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Effectiveness of Part-Task Training


As any experienced operator can tell you, poor operating performance can lead to devastating consequences. This is especially the case during upsets. However, without the use of simulators, it is difficult for operators to develop the special skills necessary to handle off-normal events. Even with simulators, ensuring that the skills transfer from training to real life is difficult. How, then, can companies ensure that operators are adequately prepared for off-normal events?

 Human factors research into skill transfer of training may provide some insight. A study on the effectiveness of parttask versus whole-task training was conducted to evaluate both skill performance and retention (Whaley, C. and Fisk, A., “Effects of Part-Task Training on Memory Set Unitization and Retention of Memory-Dependent Skilled Search,” Human Factors, Vol. 35, No.4, 1993, pp.639-652.) Part-task training involves breaking a task into its parts and teaching those parts, independent of one another. This is in contrast to whole-task training which involves dynamic simulations of an entire process. The researchers in this study wanted to determine the differences these types of training have on performance and skill retention.

The study showed that part-task training is as effective as whole-task training for tasks involving memory and visual search. In fact, in some cases, retention of skills was greater for part-task than with whole-task training. This suggests that not only is part-task training useful when time or costs inhibit extensive training, sometimes it is better than whole-task training and should be the first option.

Beville encountered an example where part-task training provided an effective replacement to whole-task training. Diverting feed on a cat cracker posed significant safety and economic consequences for one refinery. As such, management felt that dynamic simulation was the best course for training this action: making the decision and then implementing it.

Beville suggested that in reality, it was the decision to divert or not to divert that posed the greatest difficulty for the operators. Once the decision was made, implementing necessary control actions was routine. We proposed using part-task training that would involve presenting the operator with various sets of conditions, and having them make the decisions about whether diverting feed was the best option. Management accepted the decision and implemented more effective training at a much lower cost than if they had used simulation.

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