Time efficiency is crucial when teaching SCUBA-diving with limited practice time. Safety skills must be learned with sufficient quality and still be mastered after long breaks and in critical situations. We hypothesized a rule-directed learning approach (RL), which provides the learners with information on the best way to perform a skill, to show good initial results but less stability over time. Discovery learning (DL), which enables learners to experience more variability and find individual solutions, might support greater stability over time and higher robustness to stress and fatigue.
25 beginners (age:22.5±2.7; 5 females) were randomly assigned to RL (N=13) or DL (N=12) and received the same general criteria for successful deployment of a surface marker buoy. Only RL got additional visual presentation and explicit instructions. Six acquisition trials were conducted. Three evaluation trials were performed, video-recorded, and independently rated for water-position/trim, time, and safety-aspects (Pre). Another three rated trials were performed after 45 (±5) days without further practice (Retention).
Safety performance was rated higher for RL both during Pre (P<0.001) and Retention (P<0.001), but RL took significantly more time during Pre (P<0.001) and Retention (P<0.001) and reported a significantly higher perceived performance quality during Retention (P=0.014) compared to DL. Trim performance improved for RL and deteriorated for DL from Pre to Retention.
Performance quality in unique aspects of the new skill seems to benefit more from explicit instructions with a detriment for speed. The suspected higher learning for DL and robust performance in the Retention test could not be observed.