How to Fix Our Broken Training System
Updated: Mar 27
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 Perhaps you're one of those that say "that's outdated" or those that say "never heard of such a thing."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.