A Training Approach for Context-Sensitive Skills: An Example with Typeface Selection

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Cognitive task analysis and Computer Science have revolutionized training technology with intelligent tutoring systems (Wenger, 1987). However, some key assumptions determine the success of such systems: 1) Student knowledge is rule-based, so that performance may be evaluated according to the presence or absence of rules and 2) The computer and the student have access to the same information about the problem context. In the instructional task domain we are addressing–-typeface selection–-neither assumption is appropriate. Each selection emerges as an interaction with the parameters and contingencies of the particular problem (Suchman, 1987). Furthermore, an important property of typeface is its evocative or emotional power–-a property that cannot be represented adequately in a computer.

Our objective is to develop a satisfactory compromise using computer-aided instruction, specifically for the domain of typeface selection. Following Clancey (1983) and Winograd & Flores (1986), we recognize that some of the knowledge we seek to train will simply not “be in” the computer. However, it may be reflected in the design and organization of training exercises, which set up a sensitivity to the important dimensions of the problem. We take advantage of the computer medium to demonstrate typeface and layout transformations of preprogrammed text examples, as well as text examples entered on-line by the student. In addition, a hypertext style menuing system allows the student to access any part of the system from any point.

In this paper we provide a description of the system we have built for training in the domain of typeface selection, and discuss the relevance of this system for two applications concerns in human factors: 1) The design of messages for public display and 2) The training of context sensitive skill.


Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Atlanta, GA, October 12-16, 1992.



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