Academic journal article Human Factors

Training Concurrent Multistep Procedural Tasks

Academic journal article Human Factors

Training Concurrent Multistep Procedural Tasks

Article excerpt

This study assessed the effectiveness of traditional whole-task, pure part-task, and two forward-chaining part-task techniques to train rapidly presented concurrent multistep tasks. When training was equated for the total number of training trials, the forward-chaining technique that included practice with concurrent responses promoted as much transfer to whole-task conditions as whole-task training and more than traditional pure part-task training. When training was equated for the total number of response opportunities, the same concurrent forward-chaining technique also promoted superior whole-task transfer. Actual or potential applications of this research include suggestions that trainers should (a) structure concurrent-task training around critical intratask invariants to promote whole-task transfer, (b) realize that the concurrent-task training techniques that promote the best training performance may not promote the best transfer to whole-task situations, and (c) consider using forward-chaining techni ques that provide practice with concurrent responses when training concurrent multistep tasks.


Both basic and applied research have long traditions of trying to identify effective techniques to train and transfer complex skills (for reviews, see Butterfield, 1989; Cormier & Hagman, 1987; Reder & Klatzky, 1994; Royer, 1979). For example, as early as the turn of the twentieth century, Thorndike proposed his theory of identical elements (Thorndike & Woodworth, 1901), which suggests that training will be beneficial when it reflects the stimulus and response requirements used in the transfer environment. Singley and Anderson (1989) enriched the scope of identical-elements theory by including cognitive processes.

Despite such advances, little research has explored techniques for training people to perform concurrent component steps in rapid succession, although many applied settings require various types of concurrent monitoring and responding (Damos, 1991; Lintern & Wickens, 1991). This project investigates the benefits of using a forward-chaining technique to master such tasks, which seems to be an issue that has not received much empirical attention. We also compare the benefits of the forward-chaining techniques with those acquired with traditional part- and whole-task techniques and a novel hybrid of part- and whole-task training, providing an empirical comparison of techniques that has not yet been done for this class of tasks.


Training techniques can be roughly divided into two general categories: part- and whole-task techniques (Stammers, 1982). Part-task techniques are usually procedures that fractionate or decompose concurrent tasks into separately practiced tasks (Wightman & Lintern, 1985). For example, using a part-task technique to learn to play a song on the piano may involve practicing the music for each hand separately before trying to play both parts together. Part-task techniques have been shown to promote significant transfer when attention can be allocated to individual tasks in turn (e.g., Briggs & Naylor, 1962). Whole-task techniques are procedures in which multiple tasks (e.g., the music for both hands) are practiced together, providing opportunities to develop and practice strategies to coordinate timing and cope with interference associated with concurrent tasks (Broadbent, 1982; Navon & Miller, 1987; Schneider & Detweiler, 1988). Research has suggested that whole-task techniques promote greater transfer to concur rent-task scenarios than do part-task techniques (Damos, 1991; Detweiler & Lundy, 1995; Naylor & Briggs, 1963).

A part-task technique that reduces cognitive, monitoring, and response loads during learning (Sweller, 1988, 1993), yet provides opportunities to develop compensatory strategies for successfully coping with concurrent-task demands (Schneider & Detweiler, 1988), should promote benefits similar to those of whole-task techniques and should reduce the risk of overburdening learners (see Gopher, 1993; Gopher, Weil, & Bareket, 1994; Gopher, Weil, & Siegel, 1989). …

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