Unit 2: Subordinate Skills Analysis

Intro | Clarify | Alternatives | Key Concepts | Summary


After analyzing your instructional goal, your next task is to identify the subordinate skills and entry behaviors necessary to accomplish each step specified in your goal analysis diagram. Designing an entire course or training program goes beyond the scope of this course. Therefore, for this course, you and your team are to conduct a subordinate skills analysis of one step specified in your goal analysis diagram. This will form the basis for your instructional unit.

Using major steps in your goal analysis diagram may, or may not be the most appropriate manner for defining instructional units for a course or training program. You must apply your experience, logic and some common sense to determine the scope and sequence of your instruction.

If you were to design an entire course, you would conduct a subordinate skills analysis of all of the major step identified in your goal analysis diagram. You would then examine your resulting analysis maps, identify logical clusters of skills and knowledge (that becomes your instructional units or modules) and then arrange the clusters in a logical sequence to generate the overall scope and sequence for your instruction.

In Chapter 4 of the course textbook, Dick, Carey and Carey (2015) describe and provide numerous examples of subordinate skills analyses. Therefore, we will limit the supplemental reading to clarifying related terms used by Dick, Carey and Carey (2015), comparing alternative analysis techniques found in the literature (specifically, those described by Jonassen, Tessmer and Hannum in the optional textbook recommended for this course), a reviewing a few key concepts covered by Dick, Carey and Carey.


Clarifying Terms

One of the challenging aspects of applying the systematic design process is that many terms are used interchangeably or appear to have different definitions and uses depending on the author.

To start, keep in mind, when people refer to the Analysis Phase of the systematic design process, they are typically referring to two levels of analysis: (a) an initial analysis (often referred to as a needs assessment, needs analysis, training needs analysis or front-end analysis) to determine the best method for reducing or eliminating a performance problem (that may or may not include training/instruction); and (b) a subsequent set of “Instructional Analysis” if training/instruction is identified as the best way to proceed.

Dick, Carey and Carey (2015) use the term “Instructional Analysis” to refer to a variety of analysis techniques including hierarchical, procedural and content analyses. They also use the terms “Instructional Analysis” and “Subordinate Skills Analysis” interchangeably.

If you adhere to systematic design principles, you apply particular analysis techniques based on the type of learning specified in your instructional goal. For example, on page 77 of the course textbook, Dick, Carey and Carey (2015) recommend applying a Hierarchical Analysis when analyzing an intellectual skill, a psychomotor skill or an attitude, and a Cluster Analysis when analyzing verbal information or an attitude. They also go on to describe how the analysis techniques may be combined to analyze complex goals or goals that address a combination of skills and knowledge. In reality, there are even more analysis techniques published in the instructional design literature than those discussed by Dick, Carey and Carey (2009, 2015).


Alternative Analysis Techniques

Jonassen, Tessmer and Hannum (1999) present a detailed treatment of instructional analysis methods (see optional course textbook). They group a total of 21 specific techniques into five major categories, including: (a) job, procedural and skill analysis methods; (b) instructional and guided learning analysis methods, (c) cognitive task analysis methods, (d) activity-based methods, and (e) subject matter analysis methods.

Again, if you adhere to systematic design principles, you apply particular analysis techniques based on the type of learning specified in your instructional goal. In other words, the classification of your instructional goal yields the information necessary to select an appropriate analysis technique. Jonassen, Tessmer and Hannum’s (1999) taxonomy goes one step further and suggests that the selection of a proper analysis technique may also be based on the type of instruction you want to develop. Table 2.1 lists specific types of analysis techniques that are recommended by Jonassen, Tessmer and Hannum (1999) depending on the classification of the instructional goal or the desired instructional method.

Table 2.1. Recommended analysis technique according to type of goal or instructional method.

Type of Instruction/Goal
Analysis Technique
Performance Support Job Analysis
Procedure Job Analysis
Direct Instruction Learning Analysis
Problem Solving Cognitive Task Analysis
Guided Learning Cognitive Task Analysis
Constructivist Activity-Based Analysis
Content Subject Matter Analysis

If your goal is to enhance job performance or if your goal focuses on teaching someone a procedure or skill, then you should consider applying one of the techniques associated with job, procedural and skill analyses (e.g., job-task analysis, functional job analysis, procedural analysis, subordinate skills analysis). If your goal is to facilitate problem solving, you may want to consider applying cognitive task analysis methods such as cognitive simulation and case-based reasoning techniques. If your goal is to teach specific content information with no inherent logical procedure or process, then subject matter analysis methods, such as cluster, content and conceptual graph analysis methods may be appropriate. Furthermore, instructional analysis methods, such as hierarchical, information processing and learning contingency techniques are suited for generating teacher directed forms of instruction. To develop constructivist learning environments, activity-based analysis methods, such as syntactic or critical incident analysis techniques are recommended (Jonassen et al., 1999).

Knowledge of one analysis technique may be sufficient if the technique happens to match the instructional goal. However, chances are that you will confront a variety of instructional goals throughout your career. Instructional design experts are familiar with a least one technique associated with each major type of learning outcome or type of instruction. With deeper and broader knowledge of analysis techniques, you will be able to address a greater range of instructional situations.

In this course, we neither detail alternative analysis technique nor expect you to apply alternative techniques based on your instructional goal and context. For this course, you are expected to apply a combination of hierarchical, procedural and cluster analyses as discussed and portrayed in the course textbook. A broader treatment of alternative analysis methods are addressed in the advanced design course (EME7634) and are presented in reviews of instructional design models (c.f., Branch & Gustafson, 1997, Andrews and Goodson, 1981).


Review of Key Concepts

Hierarchy of Learning Outcomes

The concept of learning hierarchies (Gagné, 1985) may help you conduct your subordinate skills analysis. Hierarchies suggest that learning outcomes, such as the acquisition of verbal information, and the ability to apply rules and solve problems, may be arranged in order of complexity. For example, to solve a problem may require the application of several rules. To apply a rule may require the use of several procedures and each procedure may require knowledge of some verbal information. Figures 4.1-4.4 on pages 60-61 and 63-65 of the Dick, Carey and Carey (2015) course textbook do a nice job illustrating this point. As you conduct a subordinate skills analysis of one major step from your goal analysis diagram, think in terms of hierarchies. In other words, as you break down each box into it’s component parts, continue asking yourself, “what do learners need to know or be able to do to complete demonstrate this skill?”

Conventions for Diagramming Hierarchical Analysis

Starting at the bottom of page 65 of the course textbook, Dick, Carey and Carey (2015) list conventions for diagramming a hierarchical analysis. For the purposes of this course, and in “real-life,” I recommend following the conventions. In addition, I recommend that you: (a) use separate pages to diagram your goal and subordinate skills analyses; and (b) use different pages to complete a subordinate skills analysis of each major step identified your goal analysis, starting with the major step at the top of each subordinate skills analysis diagram. In other words, do not try to cram goal and subordinate skills analyses on one page. Such efforts often lead to very confusing diagrams. An example of how I separated goal and subordinate skills analysis and depicted them on different pages are provided under the Assignment 2 Description.

Identifying Entry Behaviors

As you continue to break each skill down into its component parts, you may start asking yourself, “When should I stop?” As a general rule, you can stop your analysis when you begin identifying skills and knowledge that learners should have prior to instruction.

For example, let’s say your goal is to have students write a research paper. Sooner or later, if you continue to break down the process into it’s component parts, you will begin to identify basic skills such as, “write a complete sentence,” and “use appropriate punctuation.”

If your target audience is 9 and 10 year old elementary school students, addressing basic skills may be an important part of your instruction. However, if your target audience is high school or college students, chances are that you expect them to have already mastered these skills prior to instruction. In such instances, the basic skills become pre-requisite or entry level behaviors, and your instruction will focus on advanced research or writing skills.

Entry behaviors are depicted by a broken line on your instructional analysis map. For examples, we suggest that you review the process explained by Dick, Carey, and Carey (2015) on pages 73-77.



To design effective instruction, it is important to have a clear picture of what you want your students to know and be able to do. The Subordinate Skills Analysis technique discussed in this unit provides a systematic method for identifying subordinate skills and knowledge necessary to achieve your instructional goal.

It is recognized that there are a variety of analysis techniques and that there are some questions as to the validity of hierarchical methods. This unit attempts to simplify the process, discussed in the related chapter of the course textbook, by combining several techniques into one general procedure that results in the development of subordinate skills analysis diagrams.

The diagrams illustrate the relationship among key subordinate skills and knowledge and identifies entry-level behaviors. They will be used later in the systematic design process to help you generate, cluster and sequence performance objectives for your instructional unit.


Last Updated 08/19/22


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