COLUMN: HISTORY COLUMN
Revisiting the Historical Roots of Task Analysis in Instructional Design
Stephanie L. Shipley
Jacqueline S. Stephen
Andrew A. Tawfik
Published online: 2 June 2018
Association for Educational Communications & Technology 2018
Defining Task Analysis through Paradigm
Shifts in Education
One of the primary goals of Instructional Design is to con-
struct knowledge resources in a way that is conducive to learn-
ing. This poses a challenge because it requires instructional
designers to create resources and activities in a way that elim-
inates redundancy and information overload. As part of this
process, instructional designers and subject matter experts
align learning objectives and organize content into logical
segments in a way that leads toward knowledge construction.
The process by which a broad set of information is broken
down and chunked into a series of subtasks is especially im-
portant, yet challenging, as we continue to explore innovative
mediums and strategies to transmit information to students.
One tool we as designers often employ includes a task anal-
ysis, whereby we Bbreak a task or job down into its component
parts and identify the actions needed to complete it properly^
(Chan 2009, p. 35). Although its history is multifaceted, our field
often traces the origins of task analysis from objectivist-based
approaches to military task mastery. In this view, knowledge is
external to the learning; therefore, education is designed to reflect
that reality. A pioneer was Gagne (1962), who was highly influ-
ential in training development and its break down of the tasks
into individual steps and set of sequences. Indeed, this coincided
well with a systems approach of training espoused by the United
States military. In the early stages of instructional design, we as a
field used the task analysis to understand performance objectives
and the subset of activities military personnel needed to complete
in order to successfully carry out that task. Over time, the U.S.
military services expanded the original task analysis to include
the development of several jobs and technical analysis methods
(Mitchell and Driskill 1996).
Given structural approach towards accomplishing goals,
this model of education was quickly adopted by our col-
leagues situated within the classroom. During the 1950s and
1960s, Bruner and other leaders focused on the structure of
information and knowledge in order to develop K-12 curricu-
lum (Ertmer and Newby 2013). The task analysis was instru-
mental as it outlined the optimal pathways for learning and
assisted educators as they planned out the sequence of tasks.
In line with objectivism, the task analysis was used as a plan-
ning tool that enabled educators to produce repeatable actions
In the latter part of the century, we in the education field
shifted from behaviorism to constructivism, whereby learners
construct their own knowledge within socially mediated con-
texts. Along with this shift in philosophy, the task analysis
became key in helping us outline the Bblocks^ that supported
learners’ knowledge construction. Given the migration to-
wards constructivism, leaders such as Jonassen et al. (1998)
expanded the purpose of task analyses to be:
1. Determine the instructional objectives.
2. Define and describe in detail the tasks and subtasks that
the student will perform.
3. Specify the knowledge type (declarative, structural, and
procedural knowledge) that characterizes a job or task.
4. Select learning outcomes that are appropriate for instruc-
5. Prioritize and sequence tasks.
6. Determine instructional activities and strategies that foster
7. Select appropriate media and learning environments.
8. Construct performance assessments and evaluation.
As our field has grown to include areas such as human
resources and other performance-driven domains, history
* Stephanie L. Shipley
Jacqueline S. Stephen
Roane State Community College, Harriman, TN, USA
Mercer University, Macon, GA, USA
University of Memphis, Memphis, TN, USA
TechTrends (2018) 62:319–320