Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Marc Gold: Task Analysis

Marc Gold

Marc Gold began his career as a special education teacher in Los Angeles. It was there that he formulated a values based systematic training approach, "Try Another Way." This approach was based on a few fundamental beliefs: Everyone can learn but we have to figure out how to teach; students with developmental disabilities have much more potential than anyone realizes; and all people with disabilities should have the opportunity to decide how to live their lives. These video segments demonstrate his philosophy, and the respect and value he placed on the abilities of each of his students.

Task Analysis

The expression "task analysis" is used by many different people to mean many different things. Task analysis used in this film series refers to the particular system presented here which has been designed for training individuals who find it difficult.

Other systems developed by other people and in most cases with other populations in mind, should be viewed as other possible systems to be used for designing training strategies.

Task analysis is defined here is all of the activity which results in there being sufficient power for the learner to acquire the task. The more difficult it is to someone to acquire the task, the more power the trainer must utilize. That is, the more sophisticated the procedures must be.

There are 3 major components to this task analysis system:
  and Process

Method refers to the way the task is done. When you saw Melissa make the bed, you saw her use one method. Here's a different method: with this method there are different demands on the person making the bed. When the bed's finished; it's the same bed. 

Alternative methods, the number of them really is a function of the creativity and experience of the person doing the task analysis. For more familiar tasks it's more difficult to come up with a variety methods because we tend to tune into the methods that we are used to rather than realize the number of alternatives that might be available for some of the people that are difficult to train on tasks such as this. 

Content refers to the steps into which the task is divided. Content task analysis means breaking a task into teachable components.

If we were going to do a task analysis of drinking this glass of cola and we were going to use a person that had muscle tone but no muscle use of one hand content task analysis might look like this; move the hand over, open the hand, take the glass, move it into the hand, close the fingers, lift it, bring it up, tilt, drink, straighten it out again, move it back to the table, release the fingers, and move the hand away. The number of steps we divide the task into is really arbitrary.

We could divide that into fewer steps or many, many more steps if we wanted to. Teachable components which will be discussed later, depends on a decision on the part of the trainer, that can then be looked at more carefully later on during the training session.

Process task analysis means designing strategies for teaching the content.  Process refers to the way in which the task is taught.

There are two subdivisions to process:  Format and feedback. Format refers to the presentation of content.

One example of format is backward chaining. That's where you teach the person the last step of the task until he learns it, and then the next to the last and so forth.

For instance, I might do the first part, the second part, the third part, and then bring the person in to do the last part until he knows it. And then perhaps 3 or 4 times perfect, and we'll bypass that here. Then what I might do, is to go to another step further along.

Another format is total task. That's where the person does the entire task every time and assistance and errors drop away as learning goes on. Notice that the block was turned up on its edge, so there's some learning going on. Provide enough information that the task continues to grow. Oh Look at that! This is a match to sample task. It's used for single pieces of learning. For instance which one of these is like this one? Try another one, try another one. That's the one! OK look at this one, now look at these, real good.  Which one is it? Look carefully, YES!

Part of any training program, are the decisions related to how you know that the learner knows what you want him to know. We call this criterion. We have two definitions for criterion.

First of all criterion is an arbitrary predetermined point at which you assume learning has taken place. That means that before the learning occurs you say when a person has done it 8 times in a row without any mistakes and without any help, I'm going to say he's learned it. That's the first step.

The second definition of criterion in this system is the criterion for any piece of learning must be repeated demonstration of the behavior under the circumstance where you ultimately expect it to occur.

It doesn't do any good if you teach a child to brush his teeth in a classroom if everyday when he leaves the house somebody sneaks on in and feels his tooth brush and its dry and then you run on over the school and you say "Hi Fred" and he says "hi" and you go BOOM and slam him down on the ground and his teeth look like mountain greenery.

If you want a piece of learning that's going to work, and that you know was worth putting in there make sure it works where it was that you wanted it to work in the first place. That's the second definition of criterion.

Another issue is data collection. The data collection form used in our research consists of rows and columns as can be seen here. Each row represents one trial. That is one completed cycle of all of the steps into which the task has been divided.

Time is also useful information and a column is provided for it on the form. For our purposes, plus and minus signs are used to describe learner performance on each step.

Inspection of the data collection form provides a clear picture of the learner's activities. If you look at the rows, you see how the learner is doing at any point on the entire task. If you look at the columns you see which particular steps the learner is having trouble with, and how he's doing on those particular steps.

There are many different kinds of data collection forms. For example the one developed by Ogden Linsley which looks complicated at first, but really can be used successfully by parents, paraprofessionals, and other people who have not had a great deal of formal training. The particular form that you use depends on the task that you are working with, and the people that are using the form. The complete task analysis system consists of seven phases.

Phase 1: Method – How is the task going to be done?

Phase 2: Content – How will I subdivide that method into teachable units?

Sometimes these two have to be reversed. With an unfamiliar task, sometimes you have to sit and go through the pieces and after you've established the pieces, then you look back and see that that's the method.  That's the whole thing. 

With more familiar tasks you say "I think, I think this how I'll put the pair of pants on," and then you decide what the steps will be for doing that thing. 

Phase 3: Process – What format shall I use to teach this content, and what kinds of feedback shall I use?

Phase 4: Train – By the time you've got all of this, its about time you sat down and started teaching. Somewhere along the line though you're going to say, "You know, he's not learning." This allows you come back in and make new decisions.

Take Phase 5. – Re-Do the Process task analysis. The first question that's asked there is, "Is there a format I can use that I haven't used that might get these people to learn?" In a previous part of this film we've tried teaching this task using a total task presentation.

In this case the total task presentation didn't work so we're going to try a backward chaining format instead of the total task presentation. Let's see what we get. Okay, maybe we won't get anything but we just might after all.

OK baby lets try it,

(Marc starts working with a very young girl with a disability trying to set up wooden blocks)

(Marc starts working a very young boy with disability trying to put on a coat)

The second question you ask in Phase 5 is, "what forms of feedback might I provide that I hadn't planned on?"

If you've been using nonverbal feedback, placing people's fingers in positions, etc. etc. you might try using some language.  If you've been using verbal feedback, saying, "Put your hand on the round part" you might try something else.

In any case the question is, "Can I find a way of letting him know what I want that I haven't tried yet?" When the trainer decides to move to Phase 6, the question is, "How can I subdivide a step that a person is having difficulty with into teachable components?" If someone is not getting something, then obviously it's not teachable.

When we talked about the glass before, you remember step one was to move the hand into position, step two was to open it, step three was to move the glass into it. Let's that we had a person that did steps 1 and 2 fine, when it came to step 3, knock the glass off, put his fingers in it, one way or another could not handle the step of moving over. Well maybe that isn't one step. Maybe it's more than one step. We might have to say that the next step is to put this hand here, then open it, then slide it into position, then close it, then move it over. Those might be teachable components for this person who couldn't handle all of that alone. That's Phase 6.

Let's say that there's some people who don't learn the task after you've redone a content task analysis. Phase 7 asks the question, "Is there a completely different way of doing this task than we've been doing?" Remember of course that if you re-do the method, if you redo the way you do the task itself, that will require going back to Phase 2 and that is doing another content task analysis or a new content task analysis on this new method.

If we use putting on a coat as an example, then one method of putting on a coat is to put one arm in the sleeve and then find the rest. If it turns out that that's a problem, which it seems to be here, one possible alternative if you've tried to teach that method and it hasn't worked is to try a whole different method of putting on coats. Let's try a different one with John, John has never seen this before and see what we get. Here you go.  John come on over here. Let's put that down there, and sneak the ol' hands up in the sleeves there. Up over the head.

(Mark continues to work with a young boy trying to teach him to put on his coat)

Almost any task has a number of different methods for doing them. For each of those methods there are an infinite variety of opportunities to further subdivide into teachable components.

If there are many different methods and many different ways of subdividing those into smaller and smaller pieces, then in this system failure is the most difficult task of all.

(Marc is still teaching the boy to put on his coat)

Ready to give it the flip?  OK here we go!

(The boy succeeds in putting his coat on another way)

In many training systems one is lead to believe that all that has to be done is learn the rules and follow the procedures.

This is probably not really the case for any existing system. Certainly not this one. 

As this system of task analysis is laid out it will become more and more evident that a complex interaction exists between the technology developed to this point, and the clinical decisions and judgments of the persons using this technology.

This is not seen as a weakness of the system but as strength. While there is a commitment to continually increase the number of rules and decisions that can be made available for each decision point in a training situation. It is also seen as an integral part of this system that the trainers judgment be used to provide the rules for using the rules.

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This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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