Donald Anders Talleur
Flight instructors are frequently faced with the problem of having to solve student deficiencies; helping those students overcome learning roadblocks so they can progress towards the pilot’s license.
Often times, the instructor has difficulty determining exactly what is causing the student’s problem and so devising an effective solution is often difficult. This difficulty may often be due to a difference in the instructor’s and student’s frame of reference. This month’s article deals with flight instructors and the influence that frames of reference have on their ability to provide effective instruction.
One simple definition from Webster’s for frame of reference “is a set of ideas, conditions, or assumptions that determine how something will be approached, perceived, or understood.” That’s pretty straight forward. But what we often assume is that the person being taught holds the same frame of reference that his or her instructor holds.
While this is sometimes true, it is not true all the time. A mismatch in frame of reference in the instructional setting may lead to misunderstandings or even faulty learning that can come back to bite the student latter on during their flying careers. As a result, understanding some of the contributing factors to developing a frame of reference becomes important to the goal of effective instruction.
One very basic contributing factor to the development of the instructor’s frame of reference are the experiences gained through interaction with parents and other family members. This experience in turn contributes to the identification of cultural norms, expectations, values and beliefs. These contributions subsequently influence interpretation of events or situations.
How the instructor interprets various situational aspects of flying directly impacts how they teach those aspects to a student. To an extent, this also impacts how the student perceives the instruction they are receiving.
Considered independently, cultural norms can contribute to the frame of reference all on their own in that they shape the concepts of what is normal and usual for certain situations during flight. One example where cultural norms influences the frame of reference and hence behavior in flight has been seen with student pilots from cultures that strongly believe in fate as a guiding force in their daily lives.
At least one anecdotal report indicated that due to this belief, a student was reluctant to analyze and attempt to solve even a simulated engine failure in flight. It’s easy to see from the above example that the frame of reference this student brought to the training environment needed some adjusting.
Beyond the familial influence, exposure to other pilots has a tendency to broaden the concepts of cultural norms by challenging beliefs and reshaping values as they relate to flying in general. This is important to the development of the frames of reference in that it extends the instructor’s ability to interpret events and situations from various perspectives.
Frames of reference
Exposure to other flight instructors or teachers clearly shapes the values and beliefs about being a teacher and can even help the instructor build a repertoire of approaches to teaching/learning situations that might be encountered. The ability to devise a strategy to help a struggling student is somewhat dependent on being aware that there are alternative ways of approaching the problem.
Personal experience is not always sufficient to develop a novel strategy, so exposure to other instructors is often extremely useful. Even more potentially potent is the contribution to the development of frames of references if the teacher or instructor is also a family member.
Quite obviously, exposure is only part of the equation. If one is exposed to the wrong type of teaching behavior, the contribution to our own frame of reference will be either minimal, or may even have a negative impact. The ramification of having the wrong frame of reference when dealing with a flight situation is obvious, but passing it along to a student is just as bad or even worse!
Flight instruction is generally a one-on-one activity, and hence there is a necessity for reasonably sound social interaction skills. A flight instructor with little or no social interaction experience will likely have a hard time developing a proper frame of reference for a teaching situation that clearly requires that sort of interaction.
Social interaction problems are not uncommon between student and instructor and any inability to develop expectations of interpersonal interactions in the cockpit can easily lead to miscommunication.
Another important consideration for the development of the proper, as well as a common frame of reference is the type of Formal and informal education experienced during the path to becoming a licensed instructor. Within the formal learning environment the instructor develops expectations of the appropriate educational setting, interactions, and responsibilities of the setting. All these are foundational to building learning strategies and are also factored into the interpretation and approaches to teaching that the instructor might employ.
Informal learning is slightly more ambiguous than formal in that it occurs more indirectly or subtly. Simply, informal learning is learning that takes place outside of the formal education settings we are all familiar with (e.g. classroom, or cockpit). It typically does not entail the structure of a formal learning environment in that it occurs daily in the workplace as well as at home and in other situations.
In these environments we frequently learn without directly realizing that learning is taking place. Informal learning’s effect on the development of a frame of reference is that it fosters new ideas for teaching, learning, and also contributes to values and beliefs. In turn this again helps to provide a cache of methods and approaches for teaching.
Finally, a flight instructor’s work experience is going to influence their frame of reference when approaching a situation or event. More specifically, the organizational environment has a strong influence on how we understand and perceive our job as a flight instructor, and how we approach the job day to day.
A flight instructor with many years of work experience approaches the job with a different frame of reference than the brand-new instructor. This is due in part, to the differences in both formal and informal learning which has taken place over time.
Likewise, whether that instructor is freelance or part of a larger organization has an influence On their frame of reference for doing the job. While a freelance instructor working outside of an organization may be equally skilled at flying as an instructor, the potential benefits of informal learning that goes on within most organizations can not be ignored. There can be little question that many if not most organizations provide people resources and avenues for interaction that have a profound impact on the development of the instructor’s frame of reference for dealing with a myriad of situations.
Development of an instructor’s frame of reference for tackling day-to-day problems is a complex process. As discussed, there are many factors the influence this development. While it’s hard to quantify exactly what these frames of reference are, there is a seemingly clear connection between the instructor’s interaction with the people around them and the ability of that instructor to mold their frame of reference to that required to meet the needs of the flight task at hand.
In the end, our goal as instructors is to provide effective instruction. Understanding how frames of reference can impact our ability to effectively “connect” with and teach a student is necessary to meeting that goal.