Chapter 2. The Learning Process

Drops in Motivation

Instructors must be prepared to deal with a number of circumstances in which motivation levels drop. It is natural for motivation to wane somewhat after the initial excitement of the student’s first days of training, or between major training events such as solo, evaluations, or practical tests. Drops in motivation appear in several different ways. Students may come to lessons unprepared or give the general sense that aviation training is no longer a priority. During these times, it is often helpful to remind students of their own stated goals for seeking aviation training.

Learning plateaus are a common source of frustration, discouragement, and decreased student motivation. A first line of defense against this situation is to explain that learning seldom proceeds at a constant pace—no student climbs the ladder of success by exactly one rung per day. Students should be encouraged to continue to work hard and be reassured that results will follow.

Summary of Instructor Actions

To ensure that students continue to work hard, the instructor should:

  • Ask new students about their aviation training goals.
  • Reward incremental successes in learning.
  • Present new challenges.
  • Occasionally remind students about their own stated goals for aviation training.
  • Assure students that learning plateaus are normal and that improvement will resume with continued effort.


Memory is the vital link between the student learning/retaining information and the cognitive process of applying what is learned. It is the ability of people and other organisms to encode (initial perception and registration of information), store (retention of encoded information over time), and retrieve (processes involved in using stored information) information. [Figure 2-24] When a person successfully recalls a past experience (or skill), information about the experience has been encoded, stored, and retrieved.

Although there is no universal agreement of how memory works, a widely accepted model has three components: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.

Sensory Memory

Sensory memory is the part of the memory system that receives initial stimuli from the environment and processes them according to the individual’s preconceived concept of what is important. Other factors can influence the reception of information by sensory memory. For example, if the input is dramatic and impacts more than one of the five senses, that information is more likely to make an impression. The sensory memory processes stimuli from the environment within seconds, discards what is considered extraneous, and processes what is determined by the individual to be relevant. This is a selective process where the sensory register is set to recognize certain stimuli and immediately transmit them to the short-term memory (STM) for action. The process is called precoding. An example of sensory precoding is recognition of a fire alarm. No matter what is happening at the time, when the sensory register detects a fire alarm, the working memory is immediately made aware of the alarm and preset responses begin to take place. Sensory memory is capable of retaining information for only a very short period of time and within seconds the relevant information is passed to the STM.

Short-Term Memory (STM)

Short-term memory is the part of the memory system where information is stored for roughly 30 seconds, after which it may rapidly fade or be consolidated into long-term memory, depending on the individual’s priorities. Several common steps help retention in STM. These include rehearsal or repetition of the information and sorting or categorization into systematic chunks. The sorting process is usually called coding or chunking. A key limitation of STM is that it takes 5–10 seconds to properly code information and if the coding process is interrupted, that information is easily lost since it is stored for only 30 seconds. The goal of the STM is to put the information to immediate use.

The STM is not only time limited, it also has limited capacity, usually about seven bits or chunks of information. A seven-digit telephone number is an example. As indicated, the time limitation may be overcome by rehearsal. This means learning the information by a rote memorization process. Of course, rote memorization is subject to imperfections in both the duration of recall and in its accuracy. The coding process is more useful in a learning situation. In addition, the coding process may involve recoding to adjust the information to individual experiences. This is when actual learning begins to take place. Therefore, recoding may be described as a process of relating incoming information to concepts or knowledge already in memory.

Brain research has led to the conclusion that STM resembles the control tower of a major airport and is responsible for scheduling and coordinating all incoming and outgoing flights. STM has three basic operations: iconic memory, acoustic memory, and working memory. Iconic memory is Brain research has led to the conclusion that STM resembles the control tower of a major airport and is responsible for scheduling and coordinating all incoming and outgoing flights. STM has three basic operations: iconic memory, acoustic memory, and working memory. Iconic memory is the brief sensory memory of visual images. Acoustic memory is the encoded memory of a brief sound memory or the ability to hold sounds in STM. Of the two, acoustic memory can be held longer than iconic memory. Working memory is an active process to keep information until it is put to use (think of a phone number repeated until used). It is useful in remembering a spoken sentence or a string of digits.

Also called “scratch-pad” memory, working memory is of short duration and has limited capacity. It simultaneously stores and manipulates information. The goal of the working memory is not really to move the information from STM to long-term memory (LTM), but merely put the information to immediate use.

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