Process Model Comprehension: The Effects of Cognitive Abilities, Learning Style, and Strategy

Jan Recker, Hajo A. Reijers, Sander G. van de Wouw
2014 Communications of the Association for Information Systems  
Process models are used to convey semantics about business operations that are to be supported by an information system. A wide variety of professionals is targeted to use such models, including people who have little modeling or domain expertise. We identify important user characteristics that influence the comprehension of process models. Through a free simulation experiment, we provide evidence that selected cognitive abilities, learning style, and learning strategy influence the development
more » ... of process model comprehension. These insights draw attention to the importance of research that views process model comprehension as an emergent learning process rather than as an attribute of the models as objects. Based on our findings, we identify a set of organizational intervention strategies that can lead to more successful process modeling workshops. 200 Volume 34 Article 9 I. INTRODUCTION When analyzing or designing information systems, analysts frequently use graphical models of the relevant business domain to aid the determination of requirements. To that end, analysts often use conceptual models of business processes (process models) to assess or build information systems that are process-aware [Dumas, van der Aalst, and ter Hofstede, 2005]. Process modeling is a primary reason to engage in conceptual modeling [Davies, Green, Rosemann, Indulska, and Gallo., 2006] and has been shown to be a key success factor in organizational and systems re-design projects [Kock, Verville, Danesh-Pajou, and DeLuca, 2009 ]. Because of the relevance of process modeling during the analysis and design of information systems, the evaluation of process modeling-related phenomena is an active research area [Burton-Jones, Wand, and Weber, 2009; Recker, 2013] . Current research in this area can be classified in two streams. One stream is devoted to enhancing the support for process modeling, for example, by examining technological support for requirements modeling [Dennis, Hayes, and Daniels, 1999] or by providing support for collaboration during modeling activities [Dean, Lee, Orwig, and Vogel, 2001; Recker, Mendling, and Hahn, 2013] . The other stream, which is important to the line of research presented in this article, has examined how process modeling is applied. This stream is pursued with the aim of understanding how individuals learn how to model [Agarwal, De, and Sinha, 1999] , determining the performance benefits and usefulness of models for different tasks [Figl, Derntl, Rodriguez, and Botturi, 2010; Recker, Rosemann, Green, and Indulska, 2011] or understanding how process models can be designed so that comprehension of these models can be maximized Reijers, Mendling, and Dijkman, 2011; Mendling, Strembeck, and Recker, 2012] . Our research follows this tradition and examines how end-users comprehend the content of process models, that is, how much they learn about the domain that is visualized in the process model [Gemino and Wand, 2003 ]. This question is important because the usage of a process model, either for purposes of process analysis, performance measurement, or redesign, are ultimately dependent on how well individuals can comprehend the modeled process (e.g., Dean et al., 2001; Burton-Jones and Meso, 2008; Mendling et al., 2012) . Specifically, we are interested in examining dynamic traits of business users who wish to comprehend a process model. Dynamic traits are those user characteristics that can be influenced by organizational interventions, i.e., that can be shaped and triggered through appropriate learning stimuli within the setting of a process modeling workshop. This focus of our work, therefore, contributes new knowledge on learning requirements from process models (e.g., Sheetz, Irwin, Tegarden, Nelson, and Monarchi, 1997) . Through this focus, we extend the literature that has largely focused on traits of the models themselves-e.g., their visual design [Figl, Recker, and Mendling, 2013] , the use of different grammar constructs [Recker, 2013] , or the use of modularization and labeling [Mendling, Reijers, and Recker, 2010b ]-rather than those of the model users. We draw on multimedia learning theory [Mayer, 2009] and student learning theory [Biggs, 1987] to hypothesize that individual cognitive abilities, learning style, and learning strategy are important predictors of process model comprehension. We report on a free simulation experiment that we conducted to test these hypotheses. Our findings suggest several intervention strategies that provide relevant stimuli to increase the influence of the identified enabling traits, while disabling the influence of traits that inhibit model understanding. Our study makes several contributions to the literature. First, it draws on student learning theory [Biggs, 1987] to extend the prevalent conceptualization of model understanding [Gemino and Wand, 2005] with three stages of a learning process, viz., presage, process, and product. Second, it adds to the existing literature on conceptual model comprehension (e.g., Agarwal et al., 1999; by offering an alternative, user-centric perspective on important antecedents to model comprehension. As will be discussed, the current literature puts the emphasis on the intrinsic properties of a process model as the prime factor in making sense of these. Third, it adds to the body of literature on cognitive abilities [Wang, Wang, Patel, and Patel, 2006 ] by providing the first empirical test that examines which cognitive abilities are positively and negatively associated with the process of viewing diagrammatic representations. We proceed as follows: First, we review prior research on process model comprehension. Then, we conceptualize how comprehending a process model can be seen as an extended one-episode learning process. We will draw attention to six important factors alongside three stages of this learning process. Then, we discuss design, conduct, and findings of a free simulation experiment to test these arguments. Based on the results, we provide a discussion Volume 34 Article 9 201 of actionable items that can be expected to improve the use of process models by business users. Finally, we conclude this article by providing a discussion of contributions.
doi:10.17705/1cais.03409 fatcat:yufpzgfc6bfszmaf7nyczvix6m