Instructional design/Task analysis/What is HTA?

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What exactly is a hierarchical task analysis?

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If you look up the definition of HTA, it might confuse you more when it talks about goals and subordinate goals... yadda, yadda, yadda. It always bothers me when I find a definition that uses the word I am looking up in the definition. Yes, I found the word hierarchy to be in most definitions of hierarchical task analysis.

Don't worry. Essentially, an HTA consists of starting with something to be completed (at the top) and breaking it down into smaller things to be completed (at the bottom). Therefore, it is known as a top-down process.

That sounds simple. Right? It actually is simple, but there is a systematic approach to completing an HTA. Before jumping feet first into the inner workings of it all, take a look at the simple graphic below. The flow of an HTA is easy to follow and redundant. Those two characteristics are by design and serve as the foundation of the HTA's function. Once an HTA is complete, the results should be easy to follow. The path you followed to complete one portion should be the same to complete the other portions.

This image shows how a task can be broken into smaller components starting at the top, working your way down. Recreating the task will be done in the opposite direction--starting at the bottom, working your up to the big idea.

Yea, so... what else is great about it?

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Let's look at some advantages:

  • It allows for easy comparison among multiple task analyses of the same goal
  • A completed task analysis will provide a springboard for a needs assessment
  • Since HTA is conducted through observation, the observer will minimally interfere with the activity and worker.

In the name of fairness, we should also consider a disadvantage:

  • While interference may be minimal during observation, the before and after observation takes time from the worker which he/she could be using to complete other responsibilities.

The approach to completing an HTA will be explained in more detail during section 4--How HTA Works.

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