Systematic Instruction

A video showing Milton Tyree demonstrating Systematic Instruction as part of a workshop about the study and application of Systematic Instruction principles.

About the bicycle brake assembly video

In this video, Milton Tyree can be seen providing instruction for Jack Kruger on the assembly of a Bendix bicycle coaster brake. This is a 16-part model task that’s part of the Marc Gold & Associates (MG&A) workshop about the study and application of Systematic Instruction principles.

Because this was filmed halfway through the 3-day MG&A Systematic Instruction workshop, it’s important to understand its purpose within this specific workshop on Systematic Instruction as well as its context within other MG&A teachings related to Discovery, Customised Job Development and Natural Supports or the use of typical instruction by employees on the job.

Watch the video first, and then read Milton’s detailed explanation of the training below.

Purpose of the video within the MG&A Systematic Instruction workshop

As part of their study of principles of Systematic Instruction, the 10 participants of the Canberra workshop learned to assemble and teach assembly of a Bendix bicycle coaster brake, a 16-part model task. Following 1 ½ days of study of Systematic Instruction principles, they had the opportunity to apply what they’d studied by teaching consultant learners how to assemble the brake. Prior to meeting and working with consultant learners, I got to provide instruction for Jack on the brake while the 10 workshop participants observed. My intention was to provide a good model of instruction with Jack — giving the participants an idea of their interactions with consultant learners later in the day.

A brief summary of MG&A Systematic Instruction principles about teaching

It’s important to note that MG&A Systematic Instruction is not teaching specially designed for people with disabilities. Instead, it’s based on how everyone learns performance tasks. Good instruction is, however, especially important for people who have difficulty learning. Marc Gold recognized that people with disabilities were routinely unfairly blamed for not knowing how to do things and for not learning when the truth of the matter was that they weren’t being taught.

Marc put it this way,

“A lack of learning in any particular situation should be first interpreted as an inappropriate or insufficient use of teaching strategy, rather than an inability on the part of the learner.”

While providing instruction for Jack, I’m aiming to honour these principles of MG&A Systematic Instruction:

The nature of the relationship between instructor and learner

Marc taught us the value of having a balanced relationship between instructor and learner. The instructor is never in a behavioristic position of power or control, not reinforcing or punishing, but rather maintaining a focused, respectful presence that’s rooted in mutuality.


A precise method is foundational to learning, and a task’s method must be determined prior to teaching. In a business, this requires identifying and studying the typical method for a given work task. Method serves as the standard of correct performance and has particular significance regarding productivity, quality, and safety. On the brake, you’ll notice method regarding the sequence of assembly, as well as with positioning of hands and bodily motions used with brake parts during assembly. This emphasis on a consistent method, the same movements on every assembly of the brake, time after time, is what we call cycle constancy.


This is the process of breaking tasks into teachable components. We always begin by requesting content steps on work tasks from the business. Or, if not already available, we develop the content steps for a task by writing teachable steps for a typical learner.

The steps are for the instructor (or a facilitator observing typical instruction within a workplace). Content steps are not something to be handed to the learner like a recipe. Rather, the steps help the instructor think of the method in distinct movements so that it can be determined when learning has occurred or when the learner needs additional information. So, as I’m teaching Jack, I’m thinking of the brake in terms of a memorized 22-step task analysis, with 22 stopping points from which to determine whether Jack understands the step or needs additional information to correctly perform the step.

Informing Strategies

The instructor is responsible for providing information for correct performance. Information refers to verbal, gestural, or physical actions provided by an instructor designed to communicate correct performance. Below are the primary considerations for informing a learner:

No news is good news

You’ll notice that I’m not showering Jack with praise, saying “good job,” or showing a thumbs up after each correct step. I want Jack to focus on the task, not me.

Marc helped us learn about ways that we inadvertently make people dependent on us, perpetuating people’s prompt dependency by constantly telling people what to do instead of providing information on how to make decisions. By continuously praising people (for doing things that really aren’t a big deal at all)  to the degree that if we don’t offer praise, people assume they’re making a mistake. (“How am I doing?” “Am I doing okay?”) No news is good news is the opposite of this.

The only time we get involved is when information is needed for correct performance. When an error is made, we avoid saying “no,” but rather offer information on what it is that needs to happen. In this way, we avoid power struggles because power is not involved. And we avoid robbing people of the intrinsic satisfaction of learning.

The “shift in ownership” and timing

The decision of when to provide information to a learner changes over time. Early on, when Jack has no experience assembling the brake, I’ll want to provide information immediately because I don’t want him to practice performing a step incorrectly. And I do not want to correct errors. Instead, my goal is to provide information for correct performance prior to an error. This way, Jack is getting practice assembling the brake according to the same method every time. Cycle constancy.

Later, when Jack has experience, you’ll note that I provide more time for Jack to decide about a step. However, I’ll still want to provide information on correct performance after the decision but before an error.  I’m trying to gradually decrease the amount of training power, that is, how much information is provided.

For example, you may notice that I provide less physical information on a step when information is needed on the same step on a subsequent trial of the brake. This is what we mean by a shift in ownership: Early in training, the instructor owns most of the responsibility for the decisions relating to the task. Later in training, the learner owns most of the responsibility for decisions.  As training progresses, the degree of ownership by the learner steadily increases toward full ownership at criterion, the point at which the learner knows the task without any information from the instructor.

Kinds of Information

You’ll notice a variety of ways that I provide information on correct performance to Jack.

  • Demonstration – This is the first information provided about the task. A clear, precise* demonstration of the total task provides the learner with initial information about the task and its method. I’m doing my best to maintain a pace that facilitates Jack’s understanding, succinctly identifying key discriminations and positioning myself related to Jack so he can see what I’m doing.
  • Verbal – On the one hand, talking is a common way of providing information. On the other hand, it’s important to keep verbal information crisp, concise, and targeted. So, my goal with Jack was to avoid having a running commentary about the task. Another caution about verbal information is to avoid mixing information and conversation.
  • Gestural – You likely noticed me pointing at specific parts to inform Jack about what needs to happen next. In some instances, I touched the part (a specific gesture), while later, I made a non-specific gesture, pointing in the direction of the needed part – an example of fading instructional power.
  • Modelling – Sometimes, I provided information to Jack by modelling actions with my hands, showing him the desired motion, for example modelling the spinning motion with his thumb or modelling the proper hold of a part.
  • Physical – Other times, providing physical information is fitting, especially if moving the learner’s hands into position is the most efficient way to inform about the task’s method. You will have noticed me using physical information a number of times with Jack, moving his hands in place or assisting with a hold on a part, for example, with Jack’s positioning the arm of the brake assembly. Physical information, of course, always is gentle and never used to force a physical movement; never used against learner resistance.


Early in skill acquisition, it’s important for the instructor to be near the learner to readily observe and to be in a position to provide information when needed. Because Jack was learning a new task, I positioned myself close by. If we’d had more time to work together on the task, I’d have moved back as Jack gained more experience with the task.

*A note about dominant hand considerations and this video – Ordinarily, I would not know the consultant learner I’m getting to instruct on the bicycle brake ahead of time, and I’d provide the demonstration right-handed. However, because I had the benefit of knowing Jack and because I knew he was left-handed, I made the decision to demonstrate the task left-handed. This had the advantage of providing Jack with an accurate visual representation of the method.

But two problems were created by my unconventional decision:

1) Participants taking the course had studied teaching the task right-handed, and I was told that the visual image of my performing and teaching the task left-handed created confusion for their teaching later in the day — entirely contrary to my intent.

2) Upon reviewing the video clip, I noticed that I demonstrated one of the steps right-handed (step number 18 of 22). Especially as the leader of a course, making an error in the demonstration of the brake assembly method is undesirable.

Context for the bicycle brake and Systematic Instruction within the larger picture:

MG&A is dedicated to studying and applying principles and practices that lead to people with disabilities taking their rightful place in society with an emphasis on the valued role of employee.

While Systematic Instruction represents an integral aspect of proper job supports, it does not stand on its own. As we seek to partner with people with disabilities, their family members, employment support providers and businesspeople to find fitting, suitably challenging, socially valued jobs, Systematic Instruction merges with the study of the following:


Over time, we’ve come to understand the importance of starting with the person, not the job. Everything we study in Systematic Instruction is based on people learning to perform fitting, interesting, suitably challenging tasks.  

Discovery is a process where time is devoted to partnering with the job candidate to determine the person’s interests related to work, conditions that need to be in place for the person to be at their best, and contributions the person has to offer an employer.

Discovery culminates with a Customised Plan for Employment meeting, convening a small group of people to join the job candidate for review of what was learned during Discovery. Next a job task list is developed that’s consistent with the person’s interests, conditions, and contributions. The final part of the 90-minute meeting is the group’s creation of a list of potential businesses that may benefit from these tasks and, as much as possible, a contact person and reference for each listed business.

Customised Job Development

The prioritized job development list created in the person’s Customised Plan for Employment meeting provides the initial list of businesses for job development, along with contact people and references or “warm leads.”

A Concept Portfolio may be used to describe Customised Employment to the employer, followed by a presentation of the job candidate’s Visual Resume. Next, time is scheduled within the targeted business to conduct an Employer Needs & Benefits Analysis – seeking tasks that fit the job candidate and that are needed by the business.

Over time, we’ve learned that relying on typical job descriptions often leads to underemployment or unemployment for people with disability. Devoting the time up front to know the job candidate and business needs sets the stage for negotiating a Customised Job – a job that’s mutually beneficial for the business and the job candidate.

Systematic Instruction

One of the first topics for study within MG&A’s Systematic Instruction is Job Analysis, using the 7-Phase Sequence for Balancing Naturalness and Individual Needs.

Over time, we’ve learned that it’s important to first understand how new employees typically learn tasks, getting to know the people ordinarily providing instruction — honouring these existing means of learning as much as possible, prior to inserting ourselves for instruction or support. 

In this way, we can properly position external job supporters to be business consultants or advisors — supporting the employee with a disability and co-workers by taking advantage of the typical ways, means, and people already established in the business.  In other words, the 7-Phase Sequence provides a process for balancing the learning needs of the job candidate with what’s already in place at the business.


Download The seven-phase sequence for balancing naturalness and individual needs by Michael Callahan (PDF, 104 KB)