While I argue strongly for stepping away more frequently from formally structured learning, not least because we overuse it, there are times when it is crucial. As naysayers of informal learning like to point out, you wouldn’t want your pilot or heart surgeon to have picked up the task by reading a book. When performance is critical, you really want to understand what the important elements are, whether to train them or provide support.
A technique for doing that is Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA). This is not a shortcut, it’s deep in terms of the knowledge elicitation techniques, the analytical task, and the representation of results. Based in decades of cognitive research, integrating work on mental models, expertise, and more, it provides a mechanism to try to unearth the tacit understanding experts hold. Because experts compile away their knowledge to the point that they no longer have access to it, it is hard to get at this knowledge, and it takes a rigorous process.
While useful for system design, CTA is also valuable for designing performance support, and training. The deep elicitation process can derive what the task really is, and what should be in the learner’s head and what support can and should be available. When I talk about the performance ecosystem, particularly for complex tasks, you want just this sort of support to determine what should be distributed across formal learning and performance support.
One of the problems with CTA is that there have been a number of different approaches, and they tend to be buried in academic papers or proprietary processes. The good news is that there’s now a book about CTA, Working Minds, by Beth Crandall, Gary Klein, & Robert Hoffman, academics and practitioners. It boils down the divergence into a fairly reasonable set of steps, with techniques that can be used at each stage. The bad news is, of course, that it still is a daunting read, with considerable depth.
If you’ve got performances that absolutely have to be right, you’ll want to do the analysis ala CTA, and use it to decide what really needs to be in training, checklists, etc. This goes deeper than HPT even, tho’ I think it’s as weak when it comes to the benefits of social learning, but I reckon it’s for expert *performance*, not innovation. That’s another layer. Still, a valuable tool in the quiver of supporting performance.
Please at least understand what CTA is, and know when you need it. You may not need to be an expert in it, but you should at least be aware.