Cognitive Task Analysis

Cognitive Task Analysis

Cognitive Task Analysis

Cognitive Task Analysis


Cognitive task analysis is a broad area consisting of tools and techniques for describing the knowledge and strategies required for task performance. Cognitive task analysis has implications for the development of expert systems, training and instructional design, expert decision making and policymaking. It has been applied in a wide range of settings, with different purposes, for instance: specifying user requirements in system design or specifying training requirements in training needs analysis. The topics to be covered by this work include: general approaches to cognitive task analysis, system design, instruction, and cognitive task analysis for teams. The work settings to which the tools and techniques described in this work have been applied include: 911 dispatching, faultfinding on board naval ships, design aircraft, and various support systems. The editors' goal in this book is to present in a single source a comprehensive, in-depth introduction to the field of cognitive task analysis. They have attempted to include as many examples as possible in the book, making it highly suitable for those wishing to undertake a cognitive task analysis themselves. The book also contains a historical introduction to the field and an annotated bibliography, making it an excellent guide to additional resources.


This volume represents the state of the art in cognitive task analysis (CTA). Therefore, the chapters are about expertise and proficiency from a methodological perspective. Various methods of CTA are described in chapters that report research in diverse domains, and a number of important methodological issues are discussed along the way: What types of CTA methods are being used? What types of domains are being studied? What are the differences in the emphases and goals of the various schools of thought? What makes for a good CTA method? Exactly how does one conduct CTA? How does one pick a CTA method to use in a particular project?

In the United States, from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, educational, cognitive, and human factors psychology researchers recognized a need to place the adjective "cognitive" before the phrase "task analysis." It seemed a natural thing to do. To some, the phrase "task analysis" might harken back to behaviorism and the so-called "knobs-and-dials era" of human factors psychology in the years following World War II. However, task analysis, which dates back to the late 1800s, was never purely behavioral, and applied psychology was never void of cognition. Indeed, the very concept of the human-machine system dates back to British industrial psychology of the 1920s. The foundations of applied psychology were set by the first generation of European PhD experimental psychologists in domains such as psychometrics, aviation, and industrial psychology. Despite interruptions to and changes in applied psychology brought on by the World Wars, the traditions, or one might say "styles" of European applied psychology, continued on course and led to current schools of thought--the Dutch tradition of ergonomics, the French tradition of work analysis, the British tradition of functional task analysis, and so on.

Whatever tapestry we may weave to place history in relief, today the foreground is information technology. The goal is human-centered computing, user-friendly interfaces, graphics displays that support direct perception and understanding, systems that support situation awareness, and intelligent decision aids and expert systems. As technology becomes more complex, the goals of human-centered computing become more salient and important.

It is perhaps ironic that much of the modern work that claims to rely on CTA is aimed toward design of machines and tools. The first generation of applied psychologists did not spend all of their time developing psychometric tests; they spent it designing machines--from the shape of screwdriver handles, to the construction of simulators to test candidate railroad conductors, to redesign of controls for lathes and other machine tools (see Barnes, 1937; von Drunen, 1997). In redesigning even simple tools such as shovels, industrial psychologists such as Frederick W. Taylor began by studying the performance of experts (see Taylor, 1911). An expert laborer or machinist was often brought in, their behavior stud-

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