Chapter 2. The Learning Process

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 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.

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