Nominal and functional task difficulty in skill acquisition: Effects on performance in two tests of transfer
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The influence of nominal and functional task difficulty during the acquisition of a motor skill was examined in two tests of transfer of learning. The task involved a ballistic, target-directed, finger action. Nominal task difficulty was defined as the distance of the target from the home position. Functional task difficulty was created by manipulating the progression of target distances during practice. Based on the challenge point framework (Guadagnoli & Lee, 2004), we predicted that practice with a set of targets farther away from the performer would benefit from less functional task difficulty, while practice with a closer set of targets would benefit from more functional task difficulty. In single-task transfer tests, learners who practiced using the high nominal task difficulty targets benefitted in terms of persistence of performance over time. In dual-task transfer tests, groups with an intermediate combined (nominal and functional) task difficulty performed with greater persistence over time on tests of transfer than those who practiced with the highest or lowest combined difficulty. Together these findings suggest that the influences of nominal and functional task difficulty during acquisition are weighted differentially depending upon the transfer test context. The challenge point framework does not accurately capture this complex relationship in its current form.
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