You are here:

Learner-Controlled Practice Difficulty in the Training of a Complex Task: Cognitive and Motivational Mechanisms

, , , , , ,

Journal of Applied Psychology Volume 98, Number 1, ISSN 0021-9010


An inherent aspect of learner-controlled instructional environments is the ability of learners to affect the degree of difficulty faced during training. However, research has yet to examine how learner-controlled practice difficulty affects learning. Based on the notion of "desirable difficulties" (Bjork, 1994), this study examined the cognitive and motivational antecedents and outcomes of learner-controlled practice difficulty in relation to learning a complex task. Using a complex videogame involving both strong cognitive and psychomotor demands, 112 young adult males were given control over their practice difficulty, which was reflected in the complexity of the training task. Results show that general mental ability, prior experience, pre-training self-efficacy, and error encouragement were positively related to learner-controlled practice difficulty. In turn, practice difficulty was directly related to task knowledge and post-training performance, and it was related to adaptive performance through the mediating influences of task knowledge and post-training performance. In general, this study supports the notion that training difficulty operationalized in terms of task complexity is positively related to both knowledge and performance outcomes. Results are discussed with respect to the need for more research examining how task complexity and other forms of difficulty could be leveraged to advance learner-controlled instructional practices. (Contains 2 tables and 3 figures.)


Hughes, M.G., Day, E.A., Wang, X., Schuelke, M.J., Arsenault, M.L., Harkrider, L.N. & Cooper, O.D. (2013). Learner-Controlled Practice Difficulty in the Training of a Complex Task: Cognitive and Motivational Mechanisms. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(1), 80-98. Retrieved August 23, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ERIC on March 21, 2014. [Original Record]

ERIC is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Copyright for this record is held by the content creator. For more details see ERIC's copyright policy.