Learning for the Long Term

Understanding your learning style

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In an industry as safety driven as aviation, it comes as no surprise that checking events and testing are routine for pilots. No matter what stage of your career you are in, there will always be another test. A student pilot knows their next checkride will come when they complete training for the next license or rating and meet all requirements. Fast forward to initial training with an airline or other professional flight department, and there are several written, oral, and simulator checking events that need to be completed before training is complete. Even after completing initial training, that pilot will return to the simulators to complete recurrent training every year for the rest of their career. Successful training begins with an organized plan and good study habits. In an effort to better prepare for testing events, it helps to understand your study and learning styles in ways that will better promote absorption and understanding.

Scoring poorly on a test in school does not necessarily mean that you did not study or that you do not know the material. I would venture a guess that everyone reading this has had at least one experience where relatively quickly into an exam or testing event, you realized you should have prepared in a different manner. Though frustrating in the moment, that situation offers an opportunity to improve one’s approach to learning and studying. Our study habits involve much more than dedicating time. While allocating time to the task is obviously important, using the time well and being efficient in your studying is more important. After a certain amount of studying, our ability to retain any additional information significantly decreases. While the amount of time varies from person to person, the result is that the effort put forward does not necessarily yield any additional gain. Taking frequent breaks is one way to ensure you do not waste energy trying to push more knowledge into a brain that has already called it quits.

The environment in which we do our preparation also has an impact on our ability to learn and retain information. I noticed a need for change in my study habits during my first semester in college. Relying on the techniques I had developed up until that point did not yield the same results. Distractions were a lot more prevalent in a dorm room setting, and I found that I was more focused on how long I was studying, rather than focusing on being efficient with my studying. When I realized just how much time was being absorbed by checking my phone or reading incoming emails, I made the appropriate changes to my habits. I began to dedicate time entirely to a certain task. I silenced my phone and worked in areas of my dorm that I knew would be quiet and study-friendly, and quickly saw my efficiency increase. 

There is another aspect of our careers that deserves its own attention, and that is the fact that we study and learn for the long term. Every license or rating a pilot receives builds on the knowledge and skills that were developed during the previous one. We are expected to be able to call upon things we learned days, weeks, months, and even years ago. Therefore, we must ensure we are setting ourselves up for success when it comes to our studying and training. Aircraft memory items, as an example, reveal the need to be able to recall information at a moment’s notice. Study techniques, such as cramming, will therefore not serve you well when trying to learn something as crucial as memory items. Instead, our learning is achieved by consistent studying over the course of our entire careers. Our studying and learning require that we dedicate the proper time and energy to learn and understand our aircraft, our procedures, and our roles on a regular basis, so we can always be at our best.

SOURCEAero Crew News, April 2022
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Justin Abrams is a first officer for a major US airline. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation with a minor in Security and Intelligence from the Ohio State University in 2015. In addition to his studies, Justin was involved in general aviation safety research and numerous student organizations. Before joining the airlines, he gained experience as a flight instructor and as a pilot for a Part 135 company. He holds CL-65 and A-320 type ratings. Throughout his career he has served as a pilot recruiter and interviewer, a New Hire Pilot Mentor, and as a volunteer for two ALPA committees.

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