Ogata, H. et al. (Eds.) (2015). Proceedings of the 23rd International Conference on Computers in Education.
China: Asia-Pacific Society for Computers in Education
An Approach for Training Decision Making
Competences in a Multi-Modal Online
Alexander NUSSBAUMERa*, Christina M. STEINERa, Nora MCCARTHYb, Simon DWANEb,
Karen NEVILLEc, Sheila O'RIORDANc, & Dietrich ALBERTa,d
aKnowlege Technologies Institute, Graz University of Technology, Austria
bASSERT for Health Centre, University College Cork, Ireland
cBusiness Information Systems, University College Cork, Ireland
dDepartment of Psychology, University of Graz, Austria
Abstract: In this paper, we describe an approach for training decision making competences in
emergency situations with the help of a multi-modal online environment. Decision making is an
essential aspect of emergency management and a successful response to an emergency situation
highly depends on whether decisions are being taken in an effective and timely manner. For this
reason effective training programs are needed, in order to guarantee that emergency managers
respond adequately to disasters. This paper addresses these needs by outlining and structuring
the competences required for making meaningful decisions and by presenting an approach on
how these competences can be trained in an online environment.
Keywords: Decision making competences, Competence-based Knowledge Space Theory,
personalization, online training
Decision making is an essential component of emergency management, and a successful response to an
emergency situation highly depends on whether decisions are being taken in an effective and timely
manner. Decision making in emergencies encompasses a broad range of individual decisions, which
may occur before, during, or after an event, from declaring a state of emergency, issuing an evacuation,
to specific operational decisions. Acute emergency situations represent decision environments that are
dynamic and complex. This is due to the large number and interdependence of variables involved,
including: dynamism, uncertainty and intransparency of the situation, information overload or lack of
information, time pressure, risk, plurality of goals, and the involvement of multiple players (St.Pierre et
For effective emergency decision making, domain-specific knowledge on emergencies and
emergency management is needed, as well as knowledge and competence on a meta-level
(metacognition, decision making). While domain-specific knowledge typically refers to the operations
during emergencies and the resources needed for these operations, competences on the meta-level refers
to decision making in general, targeting the logical structure of decisions and their consequences. In this
paper we address the training of these meta-level decision making competences.
2. Decision Making Competences in Emergencies
Decision making constitutes an area of critical thinking skills that is considered essential for students
and workers in the 21st century. Decision making competence is a multidimensional construct
including a range of key skills (e.g. Finucane & Gullion, 2007). In the context of our psychological
framework (Steiner et al., 2015) a set of decision making competences have been defined focusing on
the steps of decision making:
competences related to the forethought phase: e.g. identify the problem, defining the goal, and
competences related to the decision phase: e.g. generating and evaluating alternatives, selecting
and implementing the best alternative
competences related to the reflection phase: e.g. evaluating results, attribution of causes,
monitoring progress, adapting reaction
For a systematic approach to model decision making competences, we use Competence-based
Knowledge Space Theory (Heller et al., 2006), a psychological set-theoretic framework for
representing domain and personal knowledge and competences. This theoretical approach establishes a
structure on a knowledge domain by capturing the inherent structural dependencies (prerequisites)
between the items or competences of a domain. The established knowledge or competence structures
may be used as a reference point for realising meaningful sequences of learning, for efficient
assessment procedures, and for personalizing learning. The decision making competence metrics allow
for a useful assessment method as each can be scored (Gallagher, 2012).
3. Multi-Modal Training Environment
Multi-modal learning has been shown to be more effective than more traditional, single-modal
approaches of learning. Kolb & Kolb (2005) describe an experimental learning cycle that integrates
abstract concepts and concrete experiences as two dialectically related modes of transforming
knowledge. Based on that, we present an approach to train decision making competences in two ways.
First, an adaptive and personalized online course is used to train theoretical and conceptual knowledge
of decision making competences. Second simulated environments are used to apply and train the
application of decision making competences. Both of these environments employ deliberate practice
and proficiency based progression. Deliberate practice involves the provision of immediate feedback on
the performance of a task or activity for the purpose of skill improvement (Ericsson, 2003). Proficiency
Based Progression emphasizes the stepwise approach required for progression from a novice to an
expert level of performance (Dreyfus et al., 1986, Anderson & Krathwohl 2001).
3.1 Web-based learning service Compod
Compod is a service that supports the adaptive and personalized learning based on competence
structures (Nussbaumer et al., 2015). One of the core components of Compod is the domain model that
includes competences, their prerequisite structures, learning objects, and assessment items. The
competence structure is graphically depicted, so that the trainee can choose individual competences to
be learned next. Learning objects and assessment items related to selected competences are presented to
In order to train decision making competences, we have modelled a decision making competence
structure and added learning objects and assessment items for their training. The trainee can step
through this structure, visit learning objects and undergo assessment items for selected competences.
Each time a learning object is visited or an assessment item is solved correctly, the related competence
is marked (with different colours). In this way, the learning progress is graphically represented.
Traversing through the whole competence structure, the complete domain of decision making can be
3.2 Online simulator
Emergency management training is often done in virtual reality simulators. Such simulators are able to
provide a realistic environment with emergency procedures, respective infrastructure, safety
environment, fire and smoke propagation, and other components available in a real incident (Louka, &
Balducelli, 2001). In order to use these environments for training, scenarios are created, where
emergency managers have to respond to incidents and make respective decisions.
In our approach these scenarios are treated in a similar way to assessment items. The decisions to
be made in these scenarios are related to the decision making competences as described above. Each
time a trainee undergoes a scenario and makes a decision, the actions are analysed regarding the quality
and correctness of the decisions taken and any related decision making competences. Then the
information on the decision making competences are sent to the Compod service, where the new
information is used to update the personal profile of the trainee. This information is then graphically
shown in the decision making competence structure (Figure 1). This allows the trainee to go back to the
theoretical knowledge of certain decision making competences, and to assess whether they failed in
taking certain decisions correctly. The overall goal is to complete the learning objects and assessment
items, as well as the scenarios for all decision making competences, which triggers live updates in the
4. Conclusion and Outlook
This paper presents an approach to train decision making competences needed for emergencies in two
different ways. The Web-based system Compod allows for learning the theoretical knowledge of
decision making competences and the online simulator allows for training in emergency scenarios.
While the Compod system and the decision making competence structure have already been developed,
the online simulator is not yet available. Next steps and future work include the selection of a virtual
reality application that enables training in emergency scenarios. These scenarios will be assigned with
decision making competences from our domain model and a mechanism that analyse if the correct or
wrong decisions have been taken. This information is then sent to Compod, where user information on
available decision making competences from assessment items and scenarios are stored and brought
together. It is the amalgamation of the decision making task analysis and metric development, web
based and simulator learning with deliberate practice and proficiency based progression that converts
the multi modal environment from an educational experience to a training programme that allows
optimal learning to occur.
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