Spatial learning in real space using navigation systems

Outside of buildings, navigating with mobile, GPS-based navigation assistance systems in various contexts is part of our everyday life. This acquired level of comfort in navigation, however, comes with shortcomings in spatial orientation if compared to using paper maps (Münzer, Zimmer, Schwalm, Baus, & Aslan, 2006). In the long run, people can lose competencies and self-confidence in their orientation skills if they acquire no further spatial orientation knowledge.

Is it possible to design visualizations on navigation systems in a way that people, while being navigated, casually acquire spatial knowledge about their previously unknown surroundings? The answer is a limited “yes” because there is a trade-off between wayfinding and orientation. A study compared various visualizations in which the comforts of using a navigation system (positioning, route calculation) were fundamentally retained (Münzer, Zimmer, & Baus, 2012). If the visualization was primarily beneficial for wayfinding, less orientation knowledge was acquired. If the visualization was designed to enhance orientation, there was an advantage in orientation knowledge, yet participants literally took the wrong turn more often. Currently, depending on the purpose of the application, the best visualization should be favored – this, of course, requires competent users.

Münzer, S., Zimmer, H. D., & Baus. J. (2012). Navigation assistance: A trade-off between wayfinding support and configural learning support. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18(1), 18-37. doi: 10.1037/a0026553

Münzer, S., Zimmer, H. D., Schwalm, M., Baus, J., & Aslan, I. (2006). Navigation assistance and the acquisition of route and survey knowledge. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26, 300-308.