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A Dynamic Mental Model Approach to Examine Schema Development in Performing a Complex Troubleshooting Task: Retention of Mental Models
Norbert M. Seel, A. Aubteen Darabi and David W. Nelson

Mental models provide a powerful mechanism for storing knowledge in the human mind. Because of the ways these structures can influence human behavior, they have significant impact on virtually all forms of human activity. This is particularly so in the areas of instruction, learning, and expert performance. Because of the important role mental models play in these areas, this paper investigates their significance in learning a complex cognitive task in the context of troubleshooting and maintaining a complex simulated system. The focus of this investigation is on the learning-dependent progression of mental models as learners master the performance of a complex task. Accordingly, the learners´ mental models were assessed at different points of accomplishing a complex troubleshooting skill within the realm of a simulation program. 26 engineering and chemical engineering students were recruited from engineering classes at Florida State University (14 male and 12 female). These subjects were randomly assigned to two experimental treatments (timed and self-paced). The measures of mental model progression during the second and third phase of the treatment showed that the subjects were faced with an uncertain situation which fragmented their under-standing of the task. In terms of the development and progression of mental model, students ended up with the same mental model as their first one prior to receiving the treatment. The results are discussed with regard to mental model theory and instructional implications.

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