Laws of Learning

Lets take a look at the laws of learning. While this was written for flight instructors, beginning students may find it of interest as well. If both the instructor, and student are on the same page, greater communication can occur, and the instructor can tailor a lessen more appropriately. For example, if the instructor knows what is intense to a student, or if the student is not ready to learn, he will tailor his lesson plan appropriately. Otherwise, the instructor is left to his own, to try and analyze the student, and in most cases, we do a pretty good job, but can be fooled occasionally.

The other thing is that for some newbie instructors, educational psychology is something learned to pass the written exam, and then it is soon forgotten. If used effectively, it is a wonderful tool to foster increased learning on the part of your students. Since every FIRC I have taken since 1993 emphasizes it, as well as a number of grey beard instructors I have worked with, or worked for, it is best not forgotten, although for some instructors, it comes automatically.

Law of Readiness A person learns best when he has the necessary background, a good attitude, and is ready to learn. Outside responsibilities, overcrowded schedules, health, finances, or family affairs can take away a student’s desire to learn. However, these are facts of life, and will at some point, enter into a pilots decision making process.

In the early stages of training, readiness is critical. An instructor will try to create an environment to foster a students readiness to learn. This can be done as part of a preflight discussion, as well as scheduling. In addition, an instructor will try to keep an eye on the students fatigue level, such that if it is getting too high, a lesson will be cut short, or parts may be rescheduled for a later time.

In latter stages of training, I think the law of readiness should take on less of a role, as the lack of readiness, can be used as an instructional example for aviation decision making such as go-no/go decisions. Sure, a flight lesson might not be all that productive if a go decision is made. However, this will create a high impact memory, which can leave to improved decision making later in the pilots career. This ties into the law of intensity.

Law of Intensity A sharp, clear, or exciting learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring one. This law implies that a student will learn more from the real thing than a substitute. And there is nothing better for teaching judgment, than to allow a student to deal with the consequences of a poor go-no/go decision. (Of course, under the eye of a watchful flight instructor). Judgement is a tough one to teach, and the law of intensity is a good tool to utilize when it comes to readiness and decision making. One can also work this into sim training. An intense sim session is an incredible tool. If the student is not sweating, it probably pays to increase the workload in the sim, subject to instructor judgement. We don’t want to do too far and make the experience too unpleasant.

Law of Effect This law is based on the feelings of the learner. Learning is stronger when joined with a pleasing or satisfying feeling. It is weakened when linked with an unpleasant feeling. An experience that produces feelings of defeat, anger, frustration, futility, or confusion in a student is unpleasant for him. This will decrease his learning capabilities. Therefore, instructors should be cautious about using punishment in the classroom. Every learning experience does not have to be entirely successful, nor does the student have to master each lesson completely. However, every learning experience should contain elements that leave the student with some good feelings.

I think this is key. Everyone has a bad day now and then, and especially during the early hours of flight when encoutering a learning plateau, it can be exceedingly frustrating for the student. By the same token, as an instructor, we see progress, even when the student does not. This is where true praise is in order. My primary instructor years back had over 40 years of experience, with over 20 of those in the military, including time in WWII as a B17 captain, and later instructor. His style while not politically correct today fostered amazing learning. He was intense, and to some extent, things would get heated in the cockpit. In almost every lesson, I would leave mentally quite tired, and a few times exhausted. In fact today, I still hear him hollering in my ear. However, every post flight briefing ended on a positive note. For me, the intensity, and the positive effects worked wonders. For others, the commotion in the cockpit was not compensated for in the post flight briefing, and he had a few students who had problems dealing with his style. It was one of the reason’s he employed other instructors who were less intense.

Should you be wondering where I stand…. I am intense, but I don’t yell. My instructional style changes as we progress, almost to the point that you won’t think I’m even there as we get closer and closer to checkride time. At that point, I let you fly and operate the aircraft, and only make critiques and suggestions after a manuever or lesson. Afterall, you will be on your own in short order. In addition I try to balance my techniques depending on my read of the students stress level. This is in sharp contrast to the early hours where I talk you through every manuever. I don’t want any bad habits to start, and as soon as something starts deviating, you will hear about it.

Law of Primacy Primacy is being first, which often creates a strong impression. This means that the instructor must be right the first time. Everyone knows from experience how hard it is to break a bad habit. “Unteaching” wrong first impressions is harder than teaching them right the first time. One thing I thought was especially cool was the use of a landing gear switch, and up/down lights in a Cessna 150. Another local CFI, George Bolon, had them installed in his fleet of 150’s. Since George runs a flight school which emphasizes commercial aviation, getting the landing gear and procedures down early on, is a great thing for prospective airline pilots. George emphazied the law of primacy big time in adding this feature. Since I don’t have a fleet of aircraft, I don’t have a landing gear switch as an option in a 150.

The law of primacy is critical, and is one of the reasons I introduce radio work from the first lesson. Its also why I emphasize looking outside for traffic, and flying by the seat of your pants rather than staring at the instruments too much for the first couple lessons. If one is used to flying by looking inside, rather than looking for other traffic, its a hard habit to break. Once the traffic scan is achieved, and basic flight by outside reference, we slowly start adding the instrument panel as an additional tool, rather than something we are dependant upon from day 1. Please note, that even within the seat of the pants methodology, I do emphasize procedures, standard climbs, banks, and descents. However, rather than using the instrument panel, you will use outside references at the beginning. Of course the exception is the airspeed indicator, that does get introduced right away. Only later on, do we fly with it covered up, and then only for a short time. However, we always go back to the traffic scan, and flight by reference to outside indications, especially after an instrument session. Things need to be continually reinforced.

Law of Exercise Those things most often repeated are the best learned. This is the basis for practice and drill. The mind rarely retains, evaluates, and applies new concepts or practices after only one exposure. A student learns by applying what he has been taught. Every time he practices, his learning continues. There are many types of repetitions. These include student recall, review and summary, and manual drill and physical applications. For example, I will present a flight lesson, and manuevers on the ground, and will ask you to repeat back to me. Then, once we are in the air, I will demonstrate, while you explain, and then we will reverse roles. You will do the manuever, while I walk you through it. And then you will drill on the manuever at hand. The key to practice, is practicing correctly, and then repeating the practice in a short time frame.

Law of Recency Other things being equal, the things learned last will be best remembered. The opposite is also true. The longer the student is away from a new fact or understanding, the harder it is to remember. For example, it is fairly easy to recall a telephone number dialed a few minutes ago, but it is usually impossible to recall a new number dialed last week. The instructor must recognize the law of recency when planning a good summary. As a summary can tie into the law of effect, and in some cases intensity. The student also needs to take a proactive role in the early days of flight training. Flying once every 2 weeks, or once a month is too long a gap until one is ready to solo. The first 5-10 hours can be likened to drinking from a fire hose. It can be overwhelming, and is more difficult, if one forgets information inbetween lessons. This can lead to frustration, and a longer learning plateau, thus diminishing learning due to the law of effect. The students responsibility in this matter is to plan on flying every 2-3 days for those first few hours, in order to mazimize retension from lesson to lesson. Sure, one can spread things out, and weather inevitably will mess up the best laid plans. Otoh, sceduling every 2-3 days in most cases ensures the gap between lessons will seldom exceed 10 days, thus maximizing learning potential through the law of recency.

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