Ergonomics: A word that isn’t always applied to flight training, but consideration of which can lead us to improvements in the effectiveness of providing that training. It’s defined as “the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment,” and it is worth considering in relation to the environment in which we provide training to our customers.
The physical space in which learning is pursued makes a difference in the effectiveness of the learning. There are numerous studies and consulting firms that detail in minutia (and at a high cost) how businesses can set up space to drive customer purchases in the retail environment. But few of us have taken the time to apply the same lessons and data used in these environments to aviation training.
While most of us can’t afford expensive consultants, there are basic things that any business can do to help improve its training services. It starts with considering how services can best be provided to your customers and what resources will be necessary to complete this service provision. I am going to focus on areas related to the learning environment, but the same analysis should be done for any retail efforts, recruitment space, and general business operational space.
A learning environment should be clear of outside distractions that will hinder the student’s ability to focus on what is being taught. This means that the middle of the FBO table where others are eating lunch at the same time isn’t the best place.
A big part of customers’ direct learning process is the time they spend with their instructor introducing, going over, and reviewing material and lesson progress. This is best done in a one-on-one environment where the customer and the instructor can focus on the material and subject matter at hand. Setting up the space to make this most effective typically means having a room (or at least a large cubicle) where both the customer and student fit comfortably with a large flat working space (conference room table or large desk) to spread out materials and a couple comfortable chairs. To make this even more effective a writing surface on the wall that can be used in the teaching process is also good to have. White boards are the most common but I have also seen some great training spaces that have painted one or more walls with dry erase friendly paint and no doubt a chalk board still works fine (as long as you don’t get the willies when your fingernails touch them like I do).
The proper setup of the training environment removes any blocks to training and can allow the customer and the instructor to focus on what is important—the learning process. Unheated hangar tables, spaces that are too small, tiny desks that don’t allow the spreading of maps, charts, and books, or sitting on the floor in an unused office (yes I have seen this in real life) all are things that make the learning process less effective.
Make tools for learning available and accessible. I can’t count the number of friends I have that have struggled to study for FAA practical tests using home study materials. At home, they are distracted. They end up cutting the lawn, doing laundry, watching TV, or any other normal thing that we do when we are home. Getting students to break out of their daily surroundings can enhance their learning process by allowing them to focus. A flight training provider can encourage this by providing the tools and the space for their students to study on-site.
Setting up cubicles, or if possible, small study rooms that have computers where training software can be accessed, videos can be watched, or materials spread out for student to study can enhance their study effectiveness. This takes planning and organization on the part of the flight school to set up these small study spaces, but it can speed up customer training progress. When students leave their home and come to the flight school, they change their focus and it becomes a first priority to study while they are on-site. Students who can dedicate time and presence to show up will progress in their training faster than those “trying to fit it in” while at home. This also increases the throughput for the training provider and the overall success rate.
The ergonomics of this is pretty simple. Set up rooms that can be free of distraction to the best ability possible, install good desks, supply a good comfortable chair, and set up the media needed to study. This is probably going to be a computer, but some rooms might have DVD players or TV monitors on which media is displayed. If the room doesn’t have four walls that keep outside noise out, supply headphones for the customer’s use when watching media or even to use to block out other noises when they are studying. Providing this can make studying for your customers easier and as a result they will be more likely to dig in and start learning. It probably goes without saying, but the more often they are at your facility the more likely it is they will also complete a flight lesson.
The closer the training space is to the areas that your customers and instructors are on a regular basis the more likely it is to be used. While the accountant for your business might love that front office right off the ramp, the work that person does can probably be done from an upstairs office in the back of the hangar. Think about where the actual training spaces are physically located in the building and what the best use of space is going to be to deliver what keeps the business going—training. When this space is also near where the aircraft dispatching will take place for a flight, it is more likely that instructors will take their student to a training room to brief a flight than if it is in a separate building across the field.
Think about what space you may already have and if other space can be leased, borrowed, or traded, and don’t be afraid to dream big if you are looking at renting or building new facilities in the future for your operation. Take the time to think critically, and get to moving stuff around to provide an even better training experience for your customers!
Designated Pilot Examiner Jason Blair is the former head of NAFI, and the past owner of a flight school.