily know how to help others learn. The popular RTFM (read the freaking manual) reply is far too prevalent today, and underlines the lack of willingness to put the effort into education. It may be "funny" to the one posting it, but to those searching out for help it becomes frustration. Either that, or it shows a lack of knowledge that is then hidden behind a mask of superiority. Which do you think comes to mind when I read such a response while looking for a solution?

This is why those in charge of training and education need to step up to the challenge. So many people out there need to understand how to use the new technologies, information, and tools that are available in order to better their own job (and consequently, the rest of the economy), and it is up to educators that are dedicated to developing proper instructional designs to convey this information. Whether it be in a book, online, or in a classroom, the techniques and task analyses are the same.