Abstract and reduced context representations in fault finding training

Olga Kostopoulou, KD Duncan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    The ability to transfer problem-solving expertise to new situations is regarded as an important practical skill but it is known to be sensitive to contextual differences. Employing abstract and reduced-context training tasks has been proposed as a method of fostering transferable skill but the evidence supporting this approach is limited. The research reported here aimed at assessing the effectiveness of training with diagnostic tasks of varying degrees of contextual detail. The criterion test used to measure training effectiveness was a context-rich diagnostic task that involved locating faults in a representation of a water supply and drainage system (WSDS). In the first study reported (baseline study), subjects were trained and tested on the WSDS task. Various training interventions were employed and a set of diagnostic heuristics proved to be the most effective. Two pilot studies were then carried out to determine whether training with abstract diagnostic tasks could produce transfer to the criterion test, the WSDS. Little evidence of transfer was found; therefore, it was decided to incorporate some context into training but not so much as to obscure important, conceptual task features. This was achieved by constructing reduced-context representations (RCO) of the WSDS at more than one level of abstraction (main study). Training with those representations took less time than training with the WSDS but transfer to the criterion test (the WSDS) was equally efficient. During training with the RCO representations, a technique of refusing costly test information was employed which is thought to have helped subjects discover efficient search strategies and consistently transfer them to the criterion test. This was contrasted with the verbal diagnostic heuristics of the baseline study, which had proved to be effective, but which were not always transferred consistently to the criterion test. This raises the question as to whether diagnostic strategies are necessarily best conveyed solely in verbal form, if the intention is to train transferable skill.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)175-201
    Number of pages27
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2001


    • training
    • guided discovery
    • transfer
    • fault diagnosis
    • heuristics
    • abstract representations


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