Online single pilot resource management training - 2009

Guided mental practice within asynchronous training

Kearns (2011) carried out research into the viability of asynchronous computer based single pilot resource management training. The research specifically measured the effectiveness of guided mental practice as a learning strategy when applied via a computer based Non-technical skills training program. Learning effectiveness was measured by assessing the participant’s levels of situational awareness, and mental workload during simulated flight.

Illustration 1 shows the results of the situational awareness measurement, indicating that SRM training using the training techniques of hands on practice, and guided mental practice are significantly more effective than the control group who received no practice. It also shows that guided mental practice, a relatively new training concept, is at least as effective as hands on practice in developing situational awareness abilities.

Illustration 1. Situational awareness measurement
Situational awareness global assessment technique (SAGAT)
SRM training group Result (mean) Result (std dev) CV Interpretation
Hands on practice group 13.08 2.35 17.9% High score
Guided mental practice group 13.50 2.43 18.6% Highest score
Control group 10.00 2.22 22.2% Low score

Illustration 2 shows the results of the mental workload measurement, using the secondary task metric. The results indicate that neither training group had a significant improvement over the other or the control group. It is therefore not possible to conclude whether or not hands on or mental practice in asynchronous SRM training can be used to enhance mental workload abilities.

Illustration 2. Mental workload measurement
Secondary task or Sternberg task (ST)
SRM training group Result (mean) Result (std dev) CV Interpretation
Hands on practice group 67.20 25.29 37.7% Ambiguous
Guided mental practice group 56.90 19.47 34.2% Ambiguous
Control group 58.60 30.58 52.2% Ambiguous

The results of this study indicate that guided mental practice could be used as a viable cost effective alternative to hands on practice, in learning situational awareness as part of an asynchronous SRM training program.


Research approach

Exploratory research performed in a flight simulator, using quantitative research methodology.


Thirty-six pilots, each holding a minimum of a private pilot license, were recruited from local pilot organizations and an aviation college, using a purposive non-probability sampling technique. The participant’s ages ranged from 18 to 31 years with an average of 22.14 years. Flight experience of the participants varied widely from a 50 hours to 825 hours, the average being 164.8 hours. The study does not mention the gender of the participants.


An independent group, between subjects design. Three separate groups were used; two experimental groups who received specific training, and one control group who received no training.


  • Dependent variables (DV): The participant’s performance in Situational Awareness and Mental Workload assessments.
  • Independent variables (IV): Single pilot resource management training, specifically the differing levels of active practice each of the two experimental groups received.
  • Experimental group 1: Training with hands-on practice
  • Experimental group 2: Training with guided mental practice
  • Control group: No training
  • Confounding variable: As no pre-testing of participants was carried out a potential confounding variable exists due to the possible non-random assignment of participants to groups.


  • Two asynchronous on-line single pilot resource management (SRM) training programs; one utilising guided mental practice, the other utilising hands on practice.
  • Simulated flights using an aviation colleges Cessna 172 high-fidelity flight simulator. A flight instructor operated the simulator and a research assistant observed the exercise.
  • Training effectiveness assessment tools; Situational awareness global assessment technique (SAGAT), for assessing situational awareness, and the Sternberg task, or secondary task (ST), for measuring mental workload.


The study required that the participants in each experimental group undergo a Single pilot resource management-training (SRM) course, approximately 90 minutes in duration. Each experimental group member received a similar course, the only difference being the method of active practice utilised; one group used hands on practice, while the other group used guided mental practice. The course focused on the skills of Situational awareness, and mental workload. On completion of the SRM training the participants were required to complete flight preparation and planning for a simulated cross-country flight. They were also asked to memorize a set of five letters for the secondary task assessment. The participants then proceeded to the flight simulator to undergo the SAGAT and ST assessments. Flight freeze was selected at various intervals during the simulator exercise, and the participants presented with SAGAT questions to assess their situational awareness. The ST assessment was administered by requiring the participant to push a button on the control column when he recognized a letter from the previously memorized letter set.

Data analysis

  • A Univariate data analysis was performed on both the SAGAT and ST performance measures.
  • A post-hoc least significant difference test (LSD) was performed for the SAGAT performance measures. Multiple pairwise comparisons were also carried out.
  • The original research article provided summarized SAGAT and ST results. This meta-analysis also provides the coefficient of variation (CV) in order to facilitate comparison between data sets.

Generalization potential

  • The results of this research suggest that guided mental practice in asynchronous computer based instruction is an effective medium for delivering SRM training.
  • This study used a non-probability sampling method therefore should only be generalized to similar populations as that used in the sample.
  • Additional research is required in the area of the mental workload measurement in order to reduce the level of ambiguity in the results.
1. KEARNS Suzanne (2009). Online single pilot resource management: assessing the feasibility of computer-based safety training. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology (ISSN 1532-7108), 2011, volume 21, issue 2, pages 175-190.
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Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors

Steve GEDDES (2013). Massey University, New Zealand (Steve GeddesSteve Geddes).

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