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Instructional Science 27: 269–284, 1999. c 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

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Learning by exploration: Thinking aloud while exploring an information system
HERRE VAN OOSTENDORP and SJAAK DE MUL
Department of Psychonomics, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, 3584 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands; Phone: +31 30 2533390; Fax: +31 30 2534511; E-mail: H.vanOostendorp@fsw.ruu.nl

Abstract. The aim of the current research is to examine the ability of people to learn a computer system by exploration and to asses the efficacy of a user interface with properties that are supposed to support exploration. The study described in this paper used the thinkaloud method to obtain detailed information about the goals of the user and their realization during the initial learning phase. The focus here will be on discussing the role of thinking aloud and reflection during performing complex cognitive activities. In one condition of the experiment described here an interface was used with exploration-supportive properties. In the other condition these properties were removed from the interface. Subjects (university students) solved a number of (e-mail) tasks with these interfaces, without training, and had to think aloud during the first half. After solving the tasks a knowledge test about the interface was presented. The results on the three kinds of measures (think aloud measures, task performance and performance on the knowledge test) broadly were in favor of exploration-supportive interface. In the discussion attention is paid to the positive influence of thinking aloud, probably occurring because subjects were encouraged to use the available information on screen in the exploration-supportive condition. The consequences and potential disadvantages of displaybased, exploratory learning in relation to planning are also discussed. Key words: display-based problem-solving, exploratory learning, think-aloud method

Introduction With the use of computer systems by a growing, heterogeneous group of people, the topic of learning how to use these systems becomes more and more important. Users often go through a formal learning stage before actually using a system to perform a task. However, in other situations this investment will simply be too high. One way to tackle this problem is to make manuals less extensive and more accessible, and to focus on the actual tasks users have to perform. This ‘minimalistic’ approach is advocated by Carroll (1990). Nevertheless, consulting a manual may still be too high an investment for some applications, or may be infeasible. When a manual cannot be used, the user has to find out the missing information about the functionality by mere exploration.

270 Still, even when the situation does not necessarily require exploratory learning, it may be preferable to learn by exploration. Advantages of this type of learning over other forms of training are found when the exploration is guided by requiring the users to solve given tasks instead of setting their own tasks (Chamey, Reder and Kusbit, 1990; Kerr and Payne, 1994). However, possible drawbacks of (unguided) exploration have also been reported, for instance the lack of metaknowledge that is needed to decide what is to be learned (Briggs, 1990), or difficulties with determining what sequence of steps led to the desired result the user stumbled upon (Payne and Howes, 1992). In the present study we focus on the situation where users immediately try to solve tasks that are realistic to the users, which involves the guided type of exploration that can be beneficial to the user (Carroll, Mack, Lewis, Grischkowsky and Robertson, 1985). The research reported here addresses the question of how people can learn to use computerized information systems without training or manuals, exploiting the knowledge they already have and their ability to learn by doing and exploration. At the same time we want the system to be designed in such a way that it supports the user in the exploration process as much as it can. Thus, the relevant question is: what kind of support should a system offer to be explorable? Visualization is supposed to be important. For that reason we used a graphical user interface based on the principles of “direct manipulation” (Shneiderman, 1983; Van Oostendorp and Walbeehm, 1995), such as the “dragging” and “dropping” of objects on screen. The objects on screen sometimes directly suggest an appropriate action (Gaver, 1991) or may function as an externalization of the rules that determine the current problem space (Newell and Simon, 1972). Zhang and Norman (1994) recently showed that externalizing the rules of a puzzle, instead of having them internalized in our mind, can have a dramatic (positive) impact on problem difficulty, even if the underlying formal structures are the same. But there are more ways to support explorative behavior. We may conceive working with a complex display-based system as a special kind of problem solving process, that is, as navigating in a problem space, in which every step that is taken continually results in a new display which reflects the new problem state (Larkin, 1989). Zhang and Norman focused on the construction of the problem space itself, while we will focus on navigating in this problem space. Within this framework several ways to support navigating in the problem space – and thereby improving exploratory behavior – come to mind. These ways can be found in the work of Lewis and Polson (1990) and Draper and Barton (1993a, b). They can be expressed in the form of guidelines:

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, keep the number of possible operations small at any given moment; , make these operations distinguishable; , make clear what the consequences of an operation will be; , make the effects of operations visible once they have been executed; , show the last operation performed by the user; , make operations easily undoable to make it safe to experiment.
These guidelines may support users in their decision what alternative operations (or actions) to choose when traveling through the problem space. As a result of this framework our main research question was: Do these exploration-supportive features indeed allow the user to explore the system and result in better performance? To study learning by exploration, we built an interface for an electronic mail application. It must be emphasized that we did not intend to make a full functional and realistic application. It must be seen as a research tool to study exploratory learning. This type of emailapplication was chosen, because the primary task of sending, reading, copying and throwing away letters, et cetera, is known to everyone and the main difficulty would be in the use of the interface, and not the task itself. An objectoriented electronic mail system was developed which largely adheres to the “direct manipulation” principle (Shneiderman, 1983). Four types of objects can be “dragged” on screen (see Figure 1): letters (e.g., the opened letter ‘Tas’), addresses (e.g., ‘Jan’), folders for letters (the suitcase ‘Verstuurd’) and folders for addresses (e.g., ‘Koken’ (2), containing two addresses). In addition, there are four corresponding templates from which a new object can be dragged (see Figure 1 on the right). Most of the functions of the application can be performed by “dropping” an object onto another object. For instance, a letter can be sent to a person by dragging the icon that represents the letter to the icon that represents the addressee, or it can be sent to a group of persons by dragging it to the icon that represents that group. Objects are copied by dragging them to the copier icon, et cetera. The tasks which the subjects received consisted of applying sequences of 6 to 12 basic operations (see Table 1 for two examples, and their corresponding correct sequence of basic operations). In the experimental, exploration-supportive interface most of the exploration-supportive features that were mentioned above (cf. Lewis and Polson, 1990; Draper and Barton, 1993a, b) were implemented (see Figure 1): when the user points to an object, a text at the bottom of the screen briefly describes what kind of object it is; once an object is grabbed by pressing the mouse button, all objects on which the object cannot be dropped are dimmed to limit visually the number of steps that can be taken; when the user drags the object over another object, the text at the bottom of the screen briefly describes what would happen if the user drops the object there, and

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Figure 1. Screen shot of the interface. Table 1. Examples of tasks and corresponding sequences of basic operations Make a letter folder titled ‘January’. Put the letter ‘Conclusion’, which you can find in the letter folder ‘Read’, in this new letter folder. Throw away the folder ‘Read’. Correct sequence of operations: Create object (letter folder ‘January’); Open object (letter folder ‘January’); Edit object (letter folder ‘January’); Open object (letter folder ‘Read’); Get object (letter ‘Conclusion’) from folder (‘Read’); Put object (letter ‘Conclusion’) in folder (letter folder ‘January’); Close object (letter folder ‘Read’); and Trash object (letter folder ‘Read’). Write a letter to your ‘Bank’ about a mistake at your disadvantage. Copy that letter, send one copy to your ‘Bank’, and store one copy in your folder ‘Finances’. Correct sequence of operations: Create object (letter); Open object (letter); Edit object (text and title of letter ‘Mistake’); Close object (letter ‘Mistake’); Copy object (letter ‘Mistake’); Send letter (‘Mistake’ to person (‘Bank’); and Put object (letter ‘Mistake’) in folder (‘Finances’).

most actions can be undone. The control version of the interface lacks these exploration-supportive features.

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Figure 2. Task performance (mean percentual score per block).

In a previous study (for details see De Mul, Van Oostendorp and White, 1994) we examined the effect of the exploration-supportive interface by comparing it to an interface that lacked these properties. In addition, we studied the effect of a manual by adding a third condition in which subjects, working with this ‘bare’ interface without exploration-support, could consult a one-page user guide. The results of this experiment, however, showed no significant differences in task performance between the three conditions. See Figure 2 for a summarization of the main results. In the previous experiment the subjects solved three blocks of 9 tasks. Subjects who worked with the interface that lacked the exploration-supportive properties performed no worse in terms of accuracy than the subjects who used the other version of the interface. The one-page manual did not seem to have an effect on performance: in the condition without the manual the performance was approximately equal (for details see De Mul, Van Oostendorp and White, 1994). Neither were there any significant differences in speed of tasks correctly solved between the three conditions (not shown here). Although in the previous experiment the performance on the tasks in the different conditions was found to be approximately equal, we do not know whether the process of exploration that led to this performance was equal as

274 well. In the study that will be presented here, a thinking aloud method was used to obtain more detailed information on this process during the initial learning phase. The protocols should give an indication of the ‘explorability’ of various parts of the interface. For practical reasons, we left out one condition – the user-guide condition. Thus, in the current study we compared the condition with the exploration-supportive interface to the condition with the control interface, that lacked these properties. Subjects had to think aloud during the first half of the tasks. During the second half of the tasks they worked silently. Afterwards they received a knowledge test consisting of items measuring declarative and procedural knowledge, respectively (Anderson, 1983). In the rest of this article we briefly describe the general characteristics of the method and results of this experiment (for details see De Mul and Van Oostendorp, 1996). We want to focus here on the method of thinking aloud during performing complex activities, and we will discuss critically the role of thinking aloud and reflection during display-based problem solving. In the last part of the Discussion Section we will address the consequences and potential disadvantages of display-based, exploratory learning in relation to planning. Here we will argue that problem solving that is highly display-oriented and display-supported may have its restrictions. Method Subjects Sixteen subjects (university students) were randomly assigned to the two conditions. They had little computer experience and no experience with a graphical user interface. Materials The subjects solved 12 tasks (see Table I for some examples) and had to think aloud during the first 6 tasks. A knowledge test about the interface was also presented. This knowledge test contained two kinds of items. The first category of questions (12 items) asked for specific details regarding the appearance of the interface. For instance, the subjects were shown two icons that differed in color only. One of these icons actually appeared in the interface, and the subjects had to indicate which one they thought they had seen before. The second category (24 items) concerned the actions required to solve a particular task, and the order of these actions. These questions were of the form: ‘You want to do X. Action Al comes before action A2. True or False? These categories are supposed to measure ‘declarative’ and ‘procedural’ knowledge, respectively (Anderson, 1983).

275 Equipment The experimental, exploration-supportive interface and the control interface as described above, were used. Procedure The subjects did not receive any training, nor did they have a manual at their disposal. They were asked to solve a series of 12 tasks and to think aloud while solving the first 6 tasks. The computerized knowledge test about the interface was presented after completion of the tasks. In the analysis of the think-aloud protocols, we adopted a method suggested by Draper and Barton (1993). In our email-application thirteen elementary actions or ‘categories’, such as ‘Copy object’ or ‘Open object’, were distinguished. In most cases these actions consisted of a simple drag-and-drop operation. The protocols of all six tasks for each subject were analyzed by first dividing them into units. Each unit, often, but not always, a sentence, in the think-aloud protocols was judged in terms of these (13) categories, and it was determined whether the action was successful (+) or not (–). See Table 2 for an example-fragment of this analysis. Notice that more than one action can be assigned to one sentence, and also that one action can be assigned to more than one sentence. To obtain an impression of the reliability of judging the think-aloud units Cohen’s kappa was determined for assigning the units to the 13 different types of actions or functions. The intracoder reliability (‘stability’, with a 3 month interval) was 0.996, while the intercoder reliability also appeared to be very high, 0.992. Next, the protocol units and their categorizations were split up into thirteen separate groups according to the type of action, e.g., the category ‘Open object’. Within each of these 13 sets the events for all six tasks were sorted chronologically, with the event with the lowest number at the top, i.e., the event occurring first. This resulted in one table for each of the thirteen action categories. From these categorizations of actions, and judged in terms of success or failure, three kinds of figures have been calculated. First, for each type of action the failures occurring before the first successful operation have been counted; this gives an idea of the learnability of the system functions. It provides an indication of how easy a function, such as ‘Open object’, can be found or how successful it is in suggesting its meaning when tried out by the user. The lower this figure, the easier this type of action can be understood or found. Secondly, for each type of action the number of failures after the first success has been computed. This provides an indication of

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Table 2. Example of a think aloud protocol fragment corresponding to the second exampletask, division in units (indicated by / number /), and the categorization in terms of success(+) or failure (–) (Translated from Dutch) Write a letter to your ‘Bank’ about a mistake at your disadvantage. Copy that letter, send one copy to your ‘Bank’, and store one copy in your folder ‘Finances’. /0/ Thus making a letter with the title ‘mistake’, sending it to the ‘bank’ and store one in ‘Finances’ /1/. I have first to write a letter moves cursor to letter template . /2/ I grab this letter put empty page on eye-icon /3/ : : : Title ‘mistake’, and that there has been made a mistake by the bank, does it have to be a long letter? : : : , /4/ finished, ok. /5/ Copying, I don’t know how that’s working, may be this way, why doesn’t move clicking several times on the copier ,: : : /6/ maybe clicking twice, no, /7/ maybe with the pointer, no, it doesn’t work: : : /8/ I better remove this letter here, this one called ‘mistake’, copying I don’t know. /9/ I know how to store. /10/ I really don’t know how to copy. /11/ Maybe I have first to have the letter and bring letter to it letter to the copy-icon , yes, it works, /12/ and next a letter to the ‘bank’, yes, sent to the ‘Bank’. Ok. /13/ And a letter to ‘Finance’ folder, let’s see if the letter is in it folder on eye-icon . Yes. /14/ Ready. Subject is simply reading the task

Summarizing task

Create letter Open letter

+ +

Edit letter Close letter

+ +

Copy letter Copy letter Copy letter Copy letter Put letter in folder Copy letter

– – – – + –

Copy letter copy-icon Send letter to person Put letter in folder Open folder on eye-icon

+ + + +

how consistent the knowledge about a function is. The lower this figure, the higher the consistency. Finally, by dividing the number of successes by the sum of successes and failures, a more general figure is obtained that reflects the general success of a function. The minimum and maximum values are 0 and 1.

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Table 3. Means of the thinking aloud measures Learnability Action description 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Create Object Open Object Edit Object Close Object Get Object from Folder Put Object in Folder Send Letter to Person Send Letter to Group Trash Object Get Trash Get from In-tray Copy Object Move Object Control 1.3 4.0 1.0 0.0 0.1 1.5 1.7 0.4 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.3 Expl. support 0.4 1.4 1.0 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.7 0.3 0.5 Consistency Control 1.1 9.0 2.3 2.8 1.9 0.2 0.9 0.4 0.0 2.0 1.1 1.0 Expl. support 0.3 2.9 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.8 General success Control 0.6 0.6 0.7 0.9 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.8 1.0 0.0 0.5 0.9 0.6 Expl. support 0.9 0.8 0.8 1.0 1.0 0.9 0.9 0.9 1.0 1.0 0.9 0.9 0.6

The pairs of figures that differ significantly (p

0.05, Mann–Whitney test) are shown in bold.

Results Analysis of the think-aloud protocols In Table 3 the results of the thinking aloud measures are summarized. As can be seen, all eleven significant differences are in favor of the interface with the exploration-supportive features. Please note that for the first two variables lower values mean a better exploration. A lower learnability score means that the corresponding action can be understood or found earlier, and a lower consistency score means that less failures are occurring after a first successful visit. Further note that in some categories there are only a few or even no observations, since not every category was equally needed for solving the tasks. This explains the blanks (no observations) and the round numbers (based on only few observations). The learnability of a‘putting an object in a folder’ was significantly (p 0.05) higher in the condition with the exploration-supportive interface, and for a number of other commands there were trends in the expected direction (0.05 p 0.10). The consistency and general success were also significantly (p 0.05) higher for a number of functions in the exploration-supportive condition. Four commands showed a higher consistency, and the general success was higher for six commands. For seven out of thirteen actions a significant (p 0.05) advantage was found for the exploration-supportive interface on any

278 of these measures. Most of the other commands showed trends (0.05 0.10) in the expected direction. Task performance We also analyzed how well the tasks were solved (Figure 3a). In the first half of the tasks (while thinking aloud) there was no significant difference between conditions. However, in the second half the exploration-supportive condition solved significantly (p 0.05) more tasks correctly. The subjects in the exploration-supportive condition also took less time (p 0.05) working on these tasks (not shown here). Knowledge about the interface After completion of the tasks, subjects received the knowledge test. In the exploration-supportive condition subjects scored significantly (p 0.05) higher on the procedural questions; the scores on the declarative questions did not differ significantly (see Figure 3b). Discussion and conclusions The think-aloud method allowed us to examine the process of exploration in the two conditions more closely. The data suggest that the use of explorationsupporting facilities resulted in a more effective exploratory behavior. A number of the system’s functions were found more quickly or remembered for a longer time, and also the general success in using the functions was higher in the exploration-supportive interface condition. While the previous experiment (De Mul, Van Oostendorp and White, 1994) failed to show differences between the two versions of the interface concerning task performance and knowledge of the interface, the current experiment did also reveal differences with respect to task performance, and procedural knowledge. The exploration-supportive condition showed a better score on the second block of tasks (during which the subjects worked silently) and also on the procedural questions of the knowledge test. Since the only difference between this experiment and the previous one was that we required subjects to think aloud during the first six tasks, the differences between the two conditions that appeared in the current experiment could be attributed to a side-effect of thinking aloud. It is of course possible that the lack of difference between conditions in the previous experiment is caused by a lack of power. This is, however, not very plausible. The first experiment was carefully designed, and a lot of conditions were highly favorable here (number of subjects, number of tasks, and so on). p

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Figure 3. (a) Mean percentual scores for task performance (1st half thinking aloud; 2nd half not thinking aloud), and (b) the knowledge test.

Not only was there a difference between conditions during the first half of the tasks in the current study, but the experimental condition also outperformed the control condition in the second half (and on the knowledge test), when the subjects were no longer thinking aloud. Apparently, there appears to occur positive (learning) transfer from the first half to the second one. Thinking aloud seems to force subjects to watch the screen more closely in order to describe what they are doing, increasing the chance that they notice and use the facilities that support the exploration of the system, or – by the

280 addition of text labels to the objects (one of the exploration-supportive facilities) – to become better aware of the metaphor that is used. The procedural knowledge about the interface was also higher in the exploration-supportive condition. Verbalization in the exploration-supportive condition might have led to a better explicit, procedural knowledge, because the interface used in this condition mainly helped the users with determining their next step by referring to task-like units in the support texts that were provided at the bottom of the screen. The better procedural knowledge could in turn have resulted in a better task performance. It seems that thinking-aloud positively influenced the metacognition of our subjects, in the sense of monitoring and controlling one’s own problem solving behavior. It is, however, worthwhile to note that this factor alone is not a sufficient condition: also the subjects in the control condition verbalized their thoughts and still we find a significant difference in task performance and procedural knowledge. So, it seems that the combination of increased attention paid to the environment (the interface) and use of the information provided in the environment by the higher degree of externalization of information (available in the exploration-supportive interface) is responsible for the facilitation. This result confirms notions that thinking aloud may indeed encourage users to focus on one’s own behavior, leading to more reflections on that behavior and to a higher investment in cognitive monitoring and control and, finally, to an improvement of performance (Reither, 1977; Berry, 1983; Van Someren and Elshout, 1985; for a review see Ericsson and Simon, 1984). The study by Van Someren and Elshout (1985) showed, for instance, that learning by doing was fostered by reflecting on one’s own problem solving process during task performance. The tasks consisted of solving end situations in chess games. Half of the subjects were instructed to verbalize after each move how they came to their move. This group of subjects performed better than the nonverbalization group on transfer problems. The acquisition of knowledge and skills relevant to solving problems can apparently be enhanced by reflection. In the context of human-computer interaction similar results are obtained by Trudel and Payne (1995). They showed that the acquisition of knowledge derived by the interaction with the system can be improved by encouraging users to think about actions and their consequences. Reflection of the subjects was manipulated by imposing a key-stroke limit on subjects, that is, a limit on the amount of physical interaction with the device (a digital watch). The number of allowed key-strokes was here limited. They found that despite spending less total time on interaction with the device, subjects who had been imposed a key-stroke limit learned better.

281 Summarizing, it seems rather clear from these studies on the role of reflection that exploratory learning a complex system can be positively affected by the degree to which subjects reflect on their behavior, and use available supportive information. This means that thinking aloud can influence ‘normal’ processing. In this case it happened to be a positive influence, probably because subjects were encouraged to use the available information on screen in the exploration-supportive condition. The side-effect of thinking aloud also means that, in general, ‘normal’ processing of complex cognitive problems can be altered by thinking aloud, in particular if paying attention to visual information in the environment plays an important role to problem solving (Ericsson and Simon, 1984). The main question of this study was whether the exploration-support indeed supports exploration and leads to better task performance. The effect on exploration itself is rather difficult to evaluate, because exploration can be seen from two perspectives. If we consider exploration simply as the ability to gather useful information in an unfamiliar situation, then exploration is not necessarily linked to task performance, at least not directly. Efficiency does not need to be the primary goal of someone who just started to learn an interface. Information may be gathered that is not directly relevant for the task at hand. On the other hand, if we see exploration as the ability to cope successfully with a situation that is partly unknown to us, then exploration is more or less linked to performance. The better the task performance, the better the exploration must have been. The thinking aloud data showed that a number of the system’s functions were understood or found more quickly and remembered for a longer time in the exploration-supportive condition. These data, reflecting primarily the process of exploration, support the notion that better task performance is indeed caused by a more efficient explorative behavior. The question whether there is an effect of exploration-support on task performance (and knowledge acquisition) is easier to answer. As mentioned in the introduction, we conceive the function of exploration-support as being formally equivalent to providing an external representation on the level of navigating. The representation is continually updated and offers constraints on how to proceed during problem solving. Other research has shown that externalization can considerably enhance performance (Larkin, 1989; Zhang and Norman, 1994). Also in the current experiment we find a positive effect of externalization on the level of navigation (by the exploration-support) on performance and knowledge acquisition, though it appeared to be dependent on thinking aloud, which somehow forced subjects to process that what is shown on screen more deeply. The fact that we did not find a significant difference between the conditions with external and internal representations

282 in the previous experiment could be due to the small difference between the ‘external’ and ‘internal’ conditions, or by the fact that subjects did pay too little attention to the external representation in the exploration-supportive condition. The findings discussed here may have significant practical consequences, which are not restricted to the specific email application we studied: It might apply to complex computerized information systems in general. Users can learn these systems by themselves when they receive exploration-support, at least if that support is sufficiently attracting the attention of users. This effect might be achieved by making the support-features more prominent in order to attract the attention of the user, for instance, by using more distinctive colors. At this point we want to make two qualifications concerning exploratory learning. First, in the introduction we approached exploratory learning and exploration-support as an alternative to learning from a manual. Exploration and exploration-support may, however, also be seen as complementary to, rather than an alternative for, a manual of a system. The manual may, for instance, provide support for the high-level planning of tasks, while the more detailed operations are learned by exploration. The second qualification concerning exploratory learning, especially in the context of display-based problem solving, might be that the resulting knowledge is relatively volatile. Draper and Barton (1993a, b) indeed found that users tend to forget what they discovered, even within the same session. Payne and Howes (1992) identify “exploration traps” into which learners frequently fall: for instance, they may accomplish a goal but forget how they did so, or they discover nonideal methods and use them thereafter. There could be a potential negative influence and constraints of too strong a reliance on visual displays with regard to planning of behavior and transfer of skills. It is worthwhile to introduce the distinction here between situation or display-based problem solving and plan-based problem solving (Vera and Simon, 1993). The first is characterized by the execution of procedures triggered by information in the external situation, in our context often perceptual information on the display (or screen), while the second one is characterised by using an elaborated internal representation to determine a future sequence of actions. O’Hara and Payne (in preparation) report a series of experiments which manipulated the user interface to computerized versions of classic problems like the Tower of Hanoi. When the cost of making a move in the problem space is high, because the computer command is clumsy, subjects solve these problems in significantly fewer moves, and acquire problem solving skills more rapidly. The clumsiness of commands was manipulated here by varying the number of keystrokes per command.

283 O’Hara and Payne explain their findings by assuming that learners evaluate the costs and benefits of planning, and plan more when they have more to gain, in terms of saved efforts. These studies show that, within limits, learners can decide how much to reflect on the problems they are solving, and that the more they reflect, the more they will learn. In other words, they demonstrated that increasing the cost of interaction at a user interface can improve performance (less errors) and learning (less trials to achieve a certain criterion). They also showed that high-cost training interfaces may lead to better subsequent performance (transfer) with a low-cost interface. They assume that when the mental cost associated with an operator was relatively high, problem solving strategy shifted towards the plan-based end of the continuum, resulting in less error-prone performance. Conversely, when the cost associated with the operator was relatively low, subjects shifted to the situation-based end of the continuum, to a strategy which was essentially reactive and display-based. The implication of this work is that it may be desirable to increase interface costs when the number of errors has to be reduced, longer lasting, efficient plans have to be acquired, and transfer is important. Under these circumstances it could be preferable to encourage subjects to pay more attention to, and to think harder about the interaction with the interface.

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