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Understanding and Reducing Skill Decay

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Human Factors and Medicine

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Influencing Factors, Interventions, Performance Degradation, Refresher Training, Skill Decay, Skill Fade, Skill Retention, Training Design, Training Schedules


Military training often involves individuals or teams receiving training on knowledge and skills that they may not be required to use or exercise for extended periods of time. Skill decay is particularly salient and problematic in such situations (Arthur et al 1998). Consider for example an Army reservist who may only receive formal training once or twice a year but is expected to deploy with minimal refresher training. Recent research has provided a consolidated view of the range of factors that are thought to influence skill decay and retention (Arthur et al 2013) . However empirical evidence for the moderating factors and their impact is lacking. Similarly, Arthur et al also highlighted a number of key gaps in the skill decay literature. These include a lack of research that introduces and tests interventions aimed at increasing knowledge and skill retention, an absence of literature devoted to enhancing skill retention on cognitively complex tasks, a gap in terms of investigations of decay of teamwork skills and competences and the need for evidence-based techniques for predicting the amount of knowledge and skill decay over various periods of non-use. The HFM Exploratory Team 146 ‘Measuring, Modelling, Predicting Skill Fade’ was established to identify relevant research sources relating to skill decay in a military context and to bring together different nations perspectives on the skill decay issue. The ET identified gaps in the skill decay literature and provided some initial insights into the advantages and disadvantages of different skill decay research methods. It also provided an opportunity to learn about the participating nation’s ongoing research on the topic. The work proposed here meets requirements set out in the ‘2016 NATO Science and Technology Priorities’ document under Advanced Human Performance & Health, Cultural, Social & Organisational Behaviours and Information Analysis & Decision Support.


The objective of this RTG is to focus on understanding and reducing skill decay by: • Sharing literature reviews on the topic of skill decay in order to capitalize on the participating nations’ knowledge base; • Agreeing upon common definition of terms related to skill decay in a military context; • Identifying and investigating the range of skills (e.g., from simple procedure to complex cognitive skills) at various levels (e.g., individual, team) and agreeing on a common skill taxonomy; • Identifying and investigating the factors that influence skill decay, including finding a common taxonomy, while mapping onto the skill taxonomy: o identifying a comprehensive list of factors and developing a common taxonomy; o assessing the strength of evidence for each factor (e.g., in terms of validity, impact, efficacy, measurability, direction of effect, relationships between factors, individual differences); o organizing/structuring factors into a framework (e.g., consider individual, team, and organizational) • Identifying interventions to reduce skill decay and increase retention; • Reviewing various skill decay research methodologies, including associated pros and cons, and challenges; and • Developing a conceptual model for understanding skill decay in a military context.


• Categorization of skills • Factors that influence skill decay • Skill decay interventions • Skill decay research methodologies.

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