Chapter 3: The Learning Process
In order to take a learner from memorized facts to higher levels of knowledge and skill that include the ability to exercise judgment and solve problems, an instructor needs to know how people learn.
Learning can be defined as a change in behavior as a result of experience, and is a continuous, lifelong process.
It can also be thought of as how experience brings about a relatively permanent change in behavior, or gaining knowledge or skills, or developing a behavior, through study, instruction, or experience.
An effective instructor realizes that learning is a complex procedure and assists each learner in reaching the desired outcomes while helping build self-esteem and confidence.
Learning Theory is a body of principles advocated by psychologists and educators to explain how people acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
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 Behaviorism explains animal and human behavior entirely in terms of observable and measurable responses to stimuli. The theory 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, or "carrot-and-stick" approach. In contemporary application, the theory stresses that a particular form of behavior should positively reinforced by someone who shapes or controls what is learned (in this case, the flight instructor).
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 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 theory of reflective thought suggests that learning improves to the degree that it arises out of the process of reflection — which might be described as critical thinking, problem-solving, and higher-level thought.
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 is a classification system that comprises six levels of intellectual behavior and progresses from the simplest to the most complex.
Continued research into cognitive theory has led to theories such as information processing and constructivism.
Information Processing Theory
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.
Information processing theorists approach learning primarily through a study of memory.
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. According to constructivism, humans construct a unique mental image by combining preexisting information with the information received from sense organs. Learning is the result of matching new information against this preexisting information and integrating it into meaningful connections.
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.
This school of thought also encourages teaching learners how to use what are known as the higher order thinking skills (HOTS) from Bloom's Taxonomy and training based on problems or scenarios.
High-Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)
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. HOTS are taught like other cognitive skills, from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. To teach HOTS effectively involves strategies and methods that include:
Scenario-Based Training (SBT)
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.
Narrative: Cognitive Theories
CFI Anna has been working with learner pilot Ryan, who has made good progress and is close to his checkride.
While flying with Ryan, Anna has started quizzing him on his aviation knowledge if they will be flying straight-and-level for some time. Anna has noted that Ryan has no problem speaking while holding heading and altitude, and he can manage a complete conversation. Anna has observed that Ryan's information processing has stored straight-and-level flight, which is now habitual and routine.
Anna and Ryan reviewed ground-reference maneuvers during his previous flight lesson. On this flight, they enter the traffic pattern at a municipal airport. Anna sees that Ryan is crabbing on his base leg, and thus not letting the wind blowing down the runway expand his pattern legs. Anna notes that Ryan's learning reflects constructivism — matching new information against this preexisting information.
On the return leg, Anna asks Ryan what he would do if he noticed that the engine was running rough. Ryan discusses how long it would take to return to the municipal airport they had just departed. He also notes the distance to a small grass strip abeam their current position. He considers the wind and notes that he probably would try to return to the municipal airport, since the engine hasn't failed, and if it did fail he would have emergency landing options en route. Anna notes that Ryan is using high-order thinking skills to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. This also qualifies as Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM).
Anna then pulls the throttle so that the engine is turning at about 1200 RPM. "You've just lost the engine," she says. Ryan trims the airspeed to best glide and looks for a suitable emergency field. After he has set his course for an off-airport landing, he gets out his emergency checklist. Anna and Ryan are using Scenario-Based Training, which presents tasks in an operational environment.
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.
As perceptions increase in number, the learner develops insight by assembling them into larger blocks. As a result, learning becomes more meaningful and more permanent. Forgetting is less of a problem when there are more anchor points for tying insights together. Instructors are expected to organize demonstrations and explanations that create opportunities for insight.
Levels of learning include four basic levels:
(Note: The first three Levels of Learning roughly correspond to the first three levels of the Cognitive Domain.)
Narrative: Levels of Learning
CFI Amelia explains to learner Joshua that "VOR" stands for "Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range." When asked about this later, Joshua is able to re-state the words behind the abbreviation VOR. Joshua has demonstrated memorization.
Amelia explains to Joshua that a VOR transmits 360 discrete signals around the points of a compass. When Joshua is later asked how many radio signals he will receive if he tunes in a VOR, Joshua replies "Just one, because if I have one receiver in one location, then I can only get one signal." Joshua has demonstrated understanding by citing a memorized rule in an "if/then" statement.
Amelia and Joshua enter a flight simulator. Joshua understands that the VOR frequency must be entered in the navigation radio, and that the CDI must be centered to identify a radial and/or bearing. After departure, Joshua enters the correct VOR frequency, listens to the station's identifier, and uses the omni-bearing selector (OBS) to center the course-deviation indicator (CDI) with a "TO" on the ambiguity indicator. Amelia asks Joshua what his bearing to the station is, and Joshua replies with the number at the top of the OBS. Amelia asks Joshua what radial the airplane is on, and Joshua replies with the number at the bottom of the OBS. Amelia then asks Joshua to fly to the station. Joshua turns the aircraft's heading to match the bearing to the station. Ten minutes later, the aircraft passes through the cone of confusion. Joshua has demonstrated application in a practical setting.
Amelia and Joshua are planning a cross-country flight. Joshua is examining the sectional to determine what landmarks might be used for pilotage. As he is looking, Joshua notices a VOR that is several miles abeam one of his checkpoints. Joshua then determines which radial crosses his flight-path at the checkpoint, and he makes a note to tune the VOR to that radial with a "FROM" indication, which adds more detail to his flight plan, leveraging both pilotage and navigational technology at a single point-of-reference. He also confirms that the station will have adequate service volume for his distance and altitude. Amelia did not prompt Joshua to do this. Joshua has demonstrated correlation.
A learner's first attempt to acquire knowledge about a new topic amounts to memorizing facts about steps in a procedure. This allows learners to get started quickly. The limitations of memorization become apparent when a learner is asked to solve a problem or provide an explanation of something that is not covered by the newly acquired knowledge.
A more experienced pilot can answer complex questions because she or he understands the ramifications of the questions. Understanding develops when learners begin to organize known facts and steps into coherent groups that come together to form an understanding of how a thing or a process works.
"Mental model" or self-explanation is often used to refer to an organized collection of ideas that forms a learner's understanding of a thing or process.
Concept learning is based on the assumption that humans tend to group objects, events, ideas, people, etc., that share one or more major attributes that set them apart. By grouping information into concepts, humans reduce the complexities of life and create manageable categories.
An important part of the learning process is continual revision of the categories used when learners encounter new things or exceptions to things previously catalogued.
Another type of generalization is a schema — the cognitive framework that helps people organize and interpret information. Schemas can be revised by any new information and are useful because they allow people to take shortcuts in interpreting a vast amount of information. Schemas demonstrate why an experienced pilot is able to listen to and read back a lengthy departure clearance issued by ATC.
The Laws of Learning
Several Laws of Learning are applicable to the learning process.
Narratives: Laws of Learning
Emily arrives at the flight school one hour before each scheduled lesson so that she can review her notes, check the weather, and be mentally prepared for her flight. Emily demonstrates the principle of readiness.
Two or three times every week, Aaron uses a model airplane and runway to imagine himself in various locations within the traffic pattern and on the ground, so that he can practice his radio calls. Aaron demonstrates the principle of exercise.
Kate's flight instructor, Matt, maintains a syllabus, where he will write encouraging notes. He also appends once gold star for each lesson, and occasionally two. Kate appreciates the positive feedback and encouragement. CFI Matt demonstrates the principle of effect.
CFI Amelia introduces ground reference maneuvers with a model airplane and pylons. She asks her students to "fly" the maneuvers, explaining the airplane's bank and heading in relation to the wind at each maneuver's key points. After the student can explain each manuever using the model, Amelia will conduct the flight lesson. CFI Amelia demonstrates the principle of primacy.
CFI Ryan occasionally shows his students online videos of aircraft accidents, as captured via ATC tracking and audio recordings. The videos demonstrate to his students the result of poor risk management, particularly regarding fuel management and midair collisions. CFI Ryan demonstrates the principle of intensity.
CFI Ryan uses a flight simulator to teach scenario-based emergency operations, including engine-out glides to off-airport landing sites. CFI Ryan demonstrates the principle of intensity.
CFI Laura requires that her students check the weather before each flight lesson, and she begins each lesson with a review of the METAR and TAF. CFI Laura demonstrates the principle of recency.
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:
(Note: The first three levels of this domain correspond with the Levels of Learning (Knowledge = Memorization, Comprehension = Understanding, and Application = Application). The fourth Level of Learning, "Correlation" is replaced by three new categories in Bloom's Taxonomy: Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. Correlation most closely aligns with Synthesis.)
The Analysis level involves breaking the information into its component parts, examining, and trying to understand the information in order to develop conclusions, make inferences, and/or find evidence to support generalizations. This level uses such verbs as points out, differentiate, distinguish, examine, discriminate, compare, outline, prioritize, recognize, or subdivide.
Synthesis involves putting parts together to form a new and integrated whole. Typical verbs for this level include create, design, plan, organize, generate, write, adapt, compare, formulate, devise, model, revise, or incorporate.
Evaluation and involves making judgments about the merits of ideas, materials, or phenomena.
While the first three levels of Bloom's Taxonomy are often achieved via ground-school or self-study, the three higher levels are often the result of Scenario-Based Training (SBT).
Narrative: The Cognitive Domain
CFI Amelia asks learner Joshua to plan an arrival at a towered field at 22:30 local time, which will be a night operation. Joshua examines the Chart Supplement and the VFR Sectional. From these materials, he determines:
By examining the airport's characteristics to determine if a night arrival is feasible, Joshua is demonstrating Analysis.
Joshua then draws up a flight log, which puts the arrival portion of the flight in sequence:
By combining known facts into an integrated whole, Joshua is demonstrating Synthesis.
CFI Amelia tells Joshua that she doesn't think a night arrival at this airport is safe, and that the flight should be delayed until daylight hours. She asks Joshua for his opinion. He consults the PAVE checklist and notes that:
Joshua tells Amelia that he believes the flight is within the acceptable range of risk for general aviation operations. By examining the safety of the proposed flight, Joshua is demonstrating Evaluation.
The Affective Domain is concerned with attitudes, beliefs, and values. For the aviation instructor, this may mean how the individual approaches learning. Is s/he motivated to learn? Does s/he exhibit confidence in learning? Does s/he display a positive attitude towards safety and risk mitigation?
The affective domain is more difficult to measure, but motivation and enthusiasm are important components of any learning.
The Affective Domain includes:
For the aviation instructor, this may mean how the individual approaches learning. Is he or she motivated to learn? Does he or she exhibit confidence in learning? Does the learner display a positive attitude towards safety and risk mitigation?
Narrative: The Affective Domain
CFI Ryan meets learner Amy for a ground lesson to discuss Risk Management. Amy wants to be a pilot, but some of her friends have made jokes such as "Don't crash!" Amy knows these are just jokes, but she doesn't know if she should consider flying to be "risky" or "safe." She's interested in the topic and gives Ryan her full attention. Amy has demonstrated receiving.
Ryan explains that risk management really is about something called "Aeronautical Decision Making" (ADM), and that pilots are trained to make good decisions while avoiding bad ones. Amy is encouraged by the idea that she has the ability to control the risk when flying, and she immediately asks Ryan several questions about accidents that might be caused by pilot error. Amy has demonstrated responding.
Ryan tells Amy that the majority of aircraft accidents and incidents are the result of pilot error. Moreover, he explains, accidents typically are not caused by a single point of catastrophic failure, but instead can be examined as part of an "accident chain" where the pilot in command had several opportunities to avoid the accident. Amy wants to be a safe and proficient pilot, and she wants to learn more about accident chains and how they can be broken. After all, someday she may have to break her own accident chain. Amy has demonstrated valuing.
Ryan tells Amy that the FAA publishes a Risk Management Handbook, and while it's not required reading in the flight school's syllabus, it provides a higher level of training for all pilots. Amy decides that she will order a copy of the handbook and make the time to read it, even though she has other reading to complete in her ground school. Amy has demonstrated organization.
CFI Ryan lets Amy know that ADM and Risk Management include several short checklists, including "IMSAFE" and "PAVE". Amy is a pre-solo student, and she is still getting used to the sensation of flight. Nonetheless, she's decides that she will complete the IMSAFE and PAVE checklists before every flight lesson so that she will develop the behaviors and habits of a good pilot as soon as possible. Amy has demonstrated characterization.
AIDA: Attention, Interest, Decision, Action!
Fans of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross can easily recall the initialism "AIDA," as stated by Alec Baldwin in the film's opening scene. "Attention. Interest. Decision. Action!"
What's less apparent is that Baldwin's character is schooling a group of low-performing salesmen on the Affective Domain.
Do flight instructors have the same jobs as sales associates? Every flight instructor should aspire to teach, not sell. But CFIs should pay attention to their students the same way that Mamet's salesmen evaluate their processes. Is my student with me? Are they listening, questioning, participating? And ultimately, are they changing?
Oral exam prep: Alec Baldwin shouting "A-I-D-A!" in a David Mamet movie is far more memorable than R-R-V-O-C as stated in the Aviation Instructor's Manual. It's best to start with Baldwin's reading and then translate it to the formal version. The formal version itself can be recalled by its similarity to the word "revoke," which means to reject a calling ("vox" is Latin for "voice"). Thus, you can consider people who have ascended the Affective Domain to have revoked their previous beliefs and behaviors.
One Pschyo-Motor Domain is skill-based and includes physical movement, coordination, and use of the motor-skill areas. Development of these skills utilizes repetitive practice and is measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, and techniques.
The Aviation Instructor's Handbook suggests that there are only four levels of this domain that are practical to flight instruction:
The Pschyo-Motor Domain includes:
Narrative: The Psycho-Motor Domain
CFI Sarah is ready for learner Jason to attempt unassisted takeoff rolls. Before completing the hold-short checklist and getting a runway clearance, Sarah asks Jason if he can do this without accidentally tapping the brakes while the airplane is accelerating. Jason responds that he can feel the balls of his feet on the steering bars, and that he always raises his heels when he applies brakes. Jason has demonstrated Perception, or observation.
CFI Sarah reminds Jason that the airplane will veer to the left at full throttle. Jason says that he has sensed this during Sarah's demonstrations. He tells Sarah that he will use rudder input to remain on centerline. Jason has demonstrated set, or observation.
Jason's first unassisted takeoff roll is acceptable, although he overcorrected the propeller forces with too much rudder input, which caused the airplane to veer right for a few seconds. Sarah said "less rudder" over the intercom. Jason then returned to the centerline and was able to conduct a safe takeoff. Jason has demonstrated guided response, or imitation.
After a few more lessons, Jason is doing all of his takeoff rolls without Sarah's assistance. Jason has demonstrated mechanism. This is the result of practice, which has become habit.
Sarah introduces a crosswind takeoff technique to Jason, which requires an aileron deflection at the start of the takeoff roll. Jason becomes competent with practice, and he learns to read the windsock before takeoff to estimate the wind's direction and velocity. Jason has demonstrated complex overt response. This is the result of practice of a difficult task, which has become habit.
Jason likes to stop on centerline for a few seconds before applying full throttle, but the tower asked him to "expedite" on a recent takeoff clearance. Jason accepted the clearance and performed an expedited departure. Jason has demonstrated adaptation.
Jason has developed a mental checklist for a few final items to be confirmed before departure. Before applying the throttle, he uses a flow to check his transponder, strobe lights, pitot heat, and heading indicator. He has decided these are the final-final items that should be double-checked before leaving the ground, and he has committed them to memory. Jason has demonstrated origination.
(Note: Adaptation and origination are not specific to flight training in the psycho-motor domain. These skills would be of greatest value to test pilots, as well as pilots managing unusual emergencies. That said, every pilot is likely to introduce small amounts of their own adaptation and origination as they gain experience.)
Characteristics of Learning
Narrative: Characteristics of Learning
CFI Angela has started flying with learner pilot Tim, who is a successful real-estate investor. Tim's motivation for learning to fly is both personal and professional. He grew up with an uncle who was a pilot, so he spent time in airplanes when he was younger. Today, he wants to view various properties that he owns or is considering purchasing. Angela started their first ground lesson by looking at an aviation sectional, which gave Tim an overview of the local flying area. Because Tim thinks in terms of land and property, Angela made sure that his introduction to flying was purposeful.
When they did their first preflight of the aircraft, Angela provided an overview of the preflight checklist and then had Tim shadow her, performing preflight actions after she did it. In some cases, she directed Tim while he performed the action without a demonstration. Angela made sure that Tim's knowledge of aircraft preflight would be a result of experience.
While ground operations can be intimidating to a new student pilot, Angela started Tim doing tasks right away, rather than simply getting a clearance and climbing to altitude before the start of instruction. Tim rapidly learned how to hold brakes, tune the radio, look for other ground traffic, listen to the ATIS, write down weather observations, and taxi the airplane. Angela ensured that Tim's early encounters with ground operations were muti-faceted.
Angela monitored Tim's reactions and feedback during his lessons. He was nervous about using the radio to get his first taxi clearance, but after it went smoothly he said "Yeah, got it!" Later, during the same lesson, she praised him for holding straight-and-level without assistance. He replied "I can't believe I'm really doing this now. This is fantastic." Angela ensured that Tim's learning experience was an active process.
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.
Practical Test Standards: Flight Instructor
I. Fundamentals of Instructing
Task B: The Learning Process
Objective: To determine that the applicant exhibits instructional knowledge of the learning process by describing::
Oral Exam Questions