Five Mile Final | A Flight Instructor's Sandbox

Aviation Instructor's Handbook

Learning can be defined as a change in behavior as a result of experience, and is a continuous, lifelong process.

To learn is to acquire knowledge or skill, and may involve a change of behavior.

Learning Theory

Learning Theory is a body of principles advocated by psychologists and educators to explain how people acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Classical conditioning is learning based on an association made between a neutral environmental stimulus and a natural stimulus. Pavlov's dog is the most common example of classical conditioning.

In operant conditioning, an association is made between behavior and the consequences of that behavior. The "carrot-and-stick" system of punishment and reward is operant conditioning.

Social learning is done by observation. A student pilot may observing the actions of instructors and other pilots, and begin to imitate or adopt those actions. When they become pilots, they may then begin to model those actions so that others may then observe a pilot's behaviors and attitudes. By this process, social learning becomes perpetual.

The four stages of social learning are:

Behaviorism and Cognitive Theories

Researchers have attempted to explain how people learn. Modern learning theories grew out of two concepts of how people learn: behaviorism and cognitive theory.


Behaviorism claims that all human behavior is conditioned more or less by events in the environment. Thus, human behavior can be predicted based on past rewards and punishments.

Because behaviorism claims that people learn in the same way, behaviors can be reinforced by an instructor.

Classic behaviorist theory in education stressed a system of rewards and punishment. A particular form of behavior should positively reinforced by someone who shapes or controls what is learned.

The popularity of behaviorism has waned due to research that indicates learning is a complex process. It still may be used by simple programs designed to break unwanted behaviors (smoking, overeating, biting fingernails, etc.)

Cognitive Theory

Cognitive Theory focuses on what's happening in the student's mind. Learning is not just a change in behavior. It is a change in the way a learner thinks, understands, or feels.

Cognitive Theory advances the idea humans develop cognitive skills through active interaction with the world. People best learn when relating new knowledge to existing knowledge (transitioning from the concrete to the abstract, or "the known to the unknown").

The spiral curriculum revisits basic ideas repeatedly and builds on them in increasingly sophisticated ways as the learner matures and develops.

Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain ranks six levels of intellectual behavior, from the simplest to the most complex:

Two branches of cognitive theory are the information processing model and the social interaction model.

Continued research into cognitive theory has led to theories such as information processing and constructivism.

The information processing model stresses how information is processed, stored, and retrieved. One way the brain deals with a large amount of information is to let many of the habitual and routine things go unnoticed. The human unconscious takes charge, leaving conscious thought processes free to deal with issues that are not habitual.

Constructivism is a philosophy of learning that holds that learners do not acquire knowledge and skills passively but actively build or construct them based on their experiences. Constructing or building goes on during the learning process. Learners are given more latitude to become effective problem solvers, identifying and evaluating problems, as well as deciphering ways in which to transfer their learning to these problems, all of which foster critical thinking skills.

The constructivist theory of learning explains and supports the learning of high-order thinking skills (HOTS), which is commonly called aeronautical decision-making (ADM) in aviation.

HOTS lie in the last three levels on Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Scenario-based training (SBT) is reliant upon HOTS. SBT presents tasks in an operational environment, correlates new information with previous knowledge, and introduces new information in a realistic context.

In SBT, the instructor should always require the learner to make real-time decisions in a realistic setting. The goal is reached when the material is presented as an authentic problem in a situated environment that allows the learner to "make meaning" of the information.

The social interaction model focuses on how learning happens via a student's interaction with a surrounding environment. Both models recognize the need to reinforce behavior and measure changes.

Combined Approach

The Combined Approach involves teaching via both Behaviorist and Cognitive Theory models.


All learning initially comes from the five senses. Most learning is done by sight, but learning is achieved more quickly when more than one sense is involved. Perception is the result of meaning assigned to sensation. Factors that affect perception are important to flight instruction, since perception is the basis of all learning. Factors which affect perception include:

Insight involves grouping perceptions into meaningful wholes. Creating insight is a central responsibility of flight instructors. Insight may be achieved by trial and error, but it is best received via instruction. Insight makes learning more meaningful and permanent. Instructors are expected to organize demonstrations and explanations that create opportunities for insight.

Motivation is the dominant force of student progress, be it positive, negative, tangible, intangible, subtle, or obvious. Like employees, students expect and require regular rewards, be they financial or emotional (positive self-concept, group approval). Positive motivation is essential to true learning.

Acquiring Knowledge

Levels of learning include four basic levels:

The Laws of Learning

Several Principles of Learning are applicable to the learning process.

Domains of Learning

There are three domains of learning, which consider what is to be learned: knowledge, change in attitude, or a combination of knowledge and skill? Each of three primary domains of learning has a taxonomy of educational objectives:

The cognitive domain (also known as Bloom's taxonomy) includes:

The affective domain is concerned with attitudes, beliefs, and values, and includes:

One pschyomotor domain among many was developed by E.J. Simpson and includes:

Characteristics of Learning

Characteristics of Learning. Learning is:

Learning Styles

Learning Style concerns student preferences and orientation, including:

Acquiring Skill Knowledge

Learning physical skills involves more than muscles — other elements include:

Memory is believed to work in a multi-stage process: sensory, working/short-term, and long-term.

The sensory register processes environmental input; perception can be warped by external factors and selective sensation.

Information is quickly passed to the working or short-term memory, where it may remain or fade rapidly. Retention is aided by repetition, mnemonics, and/or "chunking." Coding takes about 5-10 seconds; after about 20 seconds it is lost. Working memory also can hold about seven chunks of information.

Long-term memory is where information is stored for future use. However, it is a reconstruction and not a pure recall, and is subject to inaccuracies due to time, bias, and other factors.

Theories of forgetting include disuse, interference, and repression. These theories suggest that nothing is truly lost, but instead unavailable for recall.

Long-term memory can be aided by:

Transfer of learning suggests that previous experiences can aid current learning, provided that Skill A is valuable to Skill B. This can create either positive or negative transference of learning, in which case a previously acquired skill hinders current learning (the desire to "drive" an airplane on the ground like a car, for example).

Instructors should plan for transfer as a primary objective, be certain that students understanding how their learning can be applied to other situations, maintain high-order learning standards, providing meaningful learning experiences that build confidence and positive transference, and use strong, clear, conceptual instructional materials.

Habit Formation is essential to correct learning, which supports the building-block concept of using prior experience and learning as the basis for new learning and habit patterns. As knowledge and skill increase, there is an expanded base to support future learning.

Flight Instructor Test Questions

The learning process may include some elements such as verbal, conceptual, and problem solving.

Individuals make more progress learning if they have a clear objective. This is one feature of the principle of readiness.

Providing opportunities for a student to practice and then directing this process towards a goal is the basis of the principle of exercise.

Which principle of learning often creates a strong impression? Primacy.

The mental grouping of affiliated perceptions is called insights.

During the flight portion of a practical test, the examiner simulates complete loss of engine power by closing the throttle and announcing "simulated engine failure". Correlation is the level of learning being tested.

The least complex outcome in the psychomotor domain is perception.

The best way to prepare a student to perform a task is to provide a clear, step-by-step example.

The use of some type of association, such as rhymes or mnemonics, is best suited to the short-term memory system.

Information for future use is stored in long-term memory.

Responses that produce a pleasurable return are called praise.

While learning the material being taught, students may be learning other things as well. This additional learning is called incidental.

To ensure proper habits and correct techniques during training, an instructor should use the building block technique of instruction.

A primary consideration in planning for student performance is the length of the practice session.

In the learning process, fear or the element of threat will narrow the learner's perceptual field.

An example of a skill involving the affective domain would be responding to an instructor's question.

Once a learner understands a procedure, has had the procedure demonstrated, and has practiced the procedure until it can be performed with consistency, the learner has demonstrated what level of learning? Application.

Where is information for future use stored? Long-term memory.

When a person has difficulty recalling facts after several years, this is known as fading.

If a learner can fly an ILS while communicating with ATC at the same time, (s)he has reached which stage of skill acquisition? Automatic response stage.

Distractions can be used as a valuable learning tool, but they should be avoided during deliberate practice.

According to one theory, some forgetting is due to the unconscious practice of submerging an unpleasant experience into the subconscious. This is called repression.

When the learning of similar things overshadows other learning experiences, it is called interference.

During the flight portion of a practical test, the examiner simulates complete loss of engine power by closing the throttle and announcing "simulated engine failure." What level of learning is being tested? Correlation.. The student must be able to correlate the engine loss with emergency approach and landing procedures.

Which principle of learning often creates a strong impression? Principle of primacy.

Learning objectives can be sorted in a system known as a taxonomy.

The educational objective levels; receiving, responding, valuing, organization, and characterization; are a part of which domain of learning? Affective domain.

Which factor affecting perceptions is based on the effectiveness of the use of a properly planned training syllabus? Time and opportunity.

Instructors can help learners who arrive at a learning plateau by moving the learner to a different place in the curriculum.

Which is true concerning "learning plateaus"? Learning plateaus are a normal part of the learning process and tend to be temporary.

Which memory system processes input from the environment? Sensory.

During learning, a leveling-off process or plateau is normal and should be expected after an initial period of rapid improvement.

Perceptions result when a person gives meaning to sensations being experienced.

Which domain of learning deals with knowledge? Cognitive.

Robert Wederquist   CP-ASEL - AGI - IGI
Commercial Pilot • Instrument Pilot
Advanced Ground Instructor • Instrument Ground Instructor