How to do a Training Task Analysis

A task analysis is a process of documenting a task, step-by-step. The ability to do a task analysis is a crucial skill for instructional designers and training developers. After all, training, at its core, is teaching people how to do tasks. To train a learner to complete a specific task, you must first define how the task is done: this is the task analysis. 

Even a seemingly straightforward task, such as making a pot of coffee, can have many steps and decision points.

  1. Fill the reservoir with water
  2. Insert a coffee filter 
  3. Add ground coffee to the removable filter basket
  4. Close the lid
  5. Place the glass decanter on the burner
  6. Press the “On” switch 

There could be even more steps in the process if you were to include how to grind the coffee beans and measure the correct amount. Or, if you were using a fancy coffee-maker with many buttons, bells, and whistles. Needless to say, even the most basic of tasks has more to it than we often realize. 

Task analysis involves working with a Subject Matter Expert to specify the task, its sub-tasks, and the steps within it. Let’s take a closer look at how this is done with an example. Let’s say you’re an Instructional Designer working for a retail business that has several stores. You’ve been asked to build training for new hires on how to do the following task: “Close the store”.  

Step 1: Identify the task 

The first step to the task analysis is to identify the specific task that will be analyzed. A task is defined as “a piece of work to be done”. In this case, closing the store for the day is the task in question. Remember: tasks should always start with an action verb!

Step 2: Identify the sub-tasks 

Once you’ve identified the high-level task, you can start to look at the sub-tasks that are included within it. Sub-tasks are the smaller processes that are included within the larger task, and each sub-task should also start with an action verb. Let’s take a look at some of the sub-tasks involved in closing the store: 

  1. Clean the store
  2. Restock the shelves
  3. Close the register
  4. Lock up the store 

The number of sub-tasks to include will vary depending on the task, as well as how granular and specific you want the training to be. Work with a Subject Matter Expert to identify the sub-tasks to include.

Step 3: Identify the steps 

This is where you get into the details and specifics of how to carry out the sub-tasks identified above. Steps, just like tasks and sub-tasks, should always start with an action verb. Let’s break down our sub-tasks into steps:

Close the store

  1. Clean the store 
    • Mop the floors 
    • Wipe down the countertops
  2. Restock the shelves
    • Re-stock items that are low
    • Face items on shelves
  3. Close the register
    • Shut down the Point of Sale (POS) system
    • Put away the POS equipment
  4. Lock up the store
    • Turn off the lights
    • Lock the front and back doors
    • Activate the alarm system 

One of the challenges of being an instructional designer is deciding how prescriptive you want to be with the steps, and how much detail you want to include. This will largely depend on the specifics of the project and your audience, so don’t forget to complete a thorough audience analysis (read more: 20 Questions to Include in an Audience Analysis). 

Completing a task analysis is a straightforward activity that involves breaking a process down into its step-by-step activities. The ability to complete a task analysis will go a long way in helping you build meaningful and relevant training.

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