What is a task breakdown? And why use it in VET?

I have found that some people studying for their TAE40116 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification struggle with understanding what a task breakdown is, and how to develop a task breakdown. In this article, I aim to answer the following questions:

  • What is a task breakdown?
  • How can a task breakdown be developed?
  • When can a task breakdown be used?

Where do we start

Australia’s VET system is competency-based. A primary objective of VET is to help people learn how to perform work tasks and activities.

The four stages of competence, also known as the ‘conscious competence learning model’, describes the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in performing a task or activity. [1]

Stage 1. Unconscious incompetence

At this ‘unconscious incompetence’ stage, a person is unaware of their inability to perform a particular task or activity.

Stage 2. Conscious incompetence

At the ‘conscious incompetence’ stage, a person becomes aware that they are unable to perform a particular task or activity.

Stage 3. Conscious competence

A person who is aware of their incompetence may decide it is worth their time and effort to learn how to perform the particular task or activity. At the ‘conscious competence’ stage, the person can perform the task but they will require concentration and may need to think about each step.

Stage 4. Unconscious competence

In the final stage of ‘unconscious competence’, performing the task becomes second nature because the person has learnt and practiced performing the task so much. They can perform the task easily and without thinking about it. As a result, the task may be performed while executing another task.

An experienced or skilled worker often performs many work tasks and activities without needing to think about how or what to do.

Becoming conscious again

As a trainer, we often have mastered skills and we are no longer conscious about how we perform work tasks or activities. We just do it.

But as a trainer, we must explain and demonstrate to others how to perform work tasks, and to do this we have to again become conscious about the steps required to perform the task. The development of a task breakdown is a method that helps us become conscious again about how to perform a work task or activity.

A task breakdown is a step-by-step description about how to perform a task. It may also be known as a procedure or work instructions.

What is a task breakdown?

A ‘task breakdown’ is a document that breaks down a task. It describes the steps in a logical sequence to perform the particular work task or activity.

I use three analogies to help people understand and appreciate the value of a task breakdown: Lego instructions, Ikea instructions, and a cooking recipe.

The following three examples have three common features:

  • Steps are numbered
  • Illustrations are used to visually communicate
  • The outcome or result is shown.

Lego instructions

Ikea instructions

Cooking recipe

How can a task breakdown be developed?

Use the following six steps to develop a task breakdown.

Step 1. Create 3-column table

Open a new Microsoft Word document and create a 3-column table. For example:

Step 2. Add table headings and adjust column width

The following illustrates the recommended layout and format for the task breakdown. For example:

Note: Layout and format can be modified later, if required.

Step 3. Enter step numbers

Use the first column to enter step numbers. The numbers imply a logical sequence to followed, and repeatedly use the word ‘step’ because this reinforces that each row is a step to be performed. For example:

Note: Table rows can be added or removed later, as required.

Step 4. Write brief description for each step

Perform the task or observe someone performing the task. Write a brief description for each step. For example:

Step 5. Write explanations

Write a clear and concise explanation for each step. Use illustrations, diagrams, and photos to show examples. Do not decorate or use unnecessary visuals. For example:

Important note: Remember to highlight safety requirements for the task or for a particular step.

Step 6. Review and finalise task breakdown

Ask someone to use your draft task breakdown to perform the task. Observe the person performing the task, checking the sequence of steps, and seek feedback about readability.

Check your task breakdown for grammar and spelling. Add task title, version control, and page numbers before finalising the document. For example:

Download the finished product

You can download a PDF version of the finished task breakdown for creating a task breakdown from here.

When can a task breakdown be used?

The task breakdown has multiple uses:

  • Used as a planning tool to identify required knowledge, required skills, safety requirements, and resources required to perform a task
  • Used to explain the process or performance of the task
  • Used to demonstrate the process or performance of the task
  • Used by the learner to guide them when they learn or practice performing the task
  • Used to check or assess the performance of the task
  • Used as a diagnostic tool when a person is struggling with learning or performing the task (used to identify what step the learner is stuck on).

Training session plan

A task breakdown describes a task. A session plan is used to describe the training to be delivered. The task breakdown should not make reference to the training process. It should only describes the work task or activity.

A training session plan can be developed based on the steps described by the task breakdown.

Observation checklist

A task breakdown can be converted into an observation checklist. For example:

A procedure that can be used in the workplace

A task breakdown should be written to guide performance of a work task or activity. It should describe the step-by-step procedure to be followed in a training environment or in a real workplace. The task breakdown should be the procedure to follow, no matter where the task is performed.

In conclusion

Creating a task breakdown is a basic skill that all trainers and TAFE teachers must have. A task breakdown describes the steps in a logical sequence to perform a particular work task or activity.

A task breakdown has a multitude of uses:

  • Used by the trainer as a planning tool
  • Used by the trainer when explaining and demonstrating the performance of the task
  • Used by the learner to guide them when they learn or practice performing the task
  • Used by the trainer when checking or assessing the performance of the task
  • Used by the trainer as a diagnostic tool.

Reference

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence accessed 18 May 2021

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Training trainers since 1986

Author: Alan Maguire

35+ years experience as a trainer, instructional designer, quality manager, project manager, program manager, RTO auditor, RTO manager and VET adviser.

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