Complex Dynamic Tasks


The activities carried out in complex dynamic tasks are not just simple detached parts, it may be necessary to do a series of actions or deal with several tasks simultaneously. Complex dynamic tasks can be divided into three parts: planning, multitasking, and problem solving.


Thinking in advance is more efficient if there is a series of actions that need to be done, a number of restrictions that need to be met, or it is deemed better to foresee events. In this way, alternative ways can be taken into account and the most favourable selected without the pressure of time. The alternatives can be tested using mental simulation and the plan can be held as part of the overview.

In preflight planning, the route of civilian pilots is planned according to weather predictions, whereas the route of military pilots is planned according to potential dangers and the accessibility of evasive manoeuvres. There may be no time to think what to do, so possibilities need to be determined before high-speed, low-level flight. Then the plan needs to be put into practice and adjusted if necessary.

In planning, the best compromise needs to be chosen out of several alternatives under the given constraints, such as the risk level of events, the aircraft’s manoeuvring limitations, pilot’s level of expertise, and the adaptability of the plan and also what to do if major changes in the plan are necessary.


Multitasking occurs when there are several tasks an individual needs to do simultaneously, each with a series of actions which are then woven together. It involves working out what to do in advance, and then responding at an appropriate time when events and circumstances come up. There are several features of multitasking:

1. It involves partial planning ahead of certain tasks, with changes that are triggered by times or events. If done frequently, this behavioural organization becomes directed by habit.

2. Carrying out the plan depends on the situation at the time as interruptions may disturb the plan. Some of the tasks can be completed as they are detected, an activity known as opportunistic behaviour. Activities that are of low importance can left out of the plan altogether as they can be easily slotted into spare moments.

3. The commitment that is of least risk is usually chosen when in a situation that is very unpredictable or there is a high cost of failure. Different strategies are used in different workload conditions and there is generally an avoidance of more workload if the workload is already high or is variable.

It is possible to pre-plan multitasking, which entails having meta-knowledge about alternative actions. This brings to attention the importance of practice and training, because it is through experience that planning and knowledge develop. Also, it is important that all of the information used in the tasks which are combined in multitasking, to be available at the same time, and cross-referenced without difficulty, otherwise it may not be possible to coordinate and complete tasks at appropriate times.

Problem Solving

When a task is familiar, an individual knows the right working methods, plus any related knowledge of conditions, behavioural constraints, scenarios, mental models, etc, which illustrate the environment of the working method. In unfamiliar situations, in which an individual does not have an adequate working method or reference knowledge, problem solving is used.

Planning and multitasking can also be used to handle different situations, however, these processes use existing working methods as a reference point, and then modify them for the future, or integrate them for use with more than one task. Problem solving, in contrast, requires a new working method. A simple way to devise a new working method can be through trial and error, asking for help, or reading an instruction book.

A group of cognitive functions makes up the general problem-solving strategy. This can involve understanding the problem situation, defining a solution and identifying available services. The components of these functions then need to be appropriately chosen and integrated together. For example, the parts of the behaviour that are needed are identified, found and are then joined into a sequence. Finally, the new working method is tested, which is done by either trial and error or mental simulation, similar to the methods used in planning and multitasking. The working method can be held to construct a working method and a new method, and to test the acceptability of the proposed working method by simulating its performance.


Wise, J. A., Hopkin, V. D., & Garland, D. J. (2010). Hand book of aviation human factors (2nd ed.). US: Taylor and Francies Group.

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