Age-related effects of action versus concept training on developing a system representation

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Hickman, Jamye M.
Rogers, Wendy A.
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While living and working in todays high-tech world, the ability to perform tasks and understand the system structure of technology may affect our lives in many ways. For example, calibrating a medical device such as a blood glucose meter may be infrequently performed but adequate knowledge of the system structure may be critical for doing it correctly. This and other forms of technology vary in complexity and require training for proper use. Due to age-related differences in skill acquisition, the design of proper training may be especially important for older adults when learning to use new technology. One factor to consider when developing age-specific training is the type of information presented during training. In general, little research has addressed the effect of information type on the development of an understanding of the system structure and fewer have examined the influence of age. The current study compared the effects of emphasizing actions or concepts during training on performance on multiple measures of learning. Participants completed one of two tutorials for operating a computer-simulated hydroponic garden control. One tutorial presented participants with instructions that focused specific actions to operate the system. The other tutorial displayed instructions that focused on generalized system concepts. At test, overall participants in the concept training condition were faster and more accurate than those in the action training condition for both novel and familiar tasks. Concept training also reduced age-related differences in performance. Results suggest that concept training may lead to the development of a better understanding of the system structure.
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