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  • The Danish delegation of the NATO Training Working Group on Individual Training and Education Developments. COGNITIVE LEARNING THEORY AND TEACHING BY THE DANISH DELEGATION OF THE NATO TRAINING WORKING GROUP ON INDIVIDUAL TRAINING AND EDUCATION DEVELOPMENTS September 2003
  • 2 PREFACE 1. The NATO Training Group Joint Services Sub-Group established the Working Group on Training Technology in 1971 in order to foster the development and application of training technology within the armed forces of the members of the Alliance. The Working Group in now normally known by its title: The NATO Training Group Working Group on Individual Training and Education Developments, abbreviated to (NTG WG/IT&ED). Included in the Working Group’s terms of reference are responsibilities for promotion a common understanding of training philosophies and terminology, exchanging information on applications of training technology, and reporting on the success of innovations. 2. Having accumulated considerable experience in the field, the Working Group decided to compile a series of papers and publications on various aspects of training systematics and technology. These documents are intended to summarise development and, where appropriate, to report on difficulties encountered and successes achieved and to offer advice and guidance. 3. It should be noted that the NTG WG/IT&ED produces two types of documents: Publications and Papers. Papers are documents covering a topic formally agreed by the Working Group, but each has been written by an individual nation delegation and may reflect purely national perceptions. However, Publications are formally agreed NTG WG/IT&ED documents and represent the combined view of all delegates. Furthermore, Publications will be reviewed annually and updated when necessary and all additions and amendments remain the responsibility of the NTG WG/IT&ED. 4. This document is a paper. First issue SEP 2003.
  • 3 Cognitive learning theory and teaching. Introduction In order to become a capable teacher it is necessary not only to be a subject expert. The teacher also has to possess extensive knowledge of learning theories, including knowledge of the way in which these theories are reflected in teaching principles and -methods. How do teachers create situations in which students learn as much as possible at a minimum oblivion? These questions will be dealt with during the next pages, including the following topics: • • • • • • The cognitive paradigm Implementation of cognitive theories How to store new information How to retrieve new information Retention Conclusion Since the early 1970s the growth in cognitive psychology has brought about a significant change in learning theory as foundation of instructional design and teaching. The behavioural learning theories - normally employed in instructional design models and from which the most known teaching methods have been developed - are gradually giving way to the cognitive paradigm. Therefore it is important for teachers and planners to be familiar with the cognitive theories. The model presented here is based upon a basic idea firstly described by Robert D. Tennysson (1981,1990,1993). 1 The model has served as foundation of the modern instructional design and teaching in the Danish Armed Forces. The basic idea of the model is an addressing of acquisition as well as employment of knowledge. In other words the model deals with how knowledge gets into the human brain, how it is stored, and finally - which is most important - how to unearth knowledge again, when necessary? The model also includes the interaction between the knowledge base and so-called “cognitive abilities” and “thinking strategies”. The human being is not regarded as a computer even if the brain can be compared to one. The human being is in possession of emotions, which is not the case as far as the computer is concerned. These emotions such as likes and dislikes, attitudes, fear and anxiety etc. are normally described in the affective domain. The model also includes this domain. The following is a brief description of the components and the interaction in the model (see Annex).
  • 4 The components of the model include: - sensory receptors executive control working memory long-term memory, including knowledge base, cognitive abilities and thinking strategies. affective domain Two sources of information: external- and internal information are included in the model. The external information enters through the sensory receptors into the system as shown in Annex and explained in the following. But it is more interesting that the system itself is capable of creating knowledge based upon internal information as a result of mutual interaction between components. Hereby new knowledge arises. It must be stressed that the model does not represent a conventional information-processing system but a dynamic system with constant interaction/integration between components. The cognitive paradigm 2 a. Sensory receptors Information is conveyed through the sensory system (ears, eyes, nose and skin) and is passively registered. Information in this area is easily interrupted and decays equally easy. Far more information than can be processed and stored is registered in the executive control component entering through the sensory receptors. External stimuli include text materials, visuals, audio sources etc. and are very often processed in a rather unsystematic order. If the information is organised before hitting the sensory system, chances of getting into the memory system, in order to be used later, is assumed to be much greater. The modern computer-based technology is taking the cognitive paradigm into consideration, and presents information in a way that facilitates this processing. b. Executive control Information coming from either external or internal sources passes through the executive control component, which includes perception, attention and resources. The perception function performs the processes of being aware of and assessing the potential value of internal- and/or external information. The component services the system with the purpose of directing attention and determining effort and cognitive resources for conscious action. It is the perception system that decides whether the information is being rejected or disposed of as not interesting, or is being processed further in the system. The attention function maintains an active interaction with the processes associated with the working memory component. Resources mean mental resources or –capacity. Resources assist in the co-ordination of the various components of the entire model. Of importance in this functional evaluation is the effort associated with a given situation.
  • 5 For example, in most situations, there is an abundance of resources available, so in the component determination is made on allocation of necessary resources to the actual situation. This component controls the internal behaviour of the system by connecting or interfacing the various components of the entire system. Additionally, the executive control component controls the output of behaviour or action ranging from automatic to deliberate, conscious activities. c. Working memory The term memory refers to one of the following: The store for information currently being processed and a store for previously gathered (learned) information. The first form is referred to as the working memory. This is rather limited in capacity and information is subject to manipulation such as rehearsal, comparison, matching and reorganisation. The working memory decides whether or not the information, which is processed in the system, is going to be stored in the long-term memory. If no efforts are made in order to store information from the working memory, before new information enters, the previously received information is being rejected or “forgotten” due to the rather limited capacity of the working memory. Firstly, the processes in the working memory are encoding processes, which in combination with processes in the executive control component, deposit incoming information into the working memory for later use. Next, storage processes, which interact with the long-term memory for storing information, are going on. Finally, working memory performs retrieval processes providing existing knowledge from the long-term memory when needed, and maintenance processes that keep information in the working memory long enough to be stored in the long-term memory. d. Long-term memory The acquisition of knowledge and the means to employ knowledge occurs within the storage- and retrieval subsystems of the long-term memory component. Within the storage system information is encoded into the knowledge base according to various formats, while the retrieval subsystem uses cognitive abilities to employ knowledge. The long-term memory has no capacity limits. Once stored, information will always remain in the knowledge base. The fact that people forget what they have learned does not mean that the information has disappeared, but only indicates that retrieval processes are not working proberly. Information is stored in a complex network of schemes, which vary individually in accordance with quantity, organisation, and accessibility of the individual knowledge. Knowledge base The long-term memory contains the following types of knowledge: declarative-, procedural and contextual knowledge. Each type represents a different memory system component or function.
  • 6 Declarative knowledge implies an awareness of knowledge and refers to the ”knowing that”; for example, that underlining keywords in a text will help recall. Procedural knowledge implies a ”knowing how” to use given concepts, rules and principles. Contextual knowledge implies an understanding of ”knowing when and why” to select and use specific concepts, rules and principles. This executive control process of ”knowing when and why” is governed by selection criteria embedded within the organisation of the knowledge base. Selection criteria are the values by which connections within the schematic structure of a knowledge base are made and are situated in the affective component of the model You can say that whereas both declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge form the amount of knowledge in a knowledge base, contextual knowledge forms its organisation and accessibility. Contextual knowledge represents a more complete understanding of human behaviour, which is necessary for defining an educational learning theory. Cognitive abilities The retrieval system employs the cognitive abilities of differentiation (i.e. selecting), integration (i.e. adapting and restructuring) and construction in the service of the thinking strategies of recall, problem solving and creativity. - - - Differentiation is the ability to understand a given situation and to apply appropriate contextual criteria (i.e. the standards, situational appropriateness, and/or values) by which to select and retrieve the proper knowledge from the storage. It means an ability to understand the situation and decide which kind of previously stored knowledge and emotions to be retrieved in order to cope with the situation. Integration is the ability to elaborate or restructure existing knowledge in the service of a previously unencountered problem situation, which means the use of and adjustment of knowledge in new situations, if this is necessary. Construction is the ability to discover and form new knowledge in new situations. That is to look at things in other ways and create new knowledge without receiving new information from outside. Construction implies declarative-, procedural-, and contextual knowledge as well as using the total cognitive system. It is the schemes, which make it possible for people to overcome the automatic response of an outside influence and to be able to produce a less automatic and less practised response. This mechanism has to do with our ability to be flexible and to deal with novel situations, where well-learned responses are not appropriate. In some way this capacity to solve conflicts is the exact opposite of what the behaviourist learning psychologists were proposing. They thought that all behaviour could be explained with a complex set of learned associations between stimuli and responses. According to the cognitive theories we have a mechanism that we can call our ”behaviourist self” which is called ”contention scheduling”. We have a big set of well-learned schemes of action comprising organised actions associated to a goal or a purpose. These schemes have different levels of activation, depending on the current motivations. The schemes compete
  • 7 with each other and the scheme that receives more activation tends to win over the others and will be executed. This type of process can be sufficient in very well learned- and ”standard situations”. There are situations; however, in which the contention scheduling will not work and where the schemes that receives the more activation does not win over the others. If a strong habitual response competes with a weaker response a second mechanism might be activated. This is called the ”Supervisory Attentional System”. The function of this mechanism is to modify the activation of the action schemes in order that the one more appropriate for the situation, even less activated by external factors, will be able to win the competition with the other, more activated schemas. Thinking strategies As mentioned earlier there are three categories of thinking strategies varying in cognitive complexity. - - The first category is ”recall strategies” which are the automatic selection ( i.e. differentiation) of knowledge stored in the memory. The second category, ”problem solving strategies” requires both differentiation and integration. These strategies are formed as consequences of solving a problem at the time of solution and are stored as contextual knowledge. The problem solving strategies represent knowledge of “knowing when and why” to select specific items of declarative- and procedural knowledge. They are domain specific and cannot be transferred between domains. Therefore, the accumulation of problem solving strategies in the knowledge base occurs in direct reference to the number of problems solved within given domains. “Creativity” makes use of differentiation and integration and, in addition to these, the cognitive ability to create knowledge not already coded in the memory. All three kinds of thinking strategies (recall, problem solving and creativity) are acquired while using the cognitive abilities of differentiation, integration and construction. Each strategy form is embedded by domain in the contextual knowledge structure of the knowledge base. Consequently, the more the learner is engaged in thinking situations, the more the individual thinking strategies become abstract and generalisable within the domain. e. Affective domain It is still worth a discussion whether the affective domain and the cognitive domain should be presented as separate. In the model the affective domain is brought directly into the cognitive domain mainly because it is necessary to have a learning theory, which implies that the affective domain is integral with the development of learning environments. The affective domain is far more complex than the model shows. However, the model includes some of the more identifiable affective variables such as motivation, emotions (anxiety and fear), attitudes, mood, worries and values.
  • 8 The immediate interaction of the affective component within the cognitive system is as mentioned earlier in connection with the executive control component. Motivation for example influences both attention and maintenance processes. Anxiety influences both the acquisition and the employment processes. Values would influence the criteria associated with acquisition of contextual knowledge. The affective component needs to be considered during the acquisition of knowledge and as part of the knowledge base. Implementation of cognitive theories a. Teachers guidance The paradigm should give the teacher and instructor inspiration to create instruction design systems based upon the paradigm with the aim of improving teaching methodology and thus improves learning and minimise oblivion. To do this the teacher must take into consideration how to influence the declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and context knowledge as well as cognitive abilities. The traditional way of planning teaching sessions is to concentrate on the subject and the outcome of the teaching. The teaching is often organised in accordance with the behavioural theories based upon the stimuli-response theories. Therefore training contents had to be divided into minor parts where each part could act as a stimulus with its own response. The final behaviour of the students was often described based upon these ideas. In many ways this is fine, but the cognitive paradigm tells us, that it would be a good idea to consider teaching and learning as a more complex combination of the components. The substance of training has to be analysed in order to separate different kinds of substance knowledge and then apply proper teaching strategies to each kind of substance knowledge, making sure that storing processes facilitates retrieval processes. In order to teach and learn declarative knowledge one might achieve better results using explanatory strategies instead of practising strategies. On the other hand the latter are suitable for teaching procedural knowledge. However, it is not enough to concentrate on substance knowledge. The entire cognitive system must be taken into consideration when designing teaching systems. It is often forgotten that teaching not only is a question of learning student’s new knowledge or skills. It is of utmost importance that students are learning “how to learn” during the process. This means that planners will have to make sure, that cognitive abilities become integral parts of the lessons. b. Changes in methods and instructional design The cognitive science and cognitive theories will result in significant changes in methods of curricular and instructional design that will strongly affect educational practice, which until now has been dominated by the behaviourally oriented learning paradigm of instructional design and management. It is possible to point out at least three major areas where changes must occur. These are (a) the analyses of the “information to be learned” which will move from task analyses that focus on a hierarchical organisation of the information based on prerequisites, and content
  • 9 analyses, that focus on defining the critical features of the information and the relationship of those features to an information analysis. In addition to the conventional task/content analysis a context analysis is proposed if the goal of the instruction includes solving complex problems. The other area is (b) the means of evaluating learners. In the behavioural paradigm, evaluation focuses only on observable student performance while in contrast, evaluation in the cognitive paradigm takes on diagnostic functions. Evaluation is therefore more than checking attainment of behavioural objectives. More importantly, it is a concurrent element of learning. Diagnosing learner’s needs during instruction is one of the primary focuses in cognitive evaluation. The focus for instruction design is on design of instruments that measure inference making within meaningful contexts and construction of tests that evaluate problem solving within complex-context situations that go beyond the usual limited scope of measuring only right and wrong responses. That is, can the learner deal successfully with the type of problems requiring knowledge of ”when and why” as well as knowing ”that” and ”how?” The third area (c) is linking of the learning theory to the instructional prescriptions that in this paper is considered the most important area and therefore will be dealt with in details. The main issue is to introduce an instructional design model that focuses on the planning of a learning environment so that students not only acquire knowledge but also improve their cognitive abilities to employ and extend their knowledge. c. Instuctional design model The figure on page 12, presents an instructional design model that shows the direct integration of cognitive learning theory with prescribed instructional strategies. The major components of the model are - memory systems - learning objectives - teaching time - teaching strategies. Memory systems The figure is directly associated with the cognitive paradigm of learning. The memory systems include both the acquisition and the employment of knowledge and therefore refer to the long-term memory subsystems of storage and retrieval. The storage system is composed of three basic forms of knowledge: declarative-, procedural- and contextual knowledge. The retrieval system is composed of cognitive abilities associated with the processes of recall, problem solving and creativity. The model shows, that there is a connection between the five basic memory systems and prescribed teaching strategies. The purposes of including teaching strategies in the model are to establish a direct link between instructional theory and learning theory. This was done successfully with the behavioural paradigm. The model also creates an association between the cognitive paradigm and teaching.
  • 10 Finally the model indicates the relative strengths of the teaching strategies in reference to the educational goals of knowledge acquisition and employment. The focus of the cognitive paradigm is on both of these educational goals as contrasted to the behavioural paradigm goals. The purpose of cognitive based learning objectives is to further elaborate the curricular goals of knowledge acquisition and employment. Objectives are important in the planning of learning environments because they provide the means of both allocating teaching time and identifying specific teaching strategies. Learning objectives The learning objectives are defined as follows: - - - - Verbal information, which deals with the learners acquiring of awareness and understanding of the concepts, rules, and principles within a specified domain of information (declarative knowledge). Intellectual skills involve the learner acquiring the skill to correctly use the concepts, rules and principles of a specified domain of information (procedural knowledge). Contextual skills focus on the learner’s acquisition of the organisation and accessibility of a knowledge base (contextual knowledge), which includes the criteria, values and appropriateness of a given domain’s schematic structure. Cognitive abilities deal with the elaboration of thinking strategies that will arm the student with increased domain specific contextual knowledge and develop the abilities of differentiation and integration. These abilities provide the cognitive tools to effectively employ and improve the knowledge base. Creative processes deal with the most exclusive goal of education, the development and improvement of learner’s creative abilities. Creativity is here defined as twofold ability: Firstly creating knowledge to solve a problem from external environment, and secondly creating the problem as well as the knowledge. An important part of creating both the knowledge and the problem is the criteria by which consistent judgement can be made. Creativity objectives need to specify not only the ability to develop and improve, but also to form the criteria. Teaching time A key factor in implementing the cognitive goals of knowledge acquisition and employment is the allocation of teaching time by defined objectives. The model shows that instead of doing the traditional way and allocate most of the time at the declarative and procedural levels of the knowledge, 70% should be devoted to learningand thinking situations that involve acquisition of contextual knowledge and development of cognitive abilities. The suggestion of allocating 25% time to the contextual knowledge is almost the same used for declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge because of the necessity to both organise a knowledge base and develop accessibility. Without a sufficient base of contextual
  • 11 knowledge, the opportunity for employment, future elaborations, and extension of the knowledge base is severely limited. The teaching times presented in the model do not imply a linear sequence of knowledge acquisition going from declarative to contextual knowledge. They represent total amount in an iterative learning environment where learners are continuously acquiring each form of knowledge. Teaching strategies The idea is to make a direct linkage of teaching strategies to specific memory system components instead of prescribing a given strategy of teaching to all forms of learning. - - - - Explanatory strategies are designed to provide an environment for learning of declarative knowledge. The teaching variables here provide a context for the “information to-belearned”. That is, presenting a meaningful context for the information as well as a mental framework of a given domain’s abstract structure extends the concept of advance organisers. In addition to providing a context for the information, meaning can be further enhanced by adapting the context to individual student background knowledge. Practising strategies are called practising because the objective is to learn how to use knowledge correctly. They should attempt to create an environment in which the student learns to apply knowledge to previously unencountered situations while the instructional system carefully monitors the student’s performance so as to both prevent and correct possible misconceptions of procedural knowledge. Problem oriented strategies are mainly problem oriented simulation techniques. The purpose of this is to improve the organisation and accessibility of information within the knowledge base by presenting problems that require the students to search through their memory to propose a solution. Basically the strategy presents situations where the student should analyse the problem, work out a conceptualisation of the problem, define specific goals for coping with the problem and propose solutions or decisions. Unlike problems in the practising strategies that focus on acquiring procedural knowledge, problem oriented strategies present situations that require employment of the domain’s procedural knowledge. The student is in a problem-solving situation that requires establishing connection among the facts, concepts, rules and principles of specific domains of information. Complex dynamic strategies present the initial variables and conditions of the situation, assess the learner’s proposed solution, and establish the next iteration of the variables and conditions based on the cumulative efforts of the learner. Complex dynamic strategies should be designed to provide a learning environment in which the learners develop and improve higher-order thinking processes by engaging in situations that require the employment of their knowledge base in the service of problem solving.
  • 12 - Self-directed experience will allow students the opportunity to create knowledge within the context of a given domain. Computer-based software instruction programs, that provide an environment for easy manipulation of new information, increase the learning time available for such activities and provide environments for self-directed learning experience that may improve the creative process within given domains. EDUCATIONAL GOALS ACQUISITION OF KNOWLEDGE EMPLOYMENT OF KNOWLEDGE Memory sys- Declarative knowledge tems Learning objectives Teaching time Teaching strategies Procedural knowledge Contextual knowledge Cognitive complexity Total cognitive system Contextual skills (Learn “when and why”) Cognitive abilities (Learn “thinking” systems) Creative processes (Learn to solve new problems and lay down criteria) 20% 25% 30% 15% Practising strategies Problem oriented strategies Complex dynamic strategies Verbal infor- Intellectual mation skills (Learn “that”) (Learn “how”) 10% Explanatory strategies Self-directed experiences Long-term memory storage / Long-term memory retrieval system
  • 13 How to store new information in the long–term memory? This is of course just one of the many 64.000 $ questions for a good teacher. Another one is: How do we retrieve the information when needed? The connection here is imperative because the quality of the retrieval is very much dependant on the way in which information is presented and stored. There are three possible strategies, which may be used to store information and memorise events and new input during the storing process: rehearsal, organisation and imagery. a. Rehearsal Rundu (1972) made a study where he showed that, in a free-recall experiment the items that were presented at the beginning (primacy effect) and toward the end (recency effect) of a list are more likely to be recalled than those in the middle. One of the conclusions of Rundu´s experiment was that the probability of recalling an item in the primacy part of the list is proportional to the number of times that the specific item was rehearsed. Rundu concluded that rehearsal increases the probability of an item to be stored in the long-term memory. Again this mainly can be concluded when dealing with declarative knowledge. However, Craik and Watkins (1973) demonstrated that pure rehearsal does not actually increase the probability of an item to be recalled. They proposed the existence of two types of rehearsal: maintenance rehearsal that does not improve memory, and elaborative rehearsal, that requires a deeper and/or richer encoding and which really improves memory. The elaborative rehearsal consists of more than pure repetition and often includes organising the information in logical systems. b. Organisation We know that the organisation of material in a meaningful way dramatically improve recollection and retrieval. We do this quite spontaneously. For example, Bousfield (1953) presented 60-items lists to his subjects. The lists were made up of words belonging to four distinct categories (animals, names, vegetables professions) presented in random order. After the study phase, participants were given a free-recall test. Participants tended to remember the items organised by categories (dog/cat/cow, pea/bean, John/Bob.) Organisation is essential to memory. Mandler (1967) suggested that other memorisation strategies, such as rehearsal, only prove successful when contributing to reorganising study material and the same is characteristic for mnemonic techniques. For teachers this is important to know and take into consideration when organising the contents of the lessons and preparing the way to introduce information to the students. As concluded above contents must be served in recognisable entities and organised in logical structures. This is especially important when dealing with procedural knowledge and context knowledge.
  • 14 c. Visual imagery Paivio (1971) shoved that subjects performed twice as good in a cued-recall task, when they were instructed to use an imagery strategy. For example, if the pair of items was elephant and book subjects were instructed to imagine an elephant with a book. Paivio proposed that each item in the list be encoded twice in the visual imagery condition: as a word (book, elephant) and a visual image (an elephant with a book). The system is called dual coding hypothesis. This richer encoding improves the probability that the item ca be retrieved. This encoding strategy is valid for all three knowledge representations, declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and contextual knowledge but is imperative for the last two. How to retrieve information from the long-term memory? Even if we consider encoding and retrieval two different processes we have already seen that the way we encode the information is crucial for the probability of retrieval. An essential concept in the memory literature is that of retrieval cue. When information is retrieved from our long-term memory, we use retrieval cues, which act as useful prompts or reminders for the information to be retrieved. The context in which the information was originally encoded is a powerful retrieval cue. The number of possible retrieval cues for certain information can predict the probability that this information will be retrieved. For example, the result that deep processing of information will produce a better memory than a shallow encoding may be explained by assuming that deep encoding is associated with a larger number of retrieval cues than shallow encoding. Everyone has had the embarrassing experience of going to the living room and forget why we went there. We also know that the best method to remember, what we wanted to do, is to go back to the bedroom, where we were before, and try to remember. And what about the difficulties in recognising a person, when he or she is seen in an unusual context. This type of effect is explained by the concept of encoding specificity, which is the generalisation that the initial encoding of learned material will reflect the influence of the context in which the learning took place. The important contextual retrieval cue has also been shown by Godden and Baddeley (1975). Deep-sea divers were trained to memorise a list of words in two training environments: On land or in an underwater tank. Successively the divers were tested in the same context or in a different context. The results showed that recall was better when study and test phases were in the same environment than when they were in different environments. What divers had learned under water they remembered better when they again were under water, and what they had learned out of the water tank they remembered much better when tested out of the tank. a. Advice to the teacher Measures mentioned below are very important for the teacher, since he/she is capable of creating these cues for the students:
  • 15 − To learn information about a problem area, when actually located in the same kind of area, will create proper cues for the students. − The real life situation or the simulated situation covering an almost perfect reality will improve learning and improve retrieval. This learning principle is normally referred to as the realistic principle in contrary to the formal principle, where information is taught in a more ”out of context” manner. b. Distinctiveness of cues When dealing with cues for retrieval the generation effect must also be considered. The generation effect says that generation of a word yields a better memory than simply reading or hearing the same word. This effect can be explained in terms of deeper processing, and therefore in terms of more retrieval cues. An effect similar to the generation effect was found by Mantyla (1985). He presented long lists of words (600) in two conditions. In the first condition, the participants were asked to generate one association for each word presented; in the other condition they were asked to generate three associations. In the recall phase, words generated in the study phase were used as recall cues. The results showed that in both cases retention was much higher than in the usual cued recall condition. Recall was almost perfect (90%) in the ”three associations” condition. Retention Learning is most often associated with the initial phase of acquiring skills, whereas “retention” relates more specifically to the ability to reproduce an acquired skill after a period of non-performance. For several decades researchers have been interested in the measurement of skill retention. Although numerous theoretical approaches have been proposed, there is still no widely accepted method of measuring the rate of skill decay over time. a. Importance of skill retention measurement The period between the completion of training and subsequent performance of the trained skill is conventionally referred to as the “retention interval”. Significant decay of skill during a retention interval, before it is required in operation, is obviously problematic. Hence, adequate skill retention is potentially a key criterion of training programme success. Skills in which retention is of particular importance are those in which there may be long intervals between training and operational performance, or between one performance and the next. These include skills that are used in emergencies and other rare situations. Long-term retention is also of importance whenever skilled personnel are temporarily reassigned to another task (as can occur with job rotation), when there is an interruption in career service, or when job assignments are sporadic (as can easily occur with reserve forces). There may also be skill deterioration under operational conditions if performance errors are allowed to go undetected and uncorrected.
  • 16 The problem of skill retention and loss of it is of particular concern in the military context for a number of reasons: − Firstly, operational conditions often demand reliable rapid and accurate task performance under stress at what can often be very irregular intervals. − Secondly, the increasing reliance on automation of tasks that once required constant operator involvement can lead to degradation of skills through lack of practice. − Finally, because of the relatively high cost of most military training, the failure of operators to retain skills can have considerable financial implications. Skill retention is traditionally plotted against time since original learning, forming what is known as the retention curve. The classic retention curve is negatively accelerated, falling quickly immediately after skill acquisition and declining more slowly thereafter. Accurate prediction models for skill loss could serve as a basis for defining the time intervals for refresher training. They could also be used to identify the particular task that is prone to skill loss, enabling the training specialist to include measures to counter this loss during initial training. Clearly, the development of mathematical models to predict the course of skill decay would be invaluable to the training specialist; however, because of the intangible nature of the subject area such models have proved difficult to formulate. Several researchers have used the term “forgetting function” to describe memory decay over time; however this term is not strictly correct, since we cannot measure what has been forgotten, only what has been retained. Further, failure to remember material at a particular instant does not mean that it has been forgotten; it may be remembered at a later time under different testing conditions. b. Influence on the rate of skill decay The assumption that a single function can be derived to predict skill retention in a variety of tasks, populations and retention intervals has obvious appeal, but there is little evidence for the existence of a single “generic function”. Research has shown that many factors influence the rate of skill decay, and the complex interactions between them are the primary reason why progress in this area has been hindered. Each retention study is conducted under slightly different conditions, leading researchers to derive apparently conflicting conclusions. Although the conclusions may be contradictory, they may each be valid for the specific conditions being investigated. Hence, rather than attempting to derive a single generic retention function, it is more appropriate to derive a series of functions tailored to different conditions. Traditionally, retention functions have been either theory- or empirically-driven. Some researchers, e.g. Wickelgren (1972), derived theoretical models from the first principles by describing the underlying theoretical mechanisms involved in retention, and then attempted to fit the model to empirical data.
  • 17 Recently, a more empirical approach has been adopted using curve-fitting techniques to account for particular sets of retention data. Theory must be developed to account for the mathematical curves with the best fit. Although this approach can serve to constrain and provide a framework for theory, it also introduces its own complications due to the nature of mathematically modelling. An infinite number of mathematical functions can be derived, and often several functions can be found to fit a set of empirical data. In addition, various transformations of the fundamental data can be performed, which can also affect the goodness of fit of various functions. It is found that several functions can accurately describe a set of data; the “correct” function is difficult to identify. Despite the above-mentioned difficulties, the search for a quantitative description of skill retention is still viewed worthwhile pursuit amongst contemporary researchers and is a topic of continued research. Conclusion This paper has attempted to give a general idea of − how people learn and − what teachers have to consider when planning and executing teaching based upon the cognitive theories? Hopefully this may be help in this direction, and maybe it also could serve as an inspiration for a debate amongst the teachers. 1 2 Tennyson, R.D.: Interactive Effect of Cognitive Theory with Computer Attributes in the Design of Computer assisted Instruction, 1981. Tennyson, R.D. & Breuer, K: Cognitive Based Design Guidelines for using Video and Computer Technology in Course Development. In O. Zuber-Sherwel (Ed.): Video in Higher Education, 1984. Tennyson, R.D. & Cocchiarella, M.J.: An Empirically Based Instructional Design Theory for Concept Teaching. Review of Educational Research, 1986. The collective set of attitudes, values, procedures, techniques, etc. that form the generally accepted perspective of a particular discipline at a point in time.