06.02.2015
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THE TASK DESIGN MATRIX: A COACH’S GUIDE TO DESIGNING HIGHLY EFFECTIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

post by Corey Lundberg & Matt Wilson

THE TASK DESIGN MATRIX: A COACH’S GUIDE TO DESIGNING HIGHLY EFFECTIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

Of the learning concepts we’ve studied, Mark Guadagnoli and Tim Lee’s Challenge Point Framework is one we’ve seen employed by almost everyone one of our favorite coaches.  If you’re not familiar, the basic idea is that if a golfer can find a practice activity that has the right amount of task difficulty for their particular skill level, they arrive at the optimal challenge point where learning is maximized.  For an up-close look at how an expert coach employs this concept, check out Cameron McCormick’s High Performance Coaching Training Space at Edufii.  In many of our posts we’ve referenced the desire to have our golfers operate at the brink of their ability level— Guadagnoli’s Challenge Point Framework and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Model are certainly the inspiration for that core tenant of our coaching.

flow-and-challenge-point

The success we’ve witnessed with these concepts led us to contemplate if there was a way we could attack the learning environment in a similarly organized fashion.  Are there elements of the learning environment that we could focus on that would direct us towards the most optimal lesson activities?  If so, we could reference this framework to design lessons that are located at their ‘sweetspot’ for skill development.

Those questions led to the Task Design Matrix.  For the last few weeks we have used this to plan our coaching sessions to help us determine tasks that will impact ‘on-course performance’ the most.  Essentially, it’s been a decision-making tool to reference when designing a lesson plan that points us towards an optimal learning environment.

It’s still a work in progress, but our positive interactions with the process have given us the confidence to share the concept in hopes that it may resonate with the Curious Coaches reader.  Below we dive a little deeper into practical application and how you could manipulate key elements to plot the best course of action for a coaching session.
task-matrix-only
One basic assumption for the framework is that everyone develops at different rates and responds differently to training.  If the coach is unable to adapt the learning environment to the needs of the student on a given day, instead of guiding the student to fulfill their potential– we could actually stifle it.  But it’s tricky– the most effective learning setting is often a moving target based on day-to-day fluctuations in skill, confidence, and recent performance.

To help nail down this moving target, we thought it would be easier for us to conceptualize if we pared the environment down to two critical elements of skill acquisition– task difficulty and environmental instability.

Task Difficulty.  As coaches, we are constantly trying to help our athletes train at the edge of their abilities.  Our primary goal, often over and above developing skill, is expanding the confidence of the performer.  To do that, we need to leverage our task design to strike a harmony between failure and success.

Environmental Stability.  Since the golf course presents a wildly unstable environment with ever-changing conditions and variables to contend with, we need to carefully consider this component of our sessions.  While the range is a great place to develop technique, the stable environment fails to deliver an experience that reproduces the demands or pressure of the performance environment.  Ultimately, those characteristics are most easily delivered in a rapidly changing learning environment; one in which task demands might very well change on a shot by shot basis.  So to maximize transfer and create a more ‘representative task’, we focus on manipulating the stability of the environment while being VERY conscious of the task difficulty.

As you can see in the diagram, that leaves us with this four box world –  low difficulty and a very stable environment in the bottom left, to a rapidly changing environment and a very demanding task in the upper right.  For each session we are basically deciding to go in one of four directions with a  student based on our previous knowledge and their recent performance.  Ultimately, being able to place the athlete in the correct space given their proficiency in a particular skill is a critical first step in ensuring the positive development of their skill and self-efficacy.  Let’s take a closer look at all four:


LOW DIFFICULTY STABLE ENVIRONMENT

Lesson Goal- CLARIFY CONCEPT. In many cases, the people we work with just have flawed concepts of what they should be trying to do that lead to highly variable and usually negative fluctuations in performance.  To enable these athletes to succeed, we often need to peel the onion back, to provide them with a completely new concept to work from.  To ensure that their confidence expands, the environment in which they explore these new concepts should be very safe – free from judgement.  The use of imagery, analogies, and aids that encourage an external focus can help minimize the complexity of the task and truly illuminate the concept.  Things to consider in designing tasks are the need for quality repetitions with a singular focus– targets and lies can remain constant to provide the learner with the opportunity to create certainty with what they are doing and light the confidence candle.

Actionables:

Optimal Learning Environment For:

Drawbacks:


HIGH DIFFICULTY STABLE ENVIRONMENT

Lesson Goal-REFINE TECHNIQUE. As the performance of a skill becomes more consistent, it’s imperative that we increase task difficulty to further enhance the capabilities of the performer.  For example, in a finesse wedge task, the initial goal may have been to develop a sound technical execution that results in solid contact.  To add difficulty and enhance the skill set of the performer, you could layer on additional ‘sub-skills’ within that stable setting.  Now you can explore how refinements in their technique could affect trajectory, spin, distance control, curve, etc.  These small explorations build the solution Rolodex and sharpen the skill – while simultaneously adding to the self-image of the learner and their ability to handle certain tasks that they may encounter during play.

Actionables:

Optimal Learning Environment For:

Drawbacks:


LOW DIFFICULTY UNSTABLE ENVIRONMENT

Lesson Goal-BUILD EFFICACY.  After an athlete demonstrates an ability to perform in a stable setting, it’s time to test their ability to apply the base motion to a variety of environmental demands.  The instability of the environment allows us to introduce some tactical elements to their already enhanced technique.  In doing this, it’s important to keep the difficulty of the task relatively low – highly variable environments are inherently difficult and our goal with this session is to build a perception of competence.  The golfer can take that perceived competence and hopefully attack a forthcoming tournament round with greater confidence or gain the self-assurance necessary to attack the top-right of our matrix– where the magic happens.  As coaches, we have to constantly monitor performance as we work towards the right side of the matrix and manage the pace of the emerging instability in a way that simultaneously improves skill performance and expands confidence.  A tall order– but it’s a skill we’ve seen our favorite coaches achieve in almost every lesson– so we know it’s a worthy pursuit and necessary to include in our lesson plans.

Actionables:

Optimal Learning Environment For:

Drawbacks:


 

HIGH DIFFICULTY UNSTABLE ENVIRONMENT

Lesson Goal- TRANSFER SKILL.  At the top right corner lies the pinnacle in terms of the unifying task difficulty and environmental instability.  Expertise lives here.  If an athlete can create functional solutions that meet the requirements of changing task demands and environmental conditions, their skill level is incredibly high.  Tasks in this space feature very challenging demands coupled with an environment that is in a state of perpetual motion.  Many would consider theses task to be highly representative of those that an athlete would encounter during a round of golf.  Creating progressive rules that govern the exercise, coupled with targets that change on every shot, maximizes the degree of variability present in the environment.

Actionables:

Optimal Learning Environment For:

Drawbacks:


Hopefully the Task Design Matrix captures the upward, downward, and lateral shifts that expert coaches constantly make in task and environment to arrive at the most suitable way to attack a lesson, given what they know about the performer.  The real goal is to avoid having what you thought was a successful session with a student only for them to come back to report that scores have not improved– likely indicating that we didn’t select the most appropriate learning environment for them.

This is basically how we have interpreted and synthesized the Challenge Point Framework through our own experience in a way that we can practically apply to designing successful coaching sessions. As we said, it’s a work in progress, but we encourage you to take a look at it before your next lesson and land on what you think is an appropriate quadrant of the matrix and see where it takes you.  As always, we look forward to and welcome your feedback.
–Corey Lundberg & Matt Wilson


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10 comments.

10 thoughts on “THE TASK DESIGN MATRIX: A COACH’S GUIDE TO DESIGNING HIGHLY EFFECTIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

  1. Super! coaching tools guys! Just finished hosting 4 days with Pia & Lynn of VISION54 in France. This is a other of your smart matrix to help coaches. Well done!

  2. This is great. I love hanging out on transfer training, but I’ve learned and made the mistake of pushing a player into it too hard too soon. This definitely helps clear things up a bit of when to push and when to pull back.

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