A pilot certificate at any level – from student to ATP – is primarily a license to learn more about the vast world of aviation. There is indeed a great deal to learn. If that seems intimidating, I get it. That was an issue for me as well. But since teaching is my family profession, I had the benefit of a lifetime’s worth of ideas on what constitutes effective teaching and learning.
Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the idea that effective learning is not a spectator sport. On the contrary, one of the most important elements in education is a learner who is engaged; one who is an active participant in his or her own learning process and experience. That does not require, or even imply, academic anarchy. As an instructor friend likes to say, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Rather, learner engagement – especially for adults -implies a person who regards learning as a participatory process and acts accordingly.
It has been said that 90 percent of success in life results from the simple act of “showing up.” In flight training, showing up means being physically present for regularly scheduled ground and flight lessons. Flight training is expensive, but frequent lessons are more cost-effective. Especially in the earliest stages, when everything is new and easily forgotten, frequent lessons are key to effective learning and retention.
In addition, showing up means being mentally alert and prepared. If you are in ground school, there’s no substitute for reading the assigned material before you take your seat in the classroom. If there are practice exercises (e.g., performance calculations), do enough to either master the material or pinpoint the knowledge gaps you can ask about in class. For flight training, think of your lesson components as a sandwich. The flying part is the meat, and pre- and post-lesson preparation make up the slices of bread that keep the meat in place. Before the lesson, mentally review the maneuvers and procedures you learned last time, and familiarize yourself with the activities slated for this one. After the lesson, mentally replay what happened.
I’m not a parent, but I sometimes joke that flight training is like compressed parenthood because training starts with a person who is completely dependent on the instructor for survival. Again like the parent, the instructor’s task is to develop skills and attitudes the student needs to safely operate alone. The instructor clearly bears a huge responsibility, but so does the student. The actively engaged flight student needs to pay attention – watch, listen, and work to put perceptions from each training experience into a broader context. Never hesitate to ask questions. Say what you see, what you hear, and what you think it means. That gives the instructor a chance to validate the accurate perceptions and correct any misperceptions at the earliest opportunity.
To encourage more active participation by the flight training student, the FAA Aviation Instructor’s Handbook suggests a post-flight debriefing technique called the “collaborative critique.” In the traditional assessment we all remember from grade school, the student sits quietly while the instructor marches through a laundry list of quibbles about the student’s performance. In the collaborative critique, however, the instructor guides the student through a four-step process to replay, reconstruct, reflect, and redirect the flight experience. If your instructor doesn’t use this technique, you might want to consider suggesting it.
Another way to develop judgment is to train like you plan to fly. Learning to fly has a few things in common with learning to play a musical instrument. The maneuvers you learn – starting with the four fundamentals of straight and level flight, climbs, turns, descents – are like notes and scales. Knowing how to fly the maneuvers according to the requirements of the Practical Test Standards, or PTS, is very important. But operating safely in the real world requires arranging the basic maneuvers to accomplish the trip or mission you intend to fly, and doing so in the context of real world pressures and constraints. For example, plan a cross-country flight as if it were for a family vacation that you might really want to take in an airplane. The importance of comprehensive flight planning becomes very real when you have to put it in specific terms: how many people and how many bags can be carried, and how they have to be loaded.
Flying is incredibly fun. Notwithstanding the dedication and work it requires, flight training should also be fun. Here’s hoping that “fun” is threaded through every part of your lifelong aviation learning experience. (FAA Safety Briefing – SepOct 2014)