Here’s how Joe Harless helped me figure things out.
When I took his Job Aid Work Shop, he recommended a technique for analyzing tasks. Joe called this paradigming. It works best on procedural stuff, though I’ve also used it to find my way around very complicated systems.
Section 1: complex theoretical discussion
Each step in an on-the-job task has two parts. (I like to say I’m a Reform Behaviorist, so you might see some behavioral-psych roots here.)
- The stimulus, meaning the starting state.
- The response, or what you do when you perceive the stimulus.
- S: email from Queen Elizabeth (notice: it’s a noun–a thing)
- R: open email (a verb–an action)
The response leads to a new stimulus (opened email) which calls for a new action.
- S: opened email (mail that has been opened—Ss are always nouns)
- R: decide next action
“Decide?” Yes; I use that a lot. It’s a good launch pad for chains of activity or decisions.
- S: “Read text” (the quotes show it’s a decision—a noun)
- S: “Open attachment”
- S: “Forward message”
And so on. More later; one more complex theoretical idea awaits:
In paradigming, there are only three kinds of steps:
the basic chain, the discrimination, and the generalization.
Section 2: three examples
The basic chain is simply a sequence of actions with no decision making.
At a higher level, of course, you might collapse a lot of behavior into a single step:
- S1: Vacant land — R: purchase land.
- S2: Purchased land — R: construct 12,000-square-foot house.
- S3: Completed — R: furnish tastefully.
Sometimes, you need to distinguish between different stimuli that each call for a different response. That’s a discrimination.
Remember, this is a step in a larger process. In the example, the previous step might have been “receipt from purchase” and the response might have been “identify form of payment.”
What you’re discriminating among here are the different possibilities for form of payment. I left some out because the image would get too large, but you’d put in as many stimuli as exist: check, debit card, form not legible, and so on.
The third kind of behavior is generalization: you have more than one stimulus and they all lead to the same response.
Section 3: So what?
For me, paradigming offers several payoffs:
- It’s a great way to track down loose ends and uncertainties in a complicated process.
- It ensures that I don’t forget about something that puzzled me.
- It magically becomes the scaffold for job aids.
I’ll create an example or two of paradigming in action, and of that scaffolding, in another post.