A comparison of two methods of skill acquisition

Lawrence John Intenzo, Fordham University


One dominant theory in the literature on skill acquisition is that rule-based processing accounts for learning. Procedures are modified and become more efficient with practice and are designed as the processing tool for specific tasks. While there are some theorists who propose a connectionist or network model of learning which relies on excitatory and inhibitory pathway activity to retrieve information, the procedural approach treats the accessing of information as a passive activity. Knowledge is retrieved so that a procedure can operate on it. Declarative knowledge is passive, and it is used in the same way a computer program stores a data file for processing. More recent research has suggested that there are two different methods of skill acquisition, the procedural and the retrieval. It has been proposed that these two methods are distinct and measurable, and that their development can be examined through specific types of practice and transfer tasks. The focus of this study was to replicate and expand on the prior research in this area through two experiments. Each experiment had 48 junior high school students as subjects, ranked and stratified by mathematical ability, and randomly assigned to either the procedural or retrieval training task. Each training task consisted of a set of alphabet arithmetic addition problems designed to foster either procedural skill or retrieval skill. The transfer task for Experiment 1 consisted of a set of problems designed to transfer learning from the procedural training condition. The training tasks for Experiment 2 were the same as for Experiment 1. The transfer task consisted of a set of alphabet subtraction problems that were the inverse of the retrieval training addition set presented to the subjects. The results of both experiments showed that on the training task, the subjects in the retrieval condition had significantly faster reaction times than their ability counterparts in the procedural group. Within the training tasks, only the high retrieval subjects in Experiment 2 outperformed their low ability counterparts. The results on the transfer task for Experiment 1 showed that the procedural groups had faster reaction times than their same ability counterparts, but not significantly. In Experiment 2, the subjects trained in the retrieval conditions outperformed their ability counterparts in the procedural condition, but again not significantly. The results, interpretations, and power of the studies were discussed.

Subject Area

Cognitive therapy|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Intenzo, Lawrence John, "A comparison of two methods of skill acquisition" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9729605.