What is Task Design and why is it important?

This is the first blog in a series on Task Design.

What is task design?

Task Design may sound unfamiliar to you, but it is rather self-explanatory. While I have defined it in the past as the ‘thoughtful ideation of tasks that learners will engage with’ or ‘the process that refers to the principles and procedures by which tasks are designed’, put simply, it refers to the designing of learning tasks.

Although the concept is rarely referred to explicitly, task design usually occurs during the time spent planning lessons or designing curricula. Despite its obvious reference to the part of a lesson where pupils apply knowledge or skill independently (i.e., the task), the term is best thought of as falling within the wider remit of instructional design.

While instruction and task can be considered distinctly separate entities, the line between them is often blurred. For example, ‘scaffolding’ is a technique we may use within our instruction, but could also easily factor into how a task is designed and approached.

Such ambiguity between the strategies employed during instruction and task perhaps travels some distance in explaining why there is limited literature on ‘task design’ specifically. Notwithstanding, the literature that does exist usually refers exclusively to the teaching of mathematics or languages.

Teaching and learning can be considered a linear process:

Instruction >>>>> task >>>>> assessment

However, as with any design process, the process is better thought of as ongoing and non-linear, as the triquetra below depicts:

Like any design process, tasks require an initial design (planning), a testing phase (classroom implementation) and a subsequent revision of the original design (re-planning: perhaps when that same lesson is next taught). While our initial designs are governed by our didactical inclinations, our revision of a task’s design is dictated by the success of its implementation, the learner’s interpretation of it and their approach towards it (these last two can also factor in the initial design). 

Why is task design important?

I believe the importance to, at least, be fourfold:

  1. Task design helps to facilitate the congruence between instruction, task and assessment as shown above in the triquetra.
  2. Without the careful deliberation into which task will be used and how it will be implemented, we run the risk of ineffective tasks and therefore unsuccessful learning opportunities.
  3. Considering the task design process during lesson or curriculum planning may facilitate better discussion between departments, year groups, schools in a trust etc. This, in turn, leads to more effective tasks.
  4. At its heart, task design encourages advocacy of the learner. It demands that we consider the learner’s perspective (e.g., of prior knowledge, how the learner may attempt the task itself, what the learner should or will think about during the task attempt etc).

The next blog in this task design series looks at the purpose of a task.

Published by mrmorgsthoughts

AHT for Teaching and Learning, and Assessment

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