Chapter 2. The Learning Process

Checking for Errors

Another way to help avoid errors is to look actively for evidence of them. Many tasks in aviation offer a means of checking work. Students should be encouraged to look for new ways of checking their work.

Using Reminders

Errors are reduced when visible reminders are present and actively used. Checklists and other published procedures are examples of reminders. Many aircraft instruments such as altimeters offer bugs that can be used to remind the pilot about assigned altitudes, airspeeds, headings, and courses. Mechanics and pilots alike can use notepads to jot down reminders or information that must otherwise be committed to memory.

Developing Routines

The use of standardized procedures for routine tasks is widely known to help reduce error. Even when a checklist procedure is unavailable or impractical, students can help reduce the occurrence of error by adopting standardized procedures.

Raising Awareness

Another line of defense against errors is to raise one’s awareness when operating in conditions under which errors are known to happen (e.g., changes in routine, time pressure), or in conditions under which defenses against errors have been compromised (e.g., fatigue, lack of recent practice).

Error Recovery

Given that the occasional error is inevitable, it is a worthwhile exercise to practice recovering from commonly made errors, or those that pose serious consequences. All flight students are required to learn and practice a lost procedure to ensure that they can recover from the situation in which they have lost their way. It is useful to devote the same sort of preparation to other common student errors.

Learning From Error

Error can be a valuable learning resource. Students naturally make errors, which instructors can utilize to help students learn while being careful not to let the student practice doing the wrong thing. When a student makes an error, it is useful to ask the student to consider why the error happened, and what could be done differently to prevent the error from happening again in the future. In some cases, errors are slips that simply reveal the need for more practice. In other cases, errors point to aspects of student methods or habits that might be improved. For example, beginning instrument flight students commonly make errors when managing two communications radios, each with an active and standby frequency. When the same students learn to use each radio for a specific purpose (e.g., ATIS, ground, tower frequencies), error rates often drop quickly.

Instructors and students should be aware of a natural human tendency to resist learning from errors. That is, there is a tendency to “explain away” errors, dismissing them as one-time events that will likely never happen again. The same phenomenon occurs when observing errors made by others. Reading an accident or incident report, it is easy to spot where a pilot or mechanic made an error and regard the error as something that could never happen to the reader. It is important to note that this type of bias is not necessarily the result of ego or overconfidence; rather, it is something to which we are all susceptible. Psychologist Baruch Fischoff studied hindsight explanations given by people who were presented with descriptions of situations and their ultimate outcomes. When asked to provide explanations for events that had already occurred and for which the outcome was known, people explained that the outcomes were “obvious” and “predictable.” When the same events without the outcomes were presented to a second group, peoples’ prediction of the outcome was no better than chance guessing. The study nicely illustrates the popular adage that “hindsight is 20/20.”

Summary of Instructor Actions

To help students learn from errors they make and be prepared for them in the future, an instructor should:

  • Explain that pilots and mechanics at all levels of skill and experience make occasional errors.
  • Explain that the magnitude and frequency of errors tend to decrease as skill and experience increases.
  • Explain the difference between slips and mistakes and provide examples of each.
  • Explain ways in which the student can help minimize errors.
  • Allow the student to practice recovering from common errors.
  • Point out errors when they occur and ask the student to explain why they occurred.


As defined in chapter 1, motivation is the reason one acts or behaves in a certain way and lies at the heart of goals. A goal is the object of a person’s effort. Motivation prompts students to engage in hard work and affects student success. Being smart or coordinated seldom guarantees success, but motivation routinely propels students to the top. An important part of an aviation instructor’s job is to discover what motivates each student and to use this information to encourage him or her to work hard.

Motivation is probably the dominant force that governs the student’s progress and ability to learn and can be used to advantage by the instructor. Motivation comes in many guises. It may be negative or positive. Negative motivation may engender fear, for example. While negative motivation may be useful in certain situations, characteristically it is not as effective in promoting efficient learning as positive motivation. [Figure 2-22] Positive motivation is provided by the promise or achievement of rewards. These rewards may be personal or social, they may involve financial gain, satisfaction of the self-concept, personal gain, or public recognition.

Motivation may be tangible or intangible. Students seeking intangible rewards are motivated by the desires for personal comfort and security, group approval, and the achievement of a favorable self-image. The desire for personal comfort and security is a form of motivation which instructors often forget. All students want secure, pleasant conditions and a safe environment. If they recognize that what they are learning may promote these objectives, their attention is easier to attract and hold. Insecure and unpleasant training situations inhibit learning. Students also want a tangible return for their efforts. For motivation to be effective on this level, students must believe that their efforts are suitably rewarded. These rewards must be constantly apparent to the student during instruction, whether they are to be financial, self-esteem, or public recognition.

The tangible rewards of aviation are not always obvious during training. Traditional syllabi often contain lessons with objectives that are not immediately obvious to the student. These lessons may pay dividends during later instruction, a fact the student may not appreciate and resulting in less learning than if the student could relate all objectives to an operational need (law of readiness). The instructor should ensure that the student is aware of those applications which are not immediately apparent. To reduce this issue, the instructor should develop appropriate scenarios that contain the elements to be practiced.

Everyone wants to avoid pain and injury. Students normally are eager to learn operations or procedures that help prevent injury or loss of life. This is especially true when the student knows that the ability to make timely decisions, or to act correctly in an emergency, is based on sound principles.

The attractive features of the activity to be learned also can be a strong motivational factor. Students are anxious to learn skills that may be used to their advantage. If they understand that each task is useful in preparing for future activities, they are more willing to pursue it.

Another strong motivating force is group approval. Every person wants the approval of peers and superiors. Interest can be stimulated and maintained by building on this natural desire. Most students enjoy the feeling of belonging to a group and are interested in accomplishment, which gives them prestige among their fellow students.

Every person seeks to establish a favorable self-image. In certain instances, this self-image may be submerged in feelings of insecurity or despondency. Fortunately, most people engaged in a task believe that success is possible under the right combination of circumstances and good fortune. This belief can be a powerful motivating force for students. An instructor can effectively foster this motivation by the introduction of perceptions that are solidly based on previously learned factual information easily recognized by the student. Each additional block of learning should help formulate insight, contributing to the ultimate training goals, and promoting student confidence in the overall training program. At the same time, it helps the student develop a favorable self-image. As this confirmation progresses and confidence increases, advancement is more rapid and motivation is strengthened.

Positive motivation is essential to true learning. Negative motivation in the form of reproofs or threats should be avoided with all but the most overconfident and impulsive students. Slumps in learning are often due to declining motivation. Motivation does not remain at a uniformly high level. It may be affected by outside influences, such as physical or mental disturbances or inadequate instruction. The instructor should strive to maintain motivation at the highest possible level. In addition, the instructor should be alert to detect and counter any lapses in motivation.

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