Chapter 2. The Learning Process


All learning involves the formation of connections and connections are strengthened or weakened according to the law of effect. Responses to a situation that are followed by satisfaction are strengthened; responses followed by discomfort are weakened, either strengthening or weakening the connection of learning. Thus, learning is strengthened when accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling, and weakened when associated with an unpleasant feeling. Experiences that produce feelings of defeat, frustration, anger, confusion, or futility are unpleasant for the student. For example, if Bill teaches landings to Beverly during the first flight, she is likely to feel inferior and be frustrated, which weakens the learning connection.

The learner needs to have success in order to have more success in the future. It is important for the instructor to create situations designed to promote success. Positive training experiences are more apt to lead to success and motivate the learner, while negative training experiences might stimulate forgetfulness or avoidance. When presented correctly, SBT provides immediate positive experiences in terms of real world applications.

To keep learning pleasant and to maintain student motivation, an instructor should make positive comments about the student’s progress before discussing areas that need improving. Flight instructors have an opportunity to do this during the flight debriefing. For example, Bill praises Beverly on her aircraft control during all phases of flight, but offers constructive comments on how to better maintain the runway centerline during landings.


Connections are strengthened with practice and weakened when practice is discontinued, which reflects the adage “use it or lose it.” The learner needs to practice what has been learned in order to understand and remember the learning. Practice strengthens the learning connection; disuse weakens it. Exercise is most meaningful and effective when a skill is learned within the context of a real world application.


Primacy, the state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakable impression and underlies the reason an instructor must teach correctly the first time and the student must learn correctly the first time. For example, a maintenance student learns a faulty riveting technique. Now the instructor must correct the bad habit and reteach the correct technique. Relearning is more difficult than initial learning.

Also, if the task is learned in isolation, it is not initially applied to the overall performance, or if it must be relearned, the process can be confusing and time consuming. The first experience should be positive, functional, and lay the foundation for all that is to follow.


Immediate, exciting, or dramatic learning connected to a real situation teaches a learner more than a routine or boring experience. Real world applications (scenarios) that integrate procedures and tasks the learner is capable of learning make a vivid impression and he or she is least likely to forget the experience. For example, using realistic scenarios has been shown to be effective in the development of proficiency in flight maneuvers, tasks, and single-pilot resource management (SRM) skills.


The principle of recency states that things most recently learned are best remembered. Conversely, the further a learner is removed in time from a new fact or understanding, the more difficult it is to remember. For example, it is easy for a learner to recall a torque value used a few minutes earlier, but it is more difficult or even impossible to remember an unfamiliar one used a week earlier.

Instructors recognize the principle of recency when they carefully plan a summary for a ground school lesson, a shop period, or a postflight critique. The instructor repeats, restates, or reemphasizes important points at the end of a lesson to help the learner remember them. The principle of recency often determines the sequence of lectures within a course of instruction.

In SBT, the closer the training or learning time is to the time of the actual scenario, the more apt the learner is to perform successfully. This law is most effectively addressed by making the training experience as much like the scenario as possible.

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