Chapter 4: Identifying Subordinate and Entry Skills

Tip: Choose one or two of the tasks identified in your goal analysis. Then, as you read through the text, find the sections that apply to your task, and work through the subordinate and entry skills analysis for that task. Try out each of the visual methods and the text method and figure out which works best for you.

“After the steps in the goal have been identified, it is necessary to examine each step to determine what learners must know or be able to do before they can learn to perform that step in the goal. This second step in the instructional analysis process is referred to as subordinate skills analysis.” (p.61)

I have called this is the knowledge and skills analysis, because you are taking the subgoal (or task) and breaking it down into the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the task.

“The identification of either too many or too few skills can be a problem.” (p.61)
Knowing your learner is really important for determining the level of detail required in the analysis. My general tip is to go to one level of prerequisite – so, once you hit a prerequisite skill or knowledge, stop.

“The hierarchical analysis approach is used to analyze individual steps in the goal analysis that are classified as intellectual or psychomotor skills.” (p. 62)

“What must the student already know so that, with a minimal amount of instruction, this task can be learned?” (p.62)
This is the question to determine entry skills – that is prerequisite for the course.

“One way to proceed is to ask, ‘What mistake might students make if they were learning this particular skill?'” (p.66)
This is a great question to ask subject matter experts. This information can also be used for creating learning scenarios.

“it may be necessary to modify the goal statement” (p.66)
You will find that you are constantly going back and updating in order to ensure things are in alignment.

“You may also find that you have included skills that are nice to know but are not really required in order to achieve your goal.” (p.66)

“The whole point of using the hierarchical approach is to identify just what the learner must know to be successful—nothing more, and nothing less.” (p.67)
One of the intentions of this type of instructional design is to create efficient training – and that means not including content that is not required in order to meet the instructional goal. That being said, you may find that you need to add content to improve learner motivation, but we deal with that later. For now, we are focused on the minimum information and skills needed to perform the task.

“The steps and substeps are the activities that an expert or a competent person would describe as the steps in the performance. The subordinate skills are not necessarily identified by a competent person when describing the process. These are the skills and knowledge that learners must learn before they can perform the steps in the goal. For example, if you are teaching someone to boil water, one of the steps is “Turn on the burner.” One of the subordinate skills for that step is “Identify examples of burners.” If you were actually boiling water, you would never say, “This is the burner”; you would simply put the pan with the water on the burner. Obviously, you must recognize a burner, but verbally identifying it is not a step in the process of boiling water.” (p.67)

This gets to the heart of the difference between the task (or subgoal) and the knowledge / skill analysis. However this can feel like a fuzzy line – and in some cases it is. But in cases of the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (such as identify and describe) – these are definitely things that happen as part of the knowledge / skills analysis not the task / subgoal analysis.

“It is sometimes embarrassing for teacher–designers to find that when instructional analysis techniques are used, an instructional goal that they have often taught and for which they would like to develop systematically designed instruction is, in fact, simply verbal information. They can feel guilty that they are not teaching rules and problem solving, but this guilt is sometimes misplaced. There are times when the acquisition of verbal information is critically important. ” (p.68)

Verbal information is an interesting thing. We try to avoid too much of it, as it does not involve the application of the information – however, there are times when you just need students to now. For example, in language learning, students need to memorize certain vocabulary. There is no getting around that verbal information. It is not a bad thing. It is a reality in the design process.

“Why is the instructional analysis process so critical to the design of instruction? It is a process the instructional designer can use to identify those skills really needed by the student to achieve the terminal objective as well as to help exclude unnecessary skills.” (p.72)

The process can be used with subject matter experts when you do not understand the topic. It is also hugely valuable when you are trying to explain to someone why you are not including certain content in the course.

“Recall that we introduced the topics of job analysis and job task analysis in Chapter Two. There is a methodology called cognitive task analysis (CTA) that belongs with the concepts of job analysis and job task analysis fits into our discussion in this chapter on identifying subordinate skills. Practitioners developed CTA methods because they understood that there are many mental processes going on inside an employee’s head when performing a complex job, and that much of this processing could not be detected by simple observation of the employee performing the tasks. Some mentally challenging tasks may even be performed totally in the mind of the employee and could result in nothing more than a single new line of computer code, or a verbal statement such as ‘Insert that needle right here!'” (p.72)

There is something called Think Aloud Protocol that is used in a variety of settings such as user interface testing and research – where the participant is asked to say out loud everything that they are thinking while they perform a task. This helps to identify those hidden steps in the process.

“Because CTA can be expensive and time consuming, it is often applied in the development of more complex types of training and human factors solutions, such as electronic performance support systems, training simulators, human–machine and human–computer interface designs, and computer-based simulations and expert systems.” (p.73)

“It helps the designer identify exactly what learners must already know or be able to do before they begin the instruction, called entry skills because learners must already have mastered them in order to learn the new skills included in the instruction.” (p.73)

“It is important to make a distinction between the target population and what we refer to as tryout learners . The target population is an abstract representation of the widest possible range of users, such as college students, fifth graders, or adults. Tryout learners, in contrast, are learners available to the designer while the instruction is being developed. It is assumed that these tryout learners are members of the target population—that is, they are college students, fifth graders, and adults, respectively. However, the tryout learners are specific college students, fifth graders, or adults. While the designer is preparing the instruction for the target population, the tryout learners serve as representatives of that group in order to plan the instruction and to determine how well the instruction works after it is developed.” (p.96-97)


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Foundations of Instructional Design by Rebecca J. Hogue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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