Task Analysis or “How DO you do that?”

This will be a short and sweet post! Yesterday I was asked if I knew the location of a video produced by BSU OPWL on “scalaring.” The term was new to my learned colleagues at BSU so I had to translate it into normal speak and explain it is a task analysis method. My curious mind wondered why they didn’t know this term, so ingrained in my own vocabulary.

Task analysis is defined bu Businessdictionary,com as:

“the systematic identification of the fundamental elements of a job, and examination of knowledge and skills required for the job’s performance. This information is used in human resource management for developing institutional objectives, training programs, and evaluation tools. See also activity analysis, job analysis, and performance analysis.”

In my time working in the Canadian military training system we used “scalaring” to assist in completing a task analysis. This often results in a wall full of post-it notes that provide a visual breakdown of the tasks and how they are grouped into performance objectives, “duty areas” (groups of related tasks) and then specific jobs.

Photo: Future Training Development Officers (TDOs) learning the art of Task Analysis. Courtesy of Maj John Wyville Canadian Forces Training Development Center

I am not aware of the history behind the military use of the term scalar or its verb form “scalaring” which obviously hasn’t taken off like “googling” something. A brief search on the web leads me to believe this is a unique to the military training realm as everywhere else I looked it is related to mathematics, computing or physics.

The Canadian Forces Individual Training and Education System manual Design of Instructional Programmes describes a scalar diagram as:

The recommended means of conducting and documenting an instructional analysis. [my emphasis] A scalar diagram clearly defines the overall structure of the course content by graphically illustrating the hierarchy of Enabling Objectives (EO’s) and teaching points for each Performance Objective (PO).

The video in question on Task Analysis performed by Dr.’s Don Stepich and Steve Villachica. One of the great challenges in task analysis is getting the expert to fully explain all the required knowledge, skill and abilities involved in successful task completion. The BSU video below provides a great demonstration of an expert analyst – Steve on the left, asking a Subject Matter Expert – Don on the right, all the probing questions needed to thoroughly deconstruct a task.

I thought rather than lose this video link in my digital pile of reference material, a quick blog post would make it simpler for me (and you) to find in the future.

UPDATE: Dr. Steve V (in his comments below) pointed out what I should have concluded with… I was in a rush. It was Friday! In conclusion, this is another great example where language matters! Scalaring in the military context is meant as an instructional design method, while task analysis comes before instructional design and as Steve says, aims to “provide an accurate, complete, and authentic representation of exemplary performance.”  THANKS Steve!!


A-P9-050-000/PT-004, Manual of Individual Training and Education, Volume 4, Design of Instructional Programmes.

task analysis. BusinessDictionary.com. Retrieved January 06, 2018, from BusinessDictionary.com website: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/task-analysis.html

16 thoughts on “Task Analysis or “How DO you do that?”

  1. Hi, Brett.

    In my experience, task analysis seeks to provide an accurate, complete, and authentic representation of exemplary performance. The scalaring technique you describe seems to be akin to a learning hierarchy analysis generating performance and enabling objectives.



    1. Hi Steve

      Thanks for the comment! You are absolutely correct. The (now defunct) manual on Instructions analysis for the CAF Training System states:

      “Scalars are the recommended means of conducting and documenting an instructional analysis. A scalar diagram clearly defines the overall structure
      of the course content by graphically illustrating the hierarchy of EOs and teaching points for each PO. An example of a scalar and its development is
      given in Annex B. Convenient tools for developing these diagrams are cards, “yellow stickies” or organization chart software.”

      In the CAF – the task analysis is conducted by a separate group in Ottawa called Director General Personnel Requirements (DGPR). In my haste to make the blog post, I neglected to conclude that the military scalaring and BSU Task Analysis methodologies are in fact two different methods done at two different times in the process. I am rectifying that now!


  2. I just now got to this post Brett and have to say I expect to be changing a light socket in just a few weeks – plus – taking a different approach to my methodology in creating task analysis documentation that may actually become useful. Thanks for the insights!


  3. Thanks from a BSU classmate for your capture and summary of instructional scalar. I’m developing an instructor handbook to explain the various support documents to new instructors for a particular product. There’s a complicated table with the title “Scalar” and not much description on how to interpret it.

    You made my work day better!


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