Savvy educators know intuitively that any learning progress, though gratifying, is very perishable. Especially in a high-stakes environment like aviation, deep learning, with consistency and reinforcement is essential for retention. The impatient “quick rating” courses do not serve us well for enduring success and safety. We know now from recent neurological research that “over-learning” more deeply embeds skills into our preconscious so these skills are available in times of stress and cognitive unavailability (panic). The implications for all learning are many, but for LOC-I incidents, deep practice prevents the “startle response” often central in these tragic accidents. Recent deep practice at the edges of the flight envelope is essential to stay safe as aviators.
Neuroscience is just starting to understand the details of this learning process. You may have read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. Our brains utilize function as parallel processors for understanding and controlling our world; one thoughtful and slow and one more rapid and reactive (built on habits, previous experience, and heuristics). The majority of our daily activities are handled automatically according to stereotyped reliable frames-of-reference. The usual example – driving home and passing the convenience store (I meant to stop at) is a phenomenon we are all familiar with. Typing fluidly on a keyboard, but unable to list the keys from left to right, is another. Pushing deeper, in times of severe stress (as in an aviation upset occurrence) our brain reaches down to the level of our last recent training to react correctly (or not). Sudden upset is not a time to “pause and ponder” but requires an immediate and correct response. This is where “over-learning” is essential. We must practice often to have a proven technique available “on automatic” to avoid a startle and panic response.
The first system can be considered fast thinking. It is thinking done almost automatically or instinctively.- The second system is slow thinking.It involves thinking that is more complex and more mentally draining. It takes concentration and agency of the person to process the thoughts
Once we have successfully accomplished any new behavioral repertoire, it is neurologically essential to “stabilize” it by continued training well past the point of simple proficiency; “got it and onward” is not enough. Scientists call this technique “overlearning” and have observed it in every field where human skill mastery is critical; from first violin to martial arts. A recent study reveals that “overlearning” reinforces a skill and embeds it in a different part of the brain, installing it chemically in an entirely different way so it will not be overwritten by new learning. Critical piloting skills must be impervious to forgetting (and this is also why the initial imprint must be accurate) and fluidly available. This new study shows that if you stop training a skill as soon as it is first successful, the brain stays in its “ready-to-learn state” and the new skill is highly perishable. Reinforcement changes your actual brain state and chemistry. The study shows that repetitive training beyond the point of proficiency will “hyperstabilize” the skill and prevents”retrograde interference” from newer inputs. Fly safely (and practice often).
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