Toward a Unified Theory of Problem Solving: Views from the Content Domains

By Mike U. Smith | Go to book overview
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present task to previous tasks. They then carefully monitor and evaluate the progress of the selected strategy, making modifications as needed. Trainees must be explicitly taught these executive control and monitoring processes and must be given practice on their use in context.

In sum, we have presented the view that in order to teach general problemsolving skills we must understand how domain-dependent (local) knowledge and domain-independent (global) knowledge are to be combined with heuristics, executive control, and self-regulatory processes. The mechanism that we have suggested to account for transfer is the use of executive control strategies and metacognitive strategies. These strategies are used by trainees to analyze the situation and perceive the similarity between novel situations and past situations. On the basis of the perceived similarity between the two tasks, the solver then selects an appropriate plan of action for locating the malfunction, implements that plan, evaluates the effectiveness of the strategy, and selects an alternative plan or modifies the existing one as needed.

What remains an issue of concern for training not addressed by our research is that of the ontogeny of expertise and the development of the associated cognitive structures, particularly the development of skills that are transferable to other domains. Anderson ( 1983) has suggested that the acquisition of declarative knowledge gives rise to procedural knowledge, which becomes "automatic" or compiled knowledge with extended use. To date, however, few if any studies have supported Anderson's claim that declarative knowledge is acquired prior to and gives rise to procedural knowledge. In our most recent studies ( Llaneras, Perez, & Swezey, in press), we have attempted to investigate the effects of order of knowledge presentation and have found that, for our experimental tasks, it matters little whether declarative or procedural knowledge is presented first. Knowing what knowledge is acquired first by experts and how that knowledge is acquired would provide us with a good idea of how to order and structure the content of training.

The views expressed are the author's and not necessarily those of the Army Research Institute, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.


Anderson, J. R. ( 1983). The architecture of cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Anderson, J. R. ( 1987). "Skill acquisition: Compilation of weak-method solutions". Psychological Review, 94, 192-210.

Baldwin, R. D. ( 1978). Training the electronics maintenance technician (HumRRO Professional Paper 7-78). Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization.

Brigham, F., & Laios, L. ( 1975). "Operator performance in the control of a laboratory process plant". Ergonomics, 26, 669-686.


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