Navigation Assistance: A Trade-Off Between Wayfinding Support and Configural Learning Support

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Current GPS-based mobile navigation assistance systems support wayfinding, but they do not support learning about the spatial configuration of an environment. The present study examined effects of visual presentation modes for navigation assistance on wayfinding accuracy, route learning, and configural learning. Participants (high-school students) visited a university campus for the first time and took a predefined assisted tour. In Experiment 1 (n = 84, 42 females), a presentation mode showing wayfinding information from eye-level was contrasted with presentation modes showing wayfinding information included in views that provided comprehensive configural information. In Experiment 2 (n = 48, 24 females), wayfinding information was included in map fragments. A presentation mode which always showed north on top of the device was compared with a mode which rotated according to the orientation of the user. Wayfinding accuracy (deviations from the route), route learning, and configural learning (direction estimates, sketch maps) were assessed. Results indicated a trade-off between wayfinding and configural learning: Presentation modes providing comprehensive configural information supported the acquisition of configural knowledge at the cost of accurate wayfinding. The route presentation mode supported wayfinding at the cost of configural knowledge acquisition. Both presentation modes based on map fragments supported wayfinding. Individual differences in visual-spatial working memory capacity explained a considerable portion of the variance in wayfinding accuracy, route learning, and configural learning. It is concluded that learning about an unknown environment during assisted navigation is based on the integration of spatial information from multiple sources and can be supported by appropriate visualization.

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