Chapter 2. The Learning Process

Simultaneous Performance

Performing several tasks at once, or simultaneous performance, is the second type of multitasking. [Figure 2-20] This type of multitasking becomes possible when no bottlenecks are present and when one or more of the tasks being performed are skills developed to the point of being automatic. For example, the experienced instrument pilot is able to perform basic attitude instrument flying while communicating with ATC. For these pilots, scanning instruments and responding to minor attitude deviations with small control inputs has become automatic. The attentional resources of the pilot are free to devote to thinking and talking about other topics.

It is important to note that the ability to simultaneously perform tasks is a fragile phenomenon. For example, suppose Beverly is performing the basic attitude control task and communicating with ATC when she suddenly encounters turbulence. The attitude control task quickly increases in difficulty and begins to require more and more deliberate attention. Her ability to perform both tasks simultaneously quickly degrades.

Learning To Multitask

Since doing several things at once is a natural part of aviation, instructors need to help students develop both types of multitasking abilities: attention switching and simultaneous performance. Before students are asked to perform several tasks at once, instructors should ensure that the student has devoted enough time to study and practice such that the individual tasks can be performed reasonably well in isolation.

Inexperience with an individual task can often hinder attempts to learn combinations of it and other tasks. For example, a student distracted by trying to interpret unfamiliar symbols on a sectional chart inadvertently deviates from assigned attitude or heading. An instructor recognizes the need to spend more time with these skills in isolation. In this case, there is nothing about the experience of controlling the aircraft that helps students better understand chart symbols.

Distractions and Interruptions

A distraction is an unexpected event that causes the studentís attention to be momentarily diverted. Students must learn to decide whether or not a distraction warrants further attention or action on their part. Once this has been decided, the students must either turn their attention back to what they were doing, or act on the distraction.

An interruption is an unexpected event for which the student voluntarily suspends performance of one task in order to complete a different one. Interruptions are a significant source of errors and students must be made aware of the potential for errors caused by interruptions and develop procedures for dealing with them. A classic example is an interruption that occurs while a student is following the steps in a written procedure or checklist. The student puts down the checklist, deals with the interruption, and then returns to the procedureóbut erroneously picks up at a later point in the procedure, omitting one or more steps.

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