Learning Process


  • Learning can be defined in many ways:
    • A change in the behavior of the learner as a result of experience (which can be physical and overt)
    • It can be intellectual or attitudinal
    • The process by which experience brings about a relatively permanent change in behavior
    • The change in behavior that results from experience and practice
    • Gaining knowledge or skills, or developing a behavior, through study, instruction, or experience
    • The process of acquiring knowledge or skill through study, experience, or teaching. It depends on experience and leads to long-term changes in behavior potential. Behavior potential describes the possible behavior of an individual (not actual behavior) in a given situation in order to achieve a goal
    • A relatively permanent change in cognition, resulting from experience and directly influencing behavior
  • The effective instructor understands the subject being taught, the student, the learning process, and the interrelationships that exist
  • An effective instructor also realizes learning is a complex procedure and assists each student in reaching the learning outcomes while helping the student build self-esteem and confidence [Figure 2-1]


  • Discussion of the transformation from first flight to checkride would reveal remarkable changes among students:
    • They have developed a collection of memorized facts into an in-depth understanding of how to fly and learned to apply this knowledge to problem-solving and decision-making
    • Skills once performed awkwardly and deliberately are now performed smoothly and efficiently
    • They can comfortably perform several tasks at once, deal with distractions and interruptions, and maintain focus during demanding situations
    • Students will still make some errors, but they are less frequent, smaller in magnitude, and can be quickly identified and corrected
    • Motivation and enthusiasm remain as high as they were on the first day of training
    • Proficiency is displayed in all areas now: those at which students naturally excel as well as those struggled to master in the past
    • Psychological obstacles, such as frustration, that initially got in the way of learning can be managed
    • The importance of regular study and practice is recognized and applied
  • Instructors must teach each student in such a way that he or she will become a competent pilot or aviation maintenance technician (AMT)
  • In order to take a pilot or AMT 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 Theory:

  • Learning theory is a body of principles advocated by psychologists and educators to explain how people acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes
  • Key concepts such as desired learning outcomes, objectives of the training, and depth of training also apply
  • Modern learning theories grew out of two concepts of how people learn: behaviorism and cognitive theory
    1. Behaviorism:
      • Behaviorism is a school of psychology that explains animal and human behavior in terms of observable and measurable responses to stimuli
        • Classic behaviorist theory in education stressed a system of rewards and punishment or the “carrot and stick” approach to learning
        • In modern education circles, behaviorism stresses the importance of having a particular form of behavior positively reinforced by someone (flight instructor) who shapes or controls what is learned rather than no reinforcement or punishment
        • The popularity of behaviorism has waned due to research that indicates learning is a much more complex process than a response to stimuli
          • Behaviorism is now used more to break unwanted behaviors, such as smoking, than in teaching
    2. Cognitive:
      • Cognitive theory focuses on what is going on inside the mind
      • It is more concerned with cognition (the process of thinking and learning)-knowing, perceiving, problemsolving, decision-making, awareness, and related intellectual activities—than with stimulus and response
      • Learning is not just a change in behavior; it is a change in the way a learner thinks, understands, or feels
      • Concepts:
        • Reflective Thought:
          • The idea that learning improves to the degree that it arises out of the process of reflection. Over the years, terminology describing reflection has spawned a host of synonyms, such as "critical thinking," "problem-solving," and "higher level thought"
            • For Dr. John Dewey, he saw reflection as a process that moves a learner from one experience into the next with deeper understanding of its relationships with and connections to other experiences and ideas
        • Assimilation vs. Accommodation:
          • The idea that there is always a tension between old ideas meeting new situations and changing old ideas to meet the new situations
            • For Dr. Jean Piaget, his research led him to believe the resolution of this tension results in intellectual growth (a basic premise of scenario-based training)
        • Spiral Curriculum:
          • The idea that revisiting basic ideas repeatedly and building on them in increasingly sophisticated ways causes students mature and develop
            • For Dr. Jerome Bruner, his research led him to advocate learning from the known to the unknown, or from the concrete to the abstract, because humans best learn when relating new knowledge to existing knowledge
      • Blooms Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain:
        • In the mid-1900s, a group of educators led by Benjamin Bloom wanted to classify education goals and objectives based on the assumption that abilities can be measured along a continuum from simple to complex
        • The result, which remains a popular framework for cognitive theory, was Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (a classification system according to presumed relationships) which comprises six levels of intellectual behavior and progresses from the simplest to the most complex:
          • Knowledge
          • Comprehension
          • Application
          • Analysis
          • Synthesis, and
          • Evaluation
      • Continued research into cognitive theory has led to theories such as information processing and constructivism
        • Information Processing Theory:
          • Information processing theory uses a computer system as a model for human learning
          • The human brain processes incoming information, stores and retrieves it, and generates responses to the information
          • This involves a number of cognitive processes:
            • Gathering and representing information (encoding)
            • Retaining of information, and
            • Retrieving the information when needed
          • This learning system has limitations and must be operated properly. A computer gets input from a keyboard, mouse, etc., whereas the human brain gets input from the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. The amount of sensory input the brain receives per second ranges from thousands to millions of bits of information according to various theories. Regardless of the number, that is a lot of information for the brain to track and process
          • One way the brain deals with all this information is to let many of the habitual and routine things go unnoticed. For example, a pilot who uses the rudder when entering a turn is usually unaware of pressing the pedal, even though it involves moving a leg, exerting pressure on the pedal, etc. The human unconscious takes charge, leaving conscious thought processes free to deal with issues that are not habitual. Since information processing theorists approach learning primarily through a study of memory, this learning concept is revisited during the discussion of memory
        • Constructivism:
          • A derivative of cognitive theory, constructivism is a philosophy of learning that can be traced to the eighteenth century. This theory holds that learners do not acquire knowledge and skills passively but actively build or construct them based on their experiences. As implied by its name, constructivism emphasizes the constructing or building that goes on in a learner’s mind when he or she learns. Therefore, it creates a learner-centered learning environment in which learners assume responsibility for their own learning
          • 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 the learner matching new information against this preexisting information and integrating it into meaningful connections. In constructivist thinking, 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. While the student is at the center of the learning process, an experienced teacher is necessary to guide them through the information jungle. Constructivism techniques are good for some types of learning, some situations, and some learners, but not all. This school of thought also encourages teaching students how to use what are known as the higher order thinking skills (HOTS) from Bloom’s Taxonomy and training based on problems or scenarios
            • Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS):
              • The constructivist theory of learning explains and supports the learning of HOTS, which is commonly called aeronautical decision-making (ADM) in aviation
              • HOTS lie in the last three categories on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation skills. Teaching the higher level thinking skills which are essential to judgment, decisionmaking, and critical thinking is important to aviation because a common thread in aviation accidents is the absence of higher order thinking skills (see Appendix F)
              • 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:
                • Using problem-based learning (PBL) instruction
                • Authentic problems
                • Real world problems
                • Student-centered learning
                • Active learning
                • Cooperative learning, and
                • Customized instruction to meet the individual learner’s needs
              • These strategies engage the learner in some form of mental activity, have the learner examine that mental activity and select the best solution, and challenge the learner to explore other ways to accomplish the task or the problem
              • It must be remembered that critical thinking skills should be taught in the context of subject matter. Learners progress from simple to complex; therefore, they need some information before they can think about a subject beyond rote learning. For example, knowing that compliance with the weight-and balance limits of any aircraft is critical to flight safety will not help an aviation student interpret weight-and-balance charts unless he or she knows something about how center of gravity interacts with weight and balance. If the student does not yet have much subject matter knowledge, draw on the student’s experiences to gain entry into complex concepts. For example, most students probably played on a seesaw during their childhood. Thus, they have a basic experience of how weight and balance work around a center of gravity
              • Additionally, HOTS must be emphasized throughout a program of study for best results. For aviation, this means HOTS should be taught in the initial pilot training program and in every subsequent pilot training program. Instructors need to teach the cognitive skills used in problem-solving until these techniques become automated and transferable to new situations or problems. Cognitive research has shown the learning of HOTS is not a change in observable behavior but the construction of meaning from experience
            • Scenario-Based Training (SBT):
              • At the heart of HOTS lies scenario-based training (SBT) which is an example of the PBL instructional method and facilitates the enhancement of learning and the development and transference of thinking skills. SBT provides more realistic decision-making opportunities because it presents tasks in an operational environment; it correlates new information with previous knowledge, and introduces new information in a realistic context
              • SBT is a training system that uses a structured script of “real world” scenarios to address flight-training objectives in an operational environment. Such training can include initial training, transition training, upgrade training, recurrent training, and special training
              • The instructor should adapt the scenarios to the aircraft, its specific flight characteristics and the likely flight environment, and should always require the student to make real-time decisions in a realistic setting. The scenarios should always be planned and led by the student (with the exception of the first flight or two or until the student has developed the required skills)
              • SBT not only meets the challenge of teaching aeronautical knowledge to the application level of learning, but also enables the instructor to teach the underlying HOTS needed to improve ADM. The best use of scenarios draws the learner into formulating possible solutions, evaluating the possible solutions, deciding on a solution, judging the appropriateness of that decision and finally, reflecting on the mental process used in solving the problem. It causes the learner to consider whether the decision led to the best possible outcome and challenges the learner to consider other solutions
              • SBT scenarios help learners better understand the decisions they have to make and also helps focus the learner on the decisions and consequences involved. It is being used to train people in everything from emergency response to hotel management. The strength of SBT lies in helping the learner gain a deeper understanding of the information and in the learner improving his or her ability to recall the information. This 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 based on his or her past experience and personal interpretation
              • SBT has become one of the primary methods to teach today’s aviation learners how to make good aeronautical decisions which in turn enhances the safety of all aviation related activities. For information on how to incorporate SBT into a training syllabus, refer to chapter 9


  • Initially, all learning comes from perceptions, which are directed to the brain by one or more of the five senses
    • These perceptions may be pre-existing which can become a barrier
  • Psychologists have also found that learning occurs most rapidly when information is received through more than one sense [Figure 2-5]
    • People base their actions on the way they believe things to be. For example, the experienced pilot perceives an engine malfunction quite differently than an inexperienced student
    • This occurs because the beginning aviation student is overwhelmed by stimuli and often focuses on meaningless things, thus missing key information
    • It is important for the instructor to direct trainee’s perceptions initially so that the student detects and perceives relevant information
  • Real meaning comes only from within a person, even though the perceptions, which evoke these meanings, result from external stimuli. The meanings, which are derived from perceptions, are influenced not only by the individual’s experience, but also by many other factors. Knowledge of the factors that affect the perceptual process is very important to the aviation instructor because perceptions are the basis of all learning
  • Factors That Affect Perception:
    • Both internal and external factors affect an individual’s ability to perceive:
      • Physical organism: sensing the world around you
      • Goals and values: those that are accorded less value and importance are not sougth after
      • Self-concept: self-image such as confident (positive) and insecure (negative)
      • Time and opportunity: availability
      • Element of threat: fear adversely affects percetion
  • Physical Organism:
    • The physical organism provides individuals with the perceptual apparatus for sensing the world around them. Pilots, for example, must be able to see, hear, feel, and respond adequately while they are in the air
  • Goals and Values:
    • Perceptions depend on one’s values and goals. Every experience and sensation, which is funneled into one’s central nervous system, is colored by the individual’s own beliefs and value structures. Spectators at a ball game may see an infraction or foul differently depending on which team they support. The values of the student are important for the instructor to know, because this knowledge assists in predicting how the student interprets experiences and instructions
    • Goals are also a product of one’s value structure. Things that are more highly valued and cherished are pursued; those accorded less value and importance are not sought after
  • Self-Concept Self-concept is a powerful determinant in learning. A student’s self-image, described in such terms as “confident” or “insecure,” has a great influence on the total perceptual process. If a student’s experiences tend to support a favorable self-image, the student tends to remain receptive to subsequent experiences. If a student has negative experiences, which tend to contradict self-concept, there is a tendency to reject additional training
  • A negative self-concept inhibits the perceptual processes by introducing psychological barriers, which tend to keep the student from perceiving. They may also inhibit the ability to properly implement what is perceived. That is, selfconcept affects the ability to actually perform or do things unfavorably. Students who view themselves positively, on the other hand, are less defensive and more receptive to new experiences, instructions, and demonstrations
  • Time and Opportunity:
    • It takes time and opportunity to perceive. Learning some things depends on other perceptions, which have preceded these learnings, and on the availability of time to sense and relate these new things to the earlier perceptions. Thus, proper sequence and time are necessary
    • A student could probably stall an aircraft on the first attempt, regardless of previous experience. Stalls cannot really be learned, however, unless some experience in normal flight has been acquired. Even with such experience, time and practice are needed to relate the new sensations and experiences associated with stalls in order to develop a perception of the stall. In general, lengthening an experience and increasing its frequency are the most obvious ways to speed up learning, although this is not always effective. Many factors, in addition to the length and frequency of training periods, affect the rate of learning. The effectiveness of the use of a properly planned training syllabus is proportional to the consideration it gives to the time and opportunity factor in perception
  • Element of Threat:
    • The element of threat does not promote effective learning. In fact, fear adversely affects perception by narrowing the perceptual field. Confronted with threat, students tend to limit their attention to the threatening object or condition. The field of vision is reduced, for example, when an individual is frightened and all the perceptual faculties are focused on the thing that has generated fear
    • Flight instruction provides many clear examples of this
      • During the initial practice of steep turns, Beverly may focus her attention on the altimeter and completely disregard outside visual references. Anything Bill does that is interpreted as threatening makes Beverly less able to accept the experience Bill is trying to provide. It adversely affects all her physical, emotional, and mental faculties
    • Learning is a psychological process, not necessarily a logical one. Trying to frighten a student through threats of unsatisfactory reports or reprisals may seem logical, but is not effective psychologically. The effective instructor organizes teaching to fit the psychological needs of the student. If a situation seems overwhelming, the student feels unable to handle all of the factors involved; a threat exists. As long as the student feels capable of coping with a situation, each new experience is viewed as a challenge
    • A good instructor recognizes that behavior is directly influenced by the way a student perceives, and perception is affected by all of these factors. Therefore, it is important for the instructor to facilitate the learning process by avoiding any actions which may inhibit or prevent the attainment of teaching goals. Teaching is consistently effective only when those factors that influence perception are recognized and taken into account


  • Insight involves the grouping of perceptions into meaningful wholes. Creating insight is one of the instructor’s major responsibilities. To ensure that this occurs, it is essential to keep each student constantly receptive to new experiences and to help the student understand how each piece relates to all other pieces of the total pattern of the task to be learned
    • For example, during straight-and-level flight in an aircraft with a fixed-pitch propeller, the revolutions per minute (rpm) increase when the throttle is opened and decrease when it is closed. On the other hand, rpm changes can also result from changes in aircraft pitch attitude without changes in power setting. Obviously, engine speed, power setting, airspeed, and aircraft attitude are all related
  • True learning requires an understanding of how each factor may affect all of the others and, at the same time, knowledge of how a change in any one of them may affect all of the others. This mental relating and grouping of associated perceptions is called insight
  • Insight almost always occurs eventually, whether or not instruction is provided. For this reason, it is possible for a person to become an electrician by trial and error, just as one may become a lawyer by reading law. Instruction, however, speeds this learning process by teaching the relationship of perceptions as they occur, thus promoting the development of the student’s insight
  • As perceptions increase in number, the student develops insight by assembling them into larger blocks of learning. 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. It is a major responsibility of the instructor to organize demonstrations and explanations, and to direct practice so that the student has better opportunities to understand the interrelationship of the many kinds of experiences that have been perceived. Pointing out the relationships as they occur, providing a secure and nonthreatening environment in which to learn, and helping the student acquire and maintain a favorable self-concept are key steps in fostering the development of insight

Evaluation Versus Critique:

  • In the initial stages of skill acquisition, practical suggestions are more valuable to the student than a grade. Early evaluation is usually teacher oriented. It provides a check on teaching effectiveness, can be used to predict eventual student learning proficiency, and can help the teacher locate special problem areas. The observations on which the evaluations are based also can identify the student’s strengths and weaknesses, a prerequisite for making constructive criticism. For additional information, refer to Chapter 5, Assessment
  • As a student practices a skill, it is important he or she perform the skill correctly and that the skill being practiced is one that needs to be developed to maturity. An instructor ensures a skill is practiced correctly by monitoring the practice and providing feedback about the skill development. The student profits by having someone watch the performance and provide constructive criticism to help eliminate errors. Providing compliments on aspects of the skill that wereperformed correctly help keep the evaluation positive. Allowing the student to critique his or her performance enhances student-centered training
  • Instructors should note students can develop deviations from the intended method of performance at any stage of skill acquisition
  • Overlearning of Knowledge:

    • Overlearning is the continued study of a skill after initial proficiency has been achieved. Practice proceeds beyond the point at which the act can be performed with the required degree of excellence. The phenomenon of overlearning sometimes occurs when knowledge used frequently begins to take on the properties of a skill. For example, a student’s everyday knowledge about weight-and-balance concepts tends to center on the routine use of familiar charts found in the aircraft. Eventually, the student’s performance is characterized less by an understanding of weight-and-balance concepts, and more by an automatic process in which rows and columns of familiar charts give desired numbers. In some cases, the overlearning of knowledge has the advantage of making application of knowledge more streamlined and efficient. In other cases, the development of automated routines can lead to problems. For example, a verbal checklist procedure becomes so automatic that a streamlined recitation of checklist items becomes decoupled from the thoughts and actions the checklist items are intended to trigger. In this case, the pilot or mechanic may not stop to consider each item
    • The development of automated skills can impede further learning or lead to forgetting general knowledge. In one study, student pilots and flight instructors were asked to solve weight-and-balance problems using charts taken from two different aircraft: (1) a small single-engine airplane they flew on a daily basis and (2) a different small singleengine airplane in which they had no experience. Test scores were surprisingly low when the charts for the unfamiliar airplane were used, and this was as true for instructors as it was for students. The results suggest pilots had focused on developing streamlined, automatic procedures tuned to the details of the familiar aircraft charts while their ability to use their understanding of overall weight-and-balance concepts seemed to have diminished
    • Instructors must remain aware of skills students develop as a result of overlearning and help make sure that their actions continue to be accompanied by a use of their underlying knowledge. As a student progresses, the key difference between knowledge and skill becomes apparent. Memorized facts about a topic that once supported the beginner’s awkward performance of the skill tend to develop into deeper understanding. Skill acquisition involves learning many individual steps that eventually meld into a seemingly continuous automated process, at which point the student has entered the procedural knowledge realm, and may no longer be consciously aware of the individual steps
  • Application of Skill:

    • The final and critical question is “Can the student use what has been learned?” It is not uncommon to find that students devote weeks and months in school learning new abilities, and then fail to apply these abilities on the job. To solve this problem, two conditions must be present. First, the student must learn the skill so well that it becomes easy, even habitual. Second, the student must recognize the types of situations where it is appropriate to use the skill. This second condition involves the question of transfer of learning, which is discussed later in this chapter
  • Summary of Instructor Actions:

    • To help students acquire skills, the instructor should:
      • Explain that the key to acquiring and improving any skill is continued practice
      • Monitor student practice of skills and provide immediate feedback
      • Avoid conversation and other distractions when students are practicing individual skills
      • Explain that learning plateaus are common and that continued practice leads to continued improvement

Putting It All Together:

  • Many skills are learned before a student can fly an airplane or a maintenance student can rebuild an aircraft engine. Just as practicing scales is a fundamental part of learning to play the piano, the student does not “make music” until the ability to combine the notes in a variety of ways is acquired. For the student pilot or technician, practicing specific skills is essential, but flying a cross-country trip or repairing a collapsed landing gear requires “putting it all together” in the right way to achieve success
  • The following section looks at the challenge of learning to perform several tasks at once, dealing with distractions and interruptions, overcoming problems with fixation and inattention. It also describes the benefits of using realistic training scenarios to develop these abilities
  • Multitasking:

    • Multitasking is the simultaneous execution of two or more tasks. A hallmark of the proficient pilot or mechanic is the ability to multitask. In aviation, multitasking involves two different abilities: attention switching and simultaneous performance. It is useful to distinguish between the two types of multitasking because developing both types of abilities is an important part of aviation training
      • Attention Switching:

        • Continuously switching attention back and forth between two or more tasks is attention switching. For example, when Beverly uses a checklist to perform a preflight inspection, she must continuously switch her attention between the checklist and the equipment she is inspecting. She looks at the checklist to retrieve the next step in the procedure, and then looks at the equipment to perform the step
        • For many kinds of tasks, attention switching is the only way to accomplish multitasking. For example, it is generally impossible to look at two different things at the same time. The area of focused vision (called the fovea) is only a few degrees in span and can only be directed to one location at a time. Similarly, people cannot listen to two conversations at the same time. While both conversations fall upon the ears at once, people must devote their attention to the comprehension of one, to the exclusion of the other
        • Psychologists sometimes refer to these limiting features of human information-processing capabilities as bottlenecks. For example, people have bottlenecks within the individual perceptual channels of hearing and seeing. Another important bottleneck becomes apparent when people attempt to process the information perceived or retrieved from memories. Indeed, it seems impossible to think about two different things at the same time
      • Simultaneous Performance:

        • Performing several tasks at once, or simultaneous performance, is the second type of multitasking. [Figure 2-20] This type of multitasking becomes possible when no bottlenecks are present and when one or more of the tasks being performed are skills developed to the point of being automatic. For example, the experienced instrument pilot is able to perform basic attitude instrument flying while communicating with ATC. For these pilots, scanning instruments and responding to minor attitude deviations with small control inputs has become automatic. The attentional resources of the pilot are free to devote to thinking and talking about other topics
        • It is important to note that the ability to simultaneously perform tasks is a fragile phenomenon. For example, suppose Beverly is performing the basic attitude control task and communicating with ATC when she suddenly encounters turbulence. The attitude control task quickly increases in difficulty and begins to require more and more deliberate attention. Her ability to perform both tasks simultaneously quickly degrades
  • Learning To Multitask:

    • Since doing several things at once is a natural part of aviation, instructors need to help students develop both types of multitasking abilities: attention switching and simultaneous performance. Before students are asked to perform several tasks at once, instructors should ensure that the student has devoted enough time to study and practice such that the individual tasks can be performed reasonably well in isolation
    • Inexperience with an individual task can often hinder attempts to learn combinations of it and other tasks. For example, a student distracted by trying to interpret unfamiliar symbols on a sectional chart inadvertently deviates from assigned attitude or heading. An instructor recognizes the need to spend more time with these skills in isolation. In this case, there is nothing about the experience of controlling the aircraft that helps students better understand chart symbols
  • Distractions and Interruptions:

    • A distraction is an unexpected event that causes the student’s attention to be momentarily diverted. Students must learn to decide whether or not a distraction warrants further attention or action on their part. Once this has been decided, the students must either turn their attention back to what they were doing, or act on the distraction
    • An interruption is an unexpected event for which the student voluntarily suspends performance of one task in order to complete a different one. Interruptions are a significant source of errors and students must be made aware of the potential for errors caused by interruptions and develop procedures for dealing with them. A classic example is an interruption that occurs while a student is following the steps in a written procedure or checklist. The student puts down the checklist, deals with the interruption, and then returns to the procedure—but erroneously picks up at a later point in the procedure, omitting one or more steps
  • Fixation and Inattention:

    • Since human attention is limited in focus and highly prone to distraction, people are vulnerable to two other types of problems: fixation and inattention
    • Fixation occurs when a student becomes absorbed in performing one task to the exclusion of other tasks. Instructors see many examples of this in student performance. Beginning instrument pilots characteristically fixate on particular instruments, attempting to control one aspect of their performance while other aspects deteriorate. Fixation on a task is often a sign that the task has not received enough practice in isolation. That is, the student has not yet mastered the task well enough to perform it in addition to other tasks. Fixation can happen even when individual skills have been reasonably mastered, when students have not yet learned the importance of managing their own limited attentional resources
    • Inattention occurs when a student fails to pay attention to a task that is important. Inattention is sometimes a natural byproduct of fixation. Students fixate on one task and become too busy to attend to other tasks. Inattention also happens when students are not busy: attention may drift when they become bored or think that a task does not deserve their attention. In some cases, this type of inattention is difficult to eliminate through training and practice. For example, it is well known that humans perform poorly when placed in the role of passive monitor. Many studies have shown how performance rapidly deteriorates when humans are asked to passively monitor gauges or the progress of an automated system such as a GPS navigation computer or autopilot Furthermore, it seems that the more reliable the system becomes, the poorer the human performance becomes at the monitoring task. The first line of defense against this type of inattention is to alert the student to the problem, and to help students develop habits that keep their attention focused
  • How To Identify Fixation or Inattention Problems:

    • One way for instructors to identify problems with fixation and inattention is to try and follow where students look. To accomplish this, instructors can glance at a student’s eyes to try to determine where the student is looking. Students who appear to look at one instrument for an extended period of time might have a problem with fixation. Students whose gaze is never directed toward engine instruments might have a problem with inattention
    • The technique of following student eye movements is useful, but has limitations since looking in the same direction as the student is not the same as “seeing” what the student sees

Fundamentals of Instructing Senses
Figure 1: Senses


  • Errors are a natural part of human performance. Beginners, as well as the most highly skilled experts, are vulnerable to error, and this is perhaps the most important thing to understand about error. To believe people can eliminate errors from their performance is to commit the biggest error of all. Instructors and students alike should be prepared for occasional errors by learning about common kinds of errors, how errors can be minimized, how to learn from errors, and how to recover from errors when they are made
  • Kinds of Error:

    • There are two kinds of error: slip and mistake
    • Slip:

      • A slip occurs when a person plans to do one thing, but then inadvertently does something else. Slips are errors of action. Slips can take on a variety of different forms. One of the most common forms of slips is to simply neglect to do something. Other forms of slips occur when people confuse two things that are similar. Accidentally using a manual that is similar to the one really needed is an example of this type of slip. Other forms of slips happen when someone is asked to perform a routine procedure in a slightly different way. For example, Beverly has been assigned runway 30 for many days in a row. This morning she approaches to land and ATC assigns runway 12 instead. As she approaches the traffic pattern, she turns to enter the pattern for runway 30 out of habit
      • Time pressure is another common source of slips. Studies of people performing a variety of tasks demonstrated a phenomenon called the speed-accuracy tradeoff. The more hurried one’s work becomes the more slips one is likely to make
    • Mistake:

      • A mistake occurs when a person plans to do the wrong thing and is successful. Mistakes are errors of thought. Mistakes are sometimes the result of gaps or misconceptions in the student’s understanding. One type of mistake happens when a student formulates an understanding of a phenomenon and then later encounters a situation that shows how this understanding was incorrect or incomplete. For example, overly simplistic understanding of weather frequently leads inexperienced students into situations that are unexpected. Experts are not immune to making mistakes, which sometimes arise from the way an expert draws upon knowledge of familiar problems and responds to them using familiar solutions. [Figure 2-21] Mistakes can occur when the expert categorizes a particular case incorrectly. For example, an experienced pilot may become accustomed to ignoring nuisance alerts issued by his traffic alerting system when approaching his home airport, as many aircraft on the ground turn on their transponders prior to takeoff. One night, he ignores an alert that was generated not by an aircraft on the ground, but rather by another aircraft that has turned in front of him on final approach
    • Reducing Error:

      • Although it is impossible to eliminate errors entirely, there are ways to reduce them, as described in the following paragraphs
      • Learning and Practicing:

        • The first line of defense against errors is learning and practice. Higher levels of knowledge and skill are associated with a lower frequency and magnitude of error
      • Taking Time:

        • Errors can often be reduced by working deliberately at a comfortable pace. Hurrying does not achieve the same results as faster performance that is gained by increasing one’s skill through continued practice
      • Checking for Errors:

        • Another way to help avoid errors is to look actively for evidence of them. Many tasks in aviation offer a means of checking work. Students should be encouraged to look for new ways of checking their work
      • Using Reminders:

        • Errors are reduced when visible reminders are present and actively used. Checklists and other published procedures are examples of reminders. Many aircraft instruments such as altimeters offer bugs that can be used to remind the pilot about assigned altitudes, airspeeds, headings, and courses. Mechanics and pilots alike can use notepads to jot down reminders or information that must otherwise be committed to memory
      • Developing Routines:

        • The use of standardized procedures for routine tasks is widely known to help reduce error. Even when a checklist procedure is unavailable or impractical, students can help reduce the occurrence of error by adopting standardized procedures
      • Raising Awareness:

        • Another line of defense against errors is to raise one’s awareness when operating in conditions under which errors are known to happen (e.g., changes in routine, time pressure), or in conditions under which defenses against errors have been compromised (e.g., fatigue, lack of recent practice)
    • Error Recovery:

      • Given that the occasional error is inevitable, it is a worthwhile exercise to practice recovering from commonly made errors, or those that pose serious consequences. All flight students are required to learn and practice a lost procedure to ensure that they can recover from the situation in which they have lost their way. It is useful to devote the same sort of preparation to other common student errors
    • Learning From Error:

      • Error can be a valuable learning resource. Students naturally make errors, which instructors can utilize to help students learn while being careful not to let the student practice doing the wrong thing. When a student makes an error, it is useful to ask the student to consider why the error happened, and what could be done differently to prevent the error from happening again in the future. In some cases, errors are slips that simply reveal the need for more practice. In other cases, errors point to aspects of student methods or habits that might be improved. For example, beginning instrument flight students commonly make errors when managing two communications radios, each with an active and standby frequency. When the same students learn to use each radio for a specific purpose (e.g., ATIS, ground, tower frequencies), error rates often drop quickly
      • Instructors and students should be aware of a natural human tendency to resist learning from errors. That is, there is a tendency to “explain away” errors, dismissing them as one-time events that will likely never happen again. The same phenomenon occurs when observing errors made by others. Reading an accident or incident report, it is easy to spot where a pilot or mechanic made an error and regard the error as something that could never happen to the reader. It is important to note that this type of bias is not necessarily the result of ego or overconfidence; rather, it is something to which we are all susceptible. Psychologist Baruch Fischoff studied hindsight explanations given by people who were presented with descriptions of situations and their ultimate outcomes. When asked to provide explanations for events that had already occurred and for which the outcome was known, people explained that the outcomes were “obvious” and “predictable.” When the same events without the outcomes were presented to a second group, peoples’ prediction of the outcome was no better than chance guessing. The study nicely illustrates the popular adage that “hindsight is 20/20"
    • Summary of Instructor Actions:

      • To help students learn from errors they make and be prepared for them in the future, an instructor should:
        • Explain that pilots and mechanics at all levels of skill and experience make occasional errors
        • Explain that the magnitude and frequency of errors tend to decrease as skill and experience increases
        • Explain the difference between slips and mistakes and provide examples of each
        • Explain ways in which the student can help minimize errors
        • Allow the student to practice recovering from common errors
        • Point out errors when they occur and ask the student to explain why they occurred


  • As defined in chapter 1, motivation is the reason one acts or behaves in a certain way and lies at the heart of goals. A goal is the object of a person’s effort. Motivation prompts students to engage in hard work and affects student success. Being smart or coordinated seldom guarantees success, but motivation routinely propels students to the top. An important part of an aviation instructor’s job is to discover what motivates each student and to use this information to encourage him or her to work hard
  • Motivation is probably the dominant force that governs the student’s progress and ability to learn and can be used to advantage by the instructor. Motivation comes in many guises. It may be negative or positive. Negative motivation may engender fear, for example. While negative motivation may be useful in certain situations, characteristically it is not as effective in promoting efficient learning as positive motivation. [Figure 2-22] Positive motivation is provided by the promise or achievement of rewards. These rewards may be personal or social, they may involve financial gain, satisfaction of the self-concept, personal gain, or public recognition
  • Motivation may be tangible or intangible. Students seeking intangible rewards are motivated by the desires for personal comfort and security, group approval, and the achievement of a favorable self-image. The desire for personal comfort and security is a form of motivation which instructors often forget. All students want secure, pleasant conditions and a safe environment. If they recognize that what they are learning may promote these objectives, their attention is easier to attract and hold. Insecure and unpleasant training situations inhibit learning. Students also want a tangible return for their efforts. For motivation to be effective on this level, students must believe that their efforts are suitably rewarded. These rewards must be constantly apparent to the student during instruction, whether they are to be financial, self-esteem, or public recognition
  • The tangible rewards of aviation are not always obvious during training. Traditional syllabi often contain lessons with objectives that are not immediately obvious to the student. These lessons may pay dividends during later instruction, a fact the student may not appreciate and resulting in less learning than if the student could relate all objectives to an operational need (law of readiness). The instructor should ensure that the student is aware of those applications which are not immediately apparent. To reduce this issue, the instructor should develop appropriate scenarios that contain the elements to be practiced
  • Everyone wants to avoid pain and injury. Students normally are eager to learn operations or procedures that help prevent injury or loss of life. This is especially true when the student knows that the ability to make timely decisions, or to act correctly in an emergency, is based on sound principles
  • The attractive features of the activity to be learned also can be a strong motivational factor. Students are anxious to learn skills that may be used to their advantage. If they understand that each task is useful in preparing for future activities, they are more willing to pursue it
  • Another strong motivating force is group approval. Every person wants the approval of peers and superiors. Interest can be stimulated and maintained by building on this natural desire. Most students enjoy the feeling of belonging to a group and are interested in accomplishment, which gives them prestige among their fellow students
  • Every person seeks to establish a favorable self-image. In certain instances, this self-image may be submerged in feelings of insecurity or despondency. Fortunately, most people engaged in a task believe that success is possible under the right combination of circumstances and good fortune. This belief can be a powerful motivating force for students. An instructor can effectively foster this motivation by the introduction of perceptions that are solidly based on previously learned factual information easily recognized by the student. Each additional block of learning should help formulate insight, contributing to the ultimate training goals, and promoting student confidence in the overall training program. At the same time, it helps the student develop a favorable self-image. As this confirmation progresses and confidence increases, advancement is more rapid and motivation is strengthened
  • Positive motivation is essential to true learning. Negative motivation in the form of reproofs or threats should be avoided with all but the most overconfident and impulsive students. Slumps in learning are often due to declining motivation. Motivation does not remain at a uniformly high level. It may be affected by outside influences, such as physical or mental disturbances or inadequate instruction. The instructor should strive to maintain motivation at the highest possible level. In addition, the instructor should be alert to detect and counter any lapses in motivation
  • Where Does the Motivation To Learn Come From?

    • Motivation to learn can come from many sources. Some students have a fundamental interest in aviation and experience sheer fascination with aircraft or with the experience of flight. Other students may decide that aviation provides an opportunity to develop a wide variety of technical, physical, communication, and problem-solving abilities. Some see aviation as a way to boost their selfimage or ego. Other students are motivated by tradition and wish to follow in the footsteps of a relative or close friend. Some students are motivated to pursue aviation training because it offers a promising career. To others, aviation offers prestige or acceptance within social groups. Some may think that aviation offers fun and excitement or simply a more convenient form of transportation. All of these sources of motivation have one thing in common: they all offer some type of reward in exchange for performing the hard work. Teaching the adult learner was discussed in chapter 1, but aviation instructors should keep in mind that adult learners who are motivated to seek out a learning experience do so primarily because they have a use for the knowledge or skill being sought. Learning is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Based on this, it is important instructors determine why a student enrolled in the course. Based on preference and/or class size, an instructor can conduct a brief personal interview with the student or have the student complete a student information form. [Figure 2-23] Asking questions such as “Why are you taking this course?” or “How do you plan to use the information you learn in this course?” may be all that is necessary
  • Student Questionnaire:

    • A short questionnaire can be helpful in gathering additional student background information. For example, it is helpful to know a student’s familiarity with the subject matter. Questions such as “Have you ever taken a course in aircraft maintenance?” or “Have you ever flown a small airplane?” or “Have you had any on-the-job training in avionics?” should garner the type of information needed
    • A short questionnaire also offers an instructor the chance to discover how the student learns best (small groups, independent study, etc.). Another possible way to gather information about a student is to have him or her write a brief autobiography which includes any experience with the subjects being taught. However an instructor gathers information about students, the information helps the instructor allow for not only personal learning goals for the course, but also the goals and motivations of the students, their background in aviation training, as well as their learning preferences. An instructor armed with this information can make the learning experience beneficial to all involved

Maintaining Motivation:

  • Motivation is generally not something that can be transferred from one person to another. Instructors must become skillful at recognizing problems with motivation and at encouraging students to continue to do their best
  • Rewarding Success:

    • Positive feedback encourages students. Practice positive feedback frequently by:
      • Praising incremental successes during training
      • Relating daily accomplishments to lesson objectives
      • Commenting favorably on student progress and level ability
  • For example, as the student progresses through training, remark on the milestones. When a student first performs a task alone, congratulate him or her on having learned it. When that same skill reaches an intermediate level, point out that the student’s performance is almost consistent with the requirements of the PTS. When performance is equal to the PTS requirements, comment favorably on the skill acquisition. When student performance exceeds PTS requirements, point out what a benefit this will be when the student must perform under pressure during a practical test or on the job
  • Presenting New Challenges:

    • With each declaration of success, be sure to present students with the next challenge. For example, when a student begins to perform a skill consistently to PTS requirements, challenge him or her to continue to improve it so the skill can be performed under pressure or when distracted. Instructors can also present new challenges by presenting the student with new problems or situations
  • Drops in Motivation:

    • Instructors must be prepared to deal with a number of circumstances in which motivation levels drop. It is natural for motivation to wane somewhat after the initial excitement of the student’s first days of training, or between major training events such as solo, evaluations, or practical tests. Drops in motivation appear in several different ways. Students may come to lessons unprepared or give the general sense that aviation training is no longer a priority. During these times, it is often helpful to remind students of their own stated goals for seeking aviation training
    • Learning plateaus are a common source of frustration, discouragement, and decreased student motivation. A first line of defense against this situation is to explain that learning seldom proceeds at a constant pace—no student climbs the ladder of success by exactly one rung per day. Students should be encouraged to continue to work hard and be reassured that results will follow
  • Summary of Instructor Actions:

    • To ensure that students continue to work hard, the instructor should:
      • Ask new students about their aviation training goals
      • Reward incremental successes in learning
      • Present new challenges
      • Occasionally remind students about their own stated goals for aviation training
      • Assure students that learning plateaus are normal and that improvement will resume with continued effort


  • Sensory register: processes input subconsciously
    • Pre-coding: selective process by which the sensory register recognizes certain stimuli and transmits to working memory for action
  • Short-term (working) memory: temporarily stored and rapidly fades
    • Coding: retention is improved by organizing into systematic chunks - acronyms
    • Rote learning: retention is aided by repetition
    • Recoding: relating incoming information to knowledge already in memory
      • Methods of recoding typically involve association such as rhymes and mnemonics
  • Long-term memory: information stored for the future
    • Effort must have been expended during the recoding process for retention

Fundamentals of Instructing Memory Systems
Figure 2: Memory Systems

Perception, Insight and Motivation:

  • Insight: associated perceptions are grouped into meaningful wholes
    • Important instructor responsibility
    • Speed process by teaching the relationship of perception as they occur
    • Develop insights by providing a secure, non-threatening environment
  • Motivation:
    • Positive motivations: promise of rewards
    • Negative motivations: cause fear and anxiety
    • Purpose and importance of lessons are positive and motivating and eliminate confusion
    • Students must believe in a reward
      • Motivations:
        • Positive or negative (positive best)
        • Tangible or intangible (tangible best)
        • Obvious or subtle and difficult to identify
        • Comfortable safe environment
        • Attractive features
        • Approval
        • Self-image

Forgetting and Retention:

  • Repression: forgetting due to the submerging of ideas or thoughts into the subconscious mind
  • Interference: new experiences overshadow the original learning experience
  • Disuse: forget things not used
  • Praise: pleasurable responses
    • Stimulates remembering

Transfer of Learning:

  • Student may be hindered by thinks previously learned:
    • Positive transfer: one maneuver aids in learning another
    • Negative transfer: one maneuver interferes with learning another
  • Understanding may help apply to other situations:
    • Building-block technique: must perform task acceptably in order to move on
    • Moving too fast may develop poor habits

Levels of Learning:

  • Rote: repeat back what one has been taught without necessarily understanding
  • Understanding: student not only can repeat but also comprehends
  • Application: student understands and can apply
  • Correlation: student is able to associate various learned elements with other segments or blocks of learning

Levels of Learning
Figure 3: Levels of Learning

Periods of Practice
Figure 4: Periods of Practice

Domains of Learning:

  • Cognitive domain: knowledge, ground school
  • Affective domain: attitudes, believes, and values
  • Psycho-motor: physical skills, flying
  • Taxonomy of educational objectives: systematic classification scheme

Learning Skills and the Learning Curve:

  • Provide clear, step-by-step examples
  • Learning plateau: students learn quick at first and then level off


  • Learning theory has caused instruction to move from basic skills and pure facts to linking new information with prior knowledge, from relying on a single authority to recognizing multiple sources of knowledge, and from novice-like to expert-like problem-solving
  • While educational theories facilitate learning, no one learning theory is good for all learning situations and all learners
  • Instruction in aviation should utilize a combination of learning theories
  • Neither this page or the Aviation Instructors Handbook will make you an expert however, there basics will guide instructors in becoming more effective while developing their students