How Can Mental Models Illuminate Decision-Making and Learning Processes?

HRD cover[We’re pleased to welcome Robin Grenier of the University of Connecticut. Dr. Grenier recently published an article with Dr. Dana Dudzinska-Przesmitzki in the Human Resource Development Review entitled “A Conceptual Model for Eliciting Mental Models Using a Composite Methodology.”]

In the Adult Learning Program in the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, we are interested in studying how mental models shape and influence adult learning, both at work and in personal development.

Individuals hold numerous mental models, which are formed through experience, observation, and learning. These models are used in decision making to understand, predict, and solve problems. There is a lot of interest in mental models, like in business and , and a lot is written about mental models both in scholarly publications and in the popular media. However, my co-author and I found that there is still much to be learned about how to utilize these tacit models. Our paper was an investigation of how mental models are usually elicited and an introduction to a possible new model for mental model elicitation (MMME) that can be applied in research and practice.

Given that Forbes, The Wharton School, and The Harvard Business Review, among others, have recently highlighted the importance of understanding one’s mental models, we found it interesting that there was not more written on how to best elicit mental models and apply theses models to the shaping and informing of organizational practice or individual learning.

Our MMME has the potential to offer techniques that more closely resemble what practitioners might actually use in an organizational context. It is a practical approach to elicitation that combines three methods. The combination of methods enable better and deeper access to participants’ mental models using both recall and recognition, which may help with the retrieval of more information. Compared with single methods of elicitation, MMME can improve elicitation through systematic steps used for increasing accuracy and contextualizing responses. For scholars and researchers, the application of MMME may help to expand the field of human resource development by supporting exploration of how individuals’ mental models shape learning, organizational development, and change.

You can read “A Conceptual Model for Eliciting Mental Models Using a Composite Methodology for free by clicking here. Want to know about all the latest news and research from Human Resource Development Review? Just click here to sign up for e-alerts!


Robin S GrenierRobin S. Grenier, PhD, is an associate professor of Adult Learning in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of Connecticut. She earned her PhD in adult education from the University of Georgia, as well as a certificate in qualitative inquiry. Her research interests include expertise development, informal and experiential learning in the lives of adults, museums as places of life-long learning, and qualitative inquiry.

Dana Dudzinska-Przesmitzki, PhD, earned her doctorate in Adult Learning from the University of Connecticut and now serves as an education specialist for the U.S. Federal Judicial Center in Washington, DC. Her research interests include museum studies, and training and development.

Quantitative and Qualitative: An Interactive Framework

HRDR_72ppiRGB_150pixWThe quantitative-qualitative debate has been revisited countless times, but a new article in Human Resource Development Review explains that the two approaches have more in common than you might think–and advocates the need for more methodological diversity in social science research. John H. Hitchcock of Ohio Univerty, Athens, and Isadore Newman of Florida International University published “Applying an Interactive Quantitative-Qualitative Framework: How Identifying Common Intent Can Enhance Inquiry” on October 17, 2012 in the OnlineFirst section of HRDR. Dr. Hitchcock and Dr. Newman kindly provided these responses about their article.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

We were inspired to pursue this topic by our commitment to teaching research.  It seemed obvious to us that good research is good research, and there is an overarching commonality that is inherent in all good research, and that is its trustworthiness (credibility, transparency) and its replicability. This is generally true for both qualitative and quantitative paradigms.  We feel it is important for people doing research to be aware of this and to consider research as an interactive continuum with feedback.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

We are hoping to influence the teaching of research.  We believe this conceptualization of research as a holistic interactive process is much more productive and useful than a dichotomous – qualitative-quantitative perspective.

John H. Hitchcock is an associate professor of education research and program evaluation in the Patton College of Education and Human Services at Ohio University. He has coauthored more than 20 scholarly publications and was a coprincipal investigator of two federally funded randomized controlled trials. His primary interests are in mixed-methods research, program evaluation, culturally relevant intervention and assessment, and special education research.

Isadore Newman is the visiting scholar for the College of Education at Florida International University and he is a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Akron. He has authored or coauthored more than 125 referred articles, more than 300 referred presentations, and approximately 17 books, chapters, and monographs. He was also the principal evaluator on millions of dollars in federal and state grants and was one of the founding editors of the Midwestern Educational Research Journal, editor of the Ohio Journal of Science, and was editor of Multiple Linear Regression Viewpoints Journal for 19 years.