I came across the following article entitled To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test, and went egads, this is new ??? To me, one could pretty much take the experiment as presented and predict the outcome based upon the FOI. They outcomes observed are not mind blowing in the least, at least not from the point of view of a flight instructor.
Part of it no doubt, as we tend to keep ed psych at arms length, and even then, the ed psych we use tends to be anything but the latest and greatest. The other part is that our focus is to build safe pilots for life, and we tend to look at the standardized written, and even the flight and oral exams as necessary, but that they are far from the endall when it comes to our goals. Ie, no flight instructor in their right mind would be cool signing off on the 8710, if the prospective pilot were not safe, irrespective of how well they could present themselves when it came to said tests. That being said, lets roll through the experiment and see how it spins out from a flight instructors point of view.
The researchers engaged 200 college students in two experiments, assigning them to read several paragraphs about a scientific subject — how the digestive system works, for example, or the different types of vertebrate muscle tissue.
Ok, for our purposes, lets say the material is a POH or flight manual, and the focus will be on one system.
In the first experiment, the students were divided into four groups. One did nothing more than read the text for five minutes. Another studied the passage in four consecutive five-minute sessions.
Depending upon the student, a single read, or reading the material over and over again a few times may be beneficial. Then again, if this is their only exposure to the materials… the students retention a week later is likely to be about nill. Such is a short cut… it works for a bit, but it comes back with a vengeance later.
A third group engaged in “concept mapping,” in which, with the passage in front of them, they arranged information from the passage into a kind of diagram, writing details and ideas in hand-drawn bubbles and linking the bubbles in an organized way.
For some students this might be helpful to them. Note, the key fault here though… “with the passage in front of them”. Such a process might well help a student learn that a vacuum system includes a regulator, and a filter… they might even remember some of it a week later. In a lot of ways, this method is a short cut… its a whole lot easier to sort of wing ones way through things, than it for the student to go hard core and struggle through things closed book so to speak. (granted, some areas will prove troublesome to some students, and short cuts such as the above may be ok, until the student has more experience) Short cuts functioning like training wheels are not all bad, but they best be short lived, of they too will come back to bite later.
The final group took a “retrieval practice” test. Without the passage in front of them, they wrote what they remembered in a free-form essay for 10 minutes. Then they reread the passage and took another retrieval practice test.
Asking a student what happens when a vacuum filter starts to get plugged, or the difference between a dry and wet pump as a quick check before heading out to the airplane often serves to reinforce what they learned in their home study (and such an approach is about as closed book as one can get). Even more so, bringing up systems type issues through out flight training, reinforces what they are learning, and brings relevance to the materials. Such a process increases retention multifold in contrast with the other methods. A self directed students concept mapping, no matter how well done deal pales in comparison with in your face confrontation with a hypothetical system problem, or even better a real test of understanding with a failure in the sim.
A week later all four groups were given a short-answer test that assessed their ability to recall facts and draw logical conclusions based on the facts.
Yep… the practice retrieval approach proved better than the other approaches, just as the FOI would suggest it would. Reading, rereading, concept mapping ect are useful tools for learning… but experiencing a system issue which tests your understanding and ability to apply what you learned is another deal entirely. Implementing the struggle of an in your face event is really where its at education wise, all other aspects pale in comparison…. and failure early on is ok. Its fine to struggle, in a lot of ways, its even better to struggle than to think you understand when you really dont.
(In a lot of ways, such parallels my experience with pre-med organic chem students…. they flashcarded things to death, but had about zero understanding of the real principles involved. They did not want to struggle, and they needed the A’s, they needed the standardized tests… they really saw no need to understand what really was going on unlike a chem major intent on grad school.)
In fairness though, we cant very well approach every possible a/c system or other parts of aeronautical knowledge in such a fashion, especially at the PPL level, and thats ok, the certificate is a license to learn. What we do need to look out for though, is the student who does the weekend cram ground school and aces the test. We need to look out for the student who can parrot the systems manual left and right. Such students need some in your face experience time to really see if they understand and can apply their knowledge, not just parrot back “good” answers.
As flight instructors we need to continuously be evaluating, and encouraging our students learning, as well as giving them tools to help them learn. We may even advocate some short cuts to help a student through an area they are having trouble with… but we also need to be upfront that such is like a training wheel. It is not an end all.