Factoring in Human Factors

Article excerpt

Factoring In Human Factors

What do we mean when we talk about human factors in training? Sometimes we use the European name: ergonomics. By any name, the area of human factors covers the following five aspects of a training program: * person/machine interfaces * physiological characteristics of learners * physical features of the place where instruction occurs * psychological aspects of learning * social conditions.

Effective instruction does not leave human factors to chance. Let's look at examples from the five areas listed above.

Person/machine interfaces

Situation: A training film must be produced so that it fits the viewing conditions of the instruction site. Example: A graduate student was working on a motion picture for the state fire service. The student noticed that the fire station assigned to help with the project had a VCR in the break room and another in the classroom. The firefighters said they preferred to watch training films as videos. They were dedicated learners and often viewed instructional videos again on their own time.

After production had begun, the director discovered that the film would be distributed in both 16mm and videocassette formats.

The graduate student explained that the training film would be seen most frequently on the small screens of the televisions in firehouse break rooms, with relatively coarse resolution. It was sobering to think that lives depended on firefighters learning successfully from this film.

The director decided that the camera operator needed to obtain tighter close-ups. That way, important details would be visible in both the 16mm film and the small-screen VCR format. The training film was fitted to the limitations of the human/machine interface. Consequently, the film was a more effective product.

Physiology of learners

Situation: A substantial investment in educational technology can be thwarted if trainers neglect trainees as physical beings. Example: Multimedia units are sometimes placed next to each other. Frequently, that means that learners can overhear the audio from neighboring stations. That can be distracting and annoying. It makes it hard for trainees to concentrate on their own instruction.

Trainers can avoid the impaired learning and unhealthy stress that can result from a lack of audio privacy. One of two human factors solutions should be immediately put into practice. Either isolate the multimedia units or provide headphones.

The training place

Situation: A training room for 20 or more can be a contradiction in human factors. Example: In a corporation, a "U shape" layout of tables and chairs around the perimeter of a wide room gives the appropriate executive ambience for oral presentations and discussions. But such a setup is a poor one from which to view visuals. The best view is from the large, unused hole in the middle of the room. The cause of the problem may be a mismatch between the culture of business and the culture of education.

In business, visual communication is not valued as highly as person-to-person communication. It can be expressed in a double message: "We want state-of-the-art audiovisuals, although that's not how things work around here." Classroom row seating is unacceptable in many companies, but it is the best way to deliver visual media efficiently for 20 or more trainees. Perhaps a way to avoid the distortion of off-angle and distant viewing would be to move the group to a small auditorium or theater for special visual presentations.

Psychological aspects

Situation: "I wouldn't buy that computer for our people," said one corporate vice-president. "It took me 15 minutes to figure out how to copy a program." Example: The case deserves an alternate reading. The corporate vice-president's report refers to a first-time exploration. The task took 15 minutes, and resulted in learning how to duplicate a program onto another disk. …