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CFI Tips

Your Student's Style

Most teaching books tell instructors to be consistent and treat all students equally. While the theory is valid, don't be surprised when only part of it works. You must treat all students fairly, but you can't treat them all the same. Since students' learning capabilities vary, you must vary how you teach, how you present information, and how you evaluate progress. Students do not learn at the same rate, nor do they all have the same learning styles. They all have variables in personality, abilities, skills, experience, education, and in how they learn.

Being consistent requires that variables be eliminated or at least kept under control. When teaching people, eliminating variables is almost impossible. Controlling them is no easy task either. A single instructional method that fits all just doesn't exist because there are too many individual personality characteristics that have to be taken into account. The best that you can do is to understand what the variables are and adapt your teaching styles to accommodate them.

Each stage of learning contains variables that compound, so the total number of learning combinations is astronomical. To add to the situation, psychologists may identify similar characteristics but interpret them differently, which means that there may be several methods or theories on how to deal with one particular personality trait.

Another problem with theories is that some researchers tend to treat their results as completely correct and all-inclusive. Some of the best theories are mostly true all of the time, but even these occasionally have an exception. A few theories are completely wrong. It's your job to determine which ones are best for the situation and which should be avoided.

There is little aviation training literature that discusses the fundamental differences between learning theories of behavioral, cognitive, developmental, and social psychologists. The FAA has ingeniously solved this problem by using only the ideas of behavioral educators that evolved from theories popular in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. While the techniques are not incorrect, they are not complete.

To develop teaching methods that will work for you and for your students, it helps to understand some of the basic concepts of learning. Two key stages of learning are information acquisition and information processing.

People obtain information through their senses. How they interpret and assimilate information is a function of their personality and which side of the brain they prefer to use. The acquisition styles of the senses are labeled as visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory. If you acquire information through sight, you are a visual learner. If you acquire by listening, you are an aural learner. Touchers are tactile learners, smellers are olfactory learners, and tasters are gustatory learners. This does not mean that your preferential style excludes all other senses.

Most people are visual learners. The number could be as high as 75 per-cent. The next largest group is the aural learners, and then tactile learners. Regardless of which learning preference is dominant in your student, all three are required for flight training. Flying is a perceptual motor skill. You need sight to observe inside and outside references, sound for engine and wind noise and radio communications, and touch to feel what the aircraft is doing (i.e., control feedback and gravity forces). Ground training is different. Most ground school training systems use sight and sound and generally ignore touch. This makes it more difficult for the tactile learner.

It's important to understand not only your student's dominant learning style, but also your dominant learning style. Humans have a tendency to use their own dominant style for communication. If your style is different from your student's, the two of you may have trouble communicating effectively. It can be difficult to understand how to present information to a tactile learner if you are an aural or visual learner. You must be able to adjust your presentation methods to adapt to the student's preferred style.

There are many ways to determine dominant information acquisition styles. You can use a learning style inventory (test). Unfortunately, you probably can't pick one up at your local bookstore. Often, the best way to find one is to contact an educational psychology department at a local college, but this may not be practical. Information is also available on the Internet. Conduct a search of "learning styles" using several of the common search engines. Even then, it may be difficult to find one that suits your needs. It's also possible that diagnostic testing may not be appropriate to your training situation.

A simpler way to determine your student's preferred style (and yours) is to observe how you present materials, how you ask questions, and how your student responds.

Listen to the words you and your student choose when talking. For example, if you use a term such as "do you see what I mean?" you are probably a visual learner. The word see is the clue indicating that you think in visual terms. If you start to read something to your student and he or she responds with "let me look at it," then you are dealing with a visual learner. He does not want to hear the words, he wants to see them. If your student makes a comment to the effect of "getting the picture," he's probably a visual learner. Visual learners readily absorb information from videos rather than lectures. To a visual learner, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

Aural learners generally prefer to listen to explanations. They learn from narrated videos, audiotapes, and lectures. Pictures without explanations are not worth a thousand words to these learners. Aural learners may read aloud because they're listening to what they're reading.

Tactile learners learn by touch or by doing. It's easier for them to learn aircraft control and flight procedures than it is to learn the academic concepts. Training aids such as actual aircraft parts - instruments, pumps, cut-away engines, propellers, etc. - will help with ground training.

When dealing with a class, you should cover all bases. Use visual aids with written labels and then describe the aid. Create activities such as written homework. Use diagrams that students can label. Flight computers and plotters are also good tactile exercises. The drawback to the multiple input approach is that it presents information through channels that students may ignore. When giving individual instruction, tailor your instructional technique to the individual student.

Personal computer-based aviation training devices (PCATDs) can be extremely effective tools when teaching all three types of learners. If they are programmed correctly, they can present information that makes sense to all three. Unfortunately, many PCATDs are only concerned with flight procedures and satisfying FAA requirements. They do not present a training platform that is as efficient as it could be.

Once information is acquired, it is analyzed and processed into long-term memory. Infants and small children quickly learn how to process information. Their brains develop methods and techniques for assimilating what they are taught. Each side of the brain uses a different fundamental process, and by late childhood most individuals have established a preference for which side of the brain will control most information processing. Generally, this preference stays with them throughout their lives. Now you have another two variables to deal with - the left-brain dominant person and the right-brain dominant person.

Most of the research on the two brain hemispheres describes completely opposite characteristics. Most students will fall somewhere between the two extremes. This is good because a person who is only capable of using one side of his brain will have significant trouble learning. Since flying requires using the entire brain, it's your job to get your students to use the whole thing.

Left-brain-dominant individuals tend to think in a linear, analytical fashion. This means that they like to work things out logically. They're generally rational and think things through before making a decision. Initially, this might appear to be the ideal person for flight training. These people will learn and apply the required knowledge efficiently. They have their drawbacks, however. They generally focus on specific procedures and are often too rigid. Aviation is very flexible and requires the ability to adjust quickly. This creates problems for rigid learners. You have to teach them how to adjust to dynamic situations quickly. They need to learn how to respond to a changing situation without spending too much time thinking about it - such as when they encounter a wind shear on final approach.

The right brain controls spatial dimension and imagination, which are essential to feeling the aircraft. Right-brained persons seem to know just how much pressure is required to roundout and flare when landing without thinking about it. They just do it. They can feel when the aircraft is about to stall without watching the airspeed. A right-brained person tends to adjust to change more readily than a left-brained person. When the situation changes, so do they. To a left-brainer, this often looks like "jumping to conclusions" without thinking. It's not. It's just the way in which right-brain-dominant people process information and respond.

Each side of the brain talks to the other side through a nerve bundle called the corpus callosum. Just how much of one-sided brain characteristics shows up in a student is dependent on how actively each side talks to the other. With little cross activity, the general characteristics of each side will dominate the personality. With constant interaction between the two sides, a person is more likely to use the appropriate side when learning something new. A left-brained individual will allow the right brain to take over and "feel" the aircraft and respond accordingly. A right-brained individual will ignore the normal gut feeling and allow the left brain to use logic when making a critical flight decision.

As an instructor, you should be aware of your dominant side and accept that students who may be the opposite are not ignorant, stupid, or dumb. They're just different. You need to adjust your teaching style to compensate for these differences. Most larger bookstores have books that discuss hemispherical brain research and how to deal with each type of person.

By Jeff Falkner

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