With a little help …: On the role of guidance in the acquisition and utilisation of knowledge in the control of complex, dynamic systems

  • Natassia Goode (Author)
    University of the Sunshine Coast, University of Sydney
    Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Human Factors and Sociotechnical Systems
  • Jens F Beckmann (Author)
    Durham University
    Professor of Educational Psychology, Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham, School of Education

Identifiers (Article)


Many situations require people to acquire knowledge about, and learn how to control, complex dynamic systems of inter-connected variables. Numerous studies have found that most problem solvers are unable to acquire complete knowledge of the underlying structure of a system through an unguided exploration of the system variables; additional instruction or guidance is required. This paper examines whether providing structural information following an unguided exploration also improves control performance, and the extent to which any improvements are moderated by problem solvers’ fluid intelligence. A sample of 98 individuals attempted to discover the underlying structure of a computer-simulated complex dynamic system. After initially controlling the system with their limited knowledge, half of the sample received guidance concerning the actual underlying structure of the system. All participants then controlled the system again.  In contrast to the results of previous studies, guidance did result in immediate improvements in control performance. Fluid intelligence moderated the extent to which problem solvers benefited from structural information. These results indicate that guidance in the form of structural information is critical in promoting knowledge and control over complex and dynamic systems. 



Supplementary Content

Type, method or approach
original empirical work
Complex problem solving; dynamic systems; knowledge acquisition; fluid intelligence; discovery learning