Aside from new technology, flight training has not changed much since the days of Civilian Pilot Training in WWII; we operate with the same educational assumptions. Year after year, we teach flying with identical methods and get the same 80% dropout rate, alienating a huge potential pilot market. Ignoring 70 years of pedagogical experience and psychological progress, we embrace educational fallacies which are intuitively attractive – they seem like they should work – but have been proven repeatedly to be erroneous.
Here are some suggestions from a paper for the Office of Naval Research. These are educational fallacies we all can easily fall into. Aviation is by nature resistant to change (we cannot afford to “fail fast” to learn lessons). But “the way we have always done it” is equally unproductive. Experiment and innovate in your training and avoid these proven educational fallacies. Our failures in flight training are often counted in future lives lost.
Training programs for developing high-performance skills are often based on assumptions that may be appropriate for simple skills [but] fallacious when extended to high performance skills. All of these fallacies have some truth [but] when taken to extremes, they often produce inefficient training programs.
Practice makes perfect
This fallacy assumes that simple repetition will magically cause improvement. (Monkey see, monkey do, do, do…) Unfortunately, repetitive practice of complex tasks often only creates frustration. Though simple tasks can usually be mastered with simple repetition, extrapolating this technique to complex activities simply does not work. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that practicing a variety of related skills, or interleaving unique challenges are dramatically more effective at building solid skills and reaching a final performance goal. Deconstruction and variety (see below) create greater flexibility and resilience in a learner’s performance and achieve a superior result in a shorter time.
Training of the Total Skill
This fallacy assumes that it is best to train a complex skill in its final form. This is continuously demonstrated at every flight school practicing very early stalls or touch and goes. To be effectively taught, complex and variable maneuvers like these must be deconstructed into their meaningful parts which are instructed separately first. Watching repetitive “crash and goes” with no improvement (or even basic airspeed control) is the most obvious example of this myth. This is just an example of flight instructors turning time and money into frustration. There is a whole field of research called “Cognitive Task Analysis” that dissembles master performance into individual teachable components.
Skill learning is intrinsically enjoyable
This fallacy assumes that skill training is inherently fun and motivating. As a result, many educators forget to build accomplishment and a sense of mastery into training. Extrinsic rewards, variety, and fun are essential to keep learners excited, motivated, and moving forward. This is especially true in a complex, time-consuming skill like flying, where the goalposts are often out of sight. Use creativity and incremental mastery to motivate your learners.
Early focus on perfection
This fallacy assumes the primary goal of training is to achieve initial perfection. Though we all strive for high accuracy in aviation, setting unrealistically high initial goals (and perfectionism itself) is a trap that demotivates learners. Educators need to set achievable goals and incrementally raise the bar for higher achievement as skills improve. E.g. pre-solo +/-200 ft, moving to +/- 100 before solo X-C, then +/- 50 before the flight test?
Initial performance predicts eventual outcome and success
This fallacy assumes we can measure the final product from a very limited early exposure; “I can tell a good pilot in the first hour!” This has been repeatedly proven incorrect, though negativity and “self-fulfilling prophesies” often create failures that “validate” early predictions. Flying is appropriate to a wide variety of beginners, and each learner has unique and very different abilities. There is no way to predict their final level of achievement at the start.
CONCEPtual understanding will translate directly into proficiency
This fallacy assumes that presenting considerable information in the classroom precludes the necessity for hands-on practice (“I told them that”). Thinking and doing are very different activities (and also different parts of the brain). Classroom preparation and mental simulation (e.g. “chair flying”) are very valuable but no substitute for actual “hands-on” flying activity.
We have a very unique challenge as aviation educators. Our success is often measured in lives lost. We have a critical responsibility to be professional and create the best and safest pilots possible; we can’t afford to “fail fast” in aviation. The FAA Aviation Instructor’s Handbook provides only the very basic starter kit for a serious educator. The National Academies Press’s “How People Learn” is free to read online or download as a pdf. It is by far the best educator reference. Here are some great mass-market books for educators on the learning process:
And here is a great (free) guide for students (and we all are students aren’t we?) Fly safe out there (and often)!
A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born. Through the deliberate use of practice and dedicated strategies to improve our ability to learn, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. In short, we can all get better at getting better.
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