Before Training Needs Analysis (TNA) – Task analysis

Small steps to training needs analysis

Task analysis A “job task analysis” is widely recognised as the foundation of successful training. Before managers can train their employees, they must decide what the individuals need to be able to do.A task analysis breaks down a complex task into its components—that is, its “knowledge that”, “knowledge what” and its “knowledge how”.

Before conducting any training needs analysis we need to understand the task we are asking the individual(s) to do. Often if we ‘identify needs’ we make assumptions about what is needed and as a result training just misses the spot. How do we know? – simple we need to retrain shortly afterwards. If we got it right first time then performance would improve and re-training would not be necessary.

A task analysis is the process to explore the required job or task in detail – step-by-step. One reason why many do not do this is that it is to some tedious and boring – and they are right. But it does make the difference between an effective training solution and an ineffective one.

Why do a task analysis?

“Task analysis for training design is a process of analysing the kind of skills and knowledge that you expect the learners to know how to perform” (Jonassen, Tessmer & Hannum, 1999, p.3).

A task analysis can help us to:

  1. Determine the learning goals and objectives;
  2. Define and describe in detail the tasks and sub-tasks that the employee will perform;
  3. Specify the knowledge type (declarative, structural, and procedural knowledge) that characterise a job or task;
  4. Select learning outcomes that are appropriate for training;
  5. Prioritise and sequence tasks;
  6. Determine learning activities and strategies that foster the required development;
  7. Select appropriate media and learning environments;
  8. Construct performance assessments and evaluation (Jonassen et al., 1999).

Tools and processes for task analysis

There are many available, we have shortlisted a few for your consideration:

Procedural analysis

Learning goals that are procedures are the easiest goals upon which to conduct an instructional analysis. Generally, application of procedures involves these steps:

  1. Determine whether a particular procedure is applicable.
  2. Recall the steps of the procedure.
  3. Apply the steps in order, with decision steps if required.
  4. Confirm that the end result is reasonable.

(From Smith & Ragan, 1999)

Hierarchical analysis

The starting point for constructing a hierarchy is a comprehensive list of the tasks that make up a job or function. There are three major steps to constructing a hierarchy:

  1. Cluster or 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 of the groups, but a task may also be common to several groups. Label the groups with terms that emerge from the job or function being analysed. Initial clustering or grouping of tasks may be tentative. The composition of the groups may change as a result of decisions you make later on. Do not hesitate to regroup tasks when it seems appropriate.
  2. Organise tasks within each group to show the hierarchical relationships for learning. Ask yourself “What would the learner have to learn in order to do this task?” Once the essential prerequisite relationships are shown, reevaluate the relationship between each pair of tasks with the question “Can this superordinate task be performed if the learner cannot perform this subordinate task?” The lower level skill must be integrally related to the higher-level skill. The learning types of the tasks should match horizontally.
  3. Confer with a subject matter expert (SME) to determine the hierarchy’s accuracy. This step occurs concurrently with Steps 1 and 2.

(Seels & Glasgow, 1990)

Step-by-Step – a template

A task analysis is just what is says – a step by step review of the individual pieces of work to be undertaken, what skills are required and what knowledge.

Step Task Skill: Knowledge
Number What is the step/ task to be done? What skills are required to complete this element? What knowledge is required to complete this step effectively?

A task analysis can be a thankless and boring activity, however, when done can mean the difference between effective and ineffective training.


Some references that may be of value:

Shepherd, A. (1985) Hierarchical task analysis and training decisions. Programmed Learning and Educational Technology

Nielsen, J (1994) Extending Task Analysis to Predict Things People May Want to Do

Management and Leadership development are importent to you and of course to the team here at RapidBI. We hope you find this information valuable, if you do please tweet or facebook like this page. Thanks

Check Out Mike Morrison's Book on Organizational Development - Theory and Practice, for tools and tips on developing organizations, managers and leaders on Amazon and Kindle

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About Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison is a consultant and change agent specialising in developing skills in senior people to increase organizational performance.
Mike is also founder & director of RapidBI, an organizational effectiveness consultancy.


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  6. What I timely post. I am in the process of doing an anaysis on the systems we have in place so we can become more efficient. I assume this would apply to any task I want to analize.

    • Hi Julia, yes in principle the same process applies to all tasks that we ned to undertake a training needs analysis for.
      Good luck and let us know how it goes

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  8. @kierenharrold i just found this too. it may help as well

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