Cognitive Task Analysis

Another approach to the identification of training needs for nontechnical skills is cognitive task analysis (CTA). As described in the previous chapter, CTA was developed from traditional task analysis and is a method used to describe the mental processes that support work performance alongside the behavioural elements.5 The processes for undertaking cognitive task analysis include methods such as cognitive interview techniques, verbal report methods in which the expert operators describe what they are doing/thinking, and process mapping information, communication and decision pathways.

Cognitive Work Analysis

Traditional approaches to training needs analysis have been criticised for the way in which they focus on the individual operator’s tasks and in doing so, fail to capture the broader demands of managing off-nominal events in the highly dynamic and complex environments of high-risk industries.6 Traditional training needs analysis, which focusses on developing a taxonomy of operator actions for specific work practices, is ideally suited to routine operations under normal conditions. Here, an operator’s work can be specified in a detailed procedure, and the knowledge and skill requirements to perform that procedure can be relatively easily laid out.

However, with the advent of increasingly complex systems of work, where different levels of automation are deployed, the operator can shift rapidly from a system monitoring mode into a much more dynamic problem-solving mode when abnormal conditions arise. For instance, the work of an anaesthetist in inducing and maintaining anaesthesia can be readily subjected to task analysis, a step-by-step procedure can be developed to describe those tasks, and the requisite knowledge and skills can be specified. However, the analysis of work performed during an anaesthetic crisis, with equipment malfunction occurring concurrently with rapid deterioration in the patient’s condition, is much less amenable to traditional task analysis. To this end, cognitive work analysis has been put forward as an alternative methodology.

For many, the process of cognitive work analysis is largely impenetrable due to its complexity, and as such, it is not a technique that is readily deployed by anyone other than experts in the methodology. It is far beyond the scope of this book to describe in detail the processes of cognitive work analysis. These have been laid out in detail in several foundational texts.7,8 However, the general principle of thinking beyond task analysis for normal system operation is a useful concept to bear in mind when developing non-technical skills programs.

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