Transfer of training and the role of mental workload in expert performance

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There is a need to understand how to maximize skill development when training operators to undertake vital operational assignments (e.g., flying aircraft). At present, there is much debate in the training community over how to best train these operators and achieve maximum skill transfer, such as whether training should focus on recreating the target task or whether there are benefits to training with subcomponents of the target task. Training with subcomponents can be simpler, cheaper, and therefore more accessible than training with a complex target task, and researchers have found performance gains when training with subcomponents (Ash & Holding, 1990; Gopher, Weil, & Bareket, 1994; Whaley & Fisk, 1993). Instead of utilizing subcomponents of a complex target task, the present study investigated the mental resources required to perform a target task - termed resource training. Given that there are established inventories for breaking down the demand a target task places on different resources, such as the Multiple Resources Questionnaire (Boles & Adair, 2001a, b), this is a logical endeavor. Participants alternated back and forth between a training task and a complex video game, Everyday Shooter, four times a day over two days. The training tasks were previously shown to heavily tax a specific resource, and participants either trained a task sharing many critical resources, or few critical resources, with the video game. In addition to assessing the feasibility of resource training, the present study also assessed the effect of providing metacognitive instructions and examined the role of expertise by including video game experts. Successful transfer was noted for those training the task that shared more critical resources with the target task, providing an instance of transfer via resource training. Superior performance may have been achieved via maintained critical workload, as the group that improved over days also maintained critical workload over days while noncritical workload declined. Importantly, this improvement was only noted when standard instructions were provided. The additional instructions, which pointed out both structural and resource-based similarities between the training task and the target task, Everyday Shooter, were found to be detrimental to performance. From a methodological standpoint, this suggests that participants do not need to be explicitly instructed why certain tasks are being trained in tandem. The alternating design required participants to alternate between the training task and target task, instead of massing together consecutive training sessions before performing the target task. The alternating design is apparently a powerful means of producing transfer, as it led to better performance on the target task and likely removed the need for additional instructions regarding task similarities. Also, recent investigations in our laboratory finding evidence of transfer have employed this alternating design (e.g., Boles & Penn, 2010), while studies have struggled to find consistent evidence of transfer when massing the training sessions together. This successful implementation of resource training with an alternating design suggests that a practical way to achieve skill transfer is to select a training task that shares resources with a complex target task, and alternate training between the two. Finally, expert video game players provided higher critical workload ratings than novices. Instead of narrowing down the resources necessary to perform the video game, experts sustained higher levels of critical workload over days. This could be a major factor in superior expert performance.

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Experimental psychology