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How to Fix Our Broken Training System

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

Do you remember the Laws of Learning? Do you follow them when you design, develop and deliver training? Perhaps you're one of those that say "that's outdated" or those that say "never heard of such a thing." Hopefully, you are one of those that say that you know and use them in every training session.

Edward Thorndike developed the first three laws of learning: readiness, exercise, and effect. Since then, there have been numerous papers and texts written to support expanding this number to as many as 14 laws. But, the reality is that, for most, the Laws of Learning are ignored, forgotten or never known in the first place.

So why are the Laws of Learning important?

Our students come to us intending to learn. Shouldn't we demonstrate a firm understanding of how to make that happen? Along with their learning goal, students bring particular psychological needs. How we address those needs determines how well they learn. The Laws of Learning help us identify the needs and provide a road map on fulfilling them.

If we examine just the three fundamental laws that Thorndike developed, we can better understand the concept. The Law of Readiness suggests that students must be ready to learn at the onset of training. This means that every student needs to be physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for the training event. When they are fully ready, the training will have the most significant effect on the students' learning.

How do instructors determine readiness?

Determining readiness begins the moment the student arrives at the training location. Their physical appearance, mood, posture and language can help establish how their day is going so far. Instructors should begin conversations about previous training events, flights, related news or any subject to which the student can easily respond. Through this conversation, the instructor can establish whether the student is emotionally engaged and willing to participate in a discussion.

Suppose the student doesn't seem interested in talking. In that case, it's time to ask open questions to determine if it's just his personality or whether something is inhibiting the students' engagement in conversation. Remember that open questions are those that require more than a simple yes/ no answer. Open questions will force the student to provide more details about how they're feeling and why they seem disconnected.

While you are determining emotional readiness, you can also determine physical readiness. Through the conversation process, you can see whether the student is suffering from fatigue or illness that can cause them to be distracted from the learning task. A physical injury should be self-evident, but you should always ask if you see a limp or any restriction in their movements. You want to make sure that the injury will not distract from the learning process.

Next, Instructors need to determine the mental readiness of the student by answering the question, "Does the student have the requisite level of knowledge, skills and attitude to get the most out of this training event?" To accomplish this, use developmental questioning techniques to identify any gaps that will need to be filled before the start of the event.

Developmental Questioning requires the instructor to begin with questions that are a review of what was taught in the last lesson. In this way, we establish that the student has the required Base Level Knowledge to adopt the new information in this training session properly. Questions should then progress to the material taught in today's lesson.

Remember, all this needs to happen in the briefing before the lesson begins and the scheduled training content is delivered. If there is a doubt about the students' emotional or physical readiness, you should not continue with the training. If the identified gaps in knowledge or their attitude about the training are more than can be remediated before the start of training delivery, new training should be postponed.

What is the Law of Exercise?

The Law of Exercise states that the more often a stimulus and response are associated with each other, the more likely the particular response will follow the stimulus. This is particularly true when learning a motor skill. We have all heard of the Rule of 10,000. The Rule suggests that to learn a complex motor skill, it takes an average of 10000 iterations of the movement to attain an expert level of skill.

This level of repetition is also true for cognitive skills where communication, situational awareness and decision-making drive processes that need to be engrained. If the process deals with a wide variety of issues, then the student needs to have an opportunity to exercise his cognitive skill in this way. The process needs to be completed fully so that the student can see the full effect of his response to the stimulus.

This Law also suggests that learning needs to be associated with previously learned knowledge and skills. The student needs to recognize the stimulus and the expected response. The "Building Block Approach" to content development was developed in response to the Law of Effect and its requirement for an associated learning path. The concept uses building blocks to help visualize previous learning being the foundation for the new learning.

The Law of Effect states that behaviours that result in the desired outcome and those that are reinforced in a positive way are more likely to be repeated. This speaks to how we as instructors respond to student outcomes. Our de-briefs, comments and remediation need to align with observed results. Like the briefing before the training activity, the de-brief is a key element in the learning process.

The challenge for the instructor is that whatever is mentioned in the de-brief will immediately become critical to the student. In the student's mind, the instructor has seen and heard everything that has happened. The comments from the instructor are, therefore, the best things that happened or the worst. Everything else that occurred during the training session will be considered OK and not worth mentioning. But is this truly the case?

What are we doing wrong?

Briefings have become less about determining readiness and more about reviewing the material that the student should have already studied. The focus here is on readiness in terms of base-level knowledge instead of the other forms. In many cases, instructor training does not address the emotional and physical states of readiness well enough.

Many training programs today have transformed into a series of disconnected events. The training session starts with a rejected takeoff which is miraculously fixed. An engine failure follows this after V1, where again the engine magically repairs itself and the crew go on their merry way to the destination ( and another malfunction). The training session continues until finally, the crew is allowed to complete an approach and landing. In many cases, the aircraft position has been either frozen or reset to a more convenient location to save time for more disconnected events. These actions are not realistic and do not stimulate an accurate and appropriate response as required by the Law of Effect.

Airlines are providing pilots with a detailed chronological list of what they will experience during training. The concept of using a level D full-flight simulator is to allow the pilots to train in an environment that simulates their work environment. When was the last time the crew were told that they would have a rejected takeoff or a hydraulic failure in cruise in Line Operations? If we are trying to be true to Thorndike's Law of Effect, we have missed the boat.

We have lost the element of surprise in our training delivery process. It has been stated in several accidents and incidents recently that surprise and shock contributed to the outcome. If so, why are we ignoring opportunities to train pilots to manage surprise occurrences in the cockpit?

We continue to believe that the instructor can collect appropriate objective data. While cockpits and aircraft systems' complexity has increased, the volume of data displayed and made available to the crew has also increased. We still expect the instructor to see everything in proper context, make notes, grade performance, act as ATC, Dispatch, maintenance, cabin crew and operate the simulator without making an error that would reduce the quality of the training session.

We have added so much to the instructor job that he has no choice but to cut corners by repositioning, using flight freeze, among other things. We know that the collection of accurate, objective data in support of subjective assessments is critical. However, we have added so many tasks to the instructors' job that he cannot observe and collect accurate data. Just watching and listening to what is going on takes most of his time. He needs help!

How do we fix the problem?

To fix this problem, we need another set of eyes. We need a way to divide the task of data collection. Experience has taught us the instructor is very capable of collecting subjective data. Almost all of the data collected today by instructors is subjective.

So how can we collect the objective data? Technology has given us the answer to this with the recent advent of artificial intelligence. We can already collect and feedback video, audio and performance data from simulator training sessions, but this still depends on the instructor identifying the activity he wants to review. This does not unload his task list.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be trained to look for clues in the actions of the crew. It can record, analyze and assess the objective data in real-time. The AI can flag data sets that do not match a norm or a standard for review by the instructor. It is another set of eyes, and it collects all the objective data. Using AI as part of the training system reduces task load for the instructor and provides a more transparent, more accurate picture of student performance.

Want to find out more about how you can integrate AI into your training program? Contact us; we can help!

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