Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Effects of Difficulty, Specificity, and Variability on Training to Follow Navigation Instructions

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Effects of Difficulty, Specificity, and Variability on Training to Follow Navigation Instructions

Article excerpt

Published online: 16 August 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract To study the relative merits of three training principles - difficulty of training, specificity of training, and variability of training - subjects were trained to follow navigation instructions to move in a grid on a computer screen. Subjects repeated and then followed the instructions by mouse clicking on the grid. They were trained, given a short distractor task, and then tested. There were three groups, each receiving different message lengths during training: easy (short lengths), hard (long lengths), and mixed (all lengths), with all subjects given all lengths at test. At test, the mixed group was best on most lengths, the easy group was better than the hard group on short lengths, and the hard group was better than the easy group on long lengths. The results support the advantages of both specificity and variability of training but do not support the hypothesis that difficult training of the form used here would lead to overall best performance at test.

Keywords Transfer and retention · Cognitive training · Human memory and learning

Is training most effective when it involves easy trials, hard trials, or a mixture of both easy and hard trials? Various answers have been provided to this question in the form of training principles aimed to optimize the acquisition, retention, and transfer of training. These training principles, however, give inconsistent or contradictory advice concerning this issue. Specifically, three different relevant training principles have been proposed (see Healy, Kole, & Bourne, 2014, for a summary of training principles): (a) First, by the difficulty of training principle, a condition that causes difficulty during learning might facilitate later retention and transfer (Battig, 1979; Bjork, 1994; Schneider, Healy, & Bourne, 2002), but only if the difficulty is desirable. According to McDaniel and Butler (2011), difficulty during training is desirable only if it stimulates processing that overlaps with that required at test (i.e., test-relevant cognitive processing). By this principle, best training would include hard trials alone. (b) Second, by the specificity of training principle, retention and transfer are depressed when conditions of learning differ from those during subsequent testing (Healy & Wohldmann, 2012). By this principle, the difficulty of trials used in training should depend on the anticipated difficulty of test trials, with training difficulty matched to test difficulty. (c) Finally, by the variability of training principle, variable training conditions typically yield larger transfer than constant training conditions (Goode, Geraci, & Roediger, 2008; Schmidt & Bjork, 1992). By this principle, best training would include a mixture of both easy and hard trials. The aim of the present study is to test the relative merits of these three principles in a single training context where each principle might operate.

The training context we used to explore the three training principles involves a paradigm that simulates the communication between air traffic controllers and flight crews, when controllers give flight crews instructions on how to move in the air space and flight crews repeat ("readback") the received commands and then follow them (see Barshi & Healy, 2002, 2011; Healy et al., 2013;Schneider,Healy,Barshi,&Kole, 2011).

In this paradigm, subjects receive navigation instructions similar to those given by air traffic control but, in this case, the instructions tell the subjects how to move in a grid shown on a computer screen. The subjects first repeat aloud the instructions, as pilots are required to do, and then they make the instructed moves on the computer.

Present study

To examine the relative merits of the three principles of difficulty of training, specificity of training, and variability of training, we employed three conditions in the navigation paradigm. …

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