What makes an effective training session? It is generally accepted trainees are more likely to perform well and absorb information effectively if they are relaxed and not anxious. It is therefore in the interest of the instructor to ensure that trainees remain in the best possible mindset for learning. The UK CAA’s Standards Document 24(A) refers to the importance of developing a relaxed atmosphere during checks and tests as a means of promoting the best possible performance. This applies just the same for all training. Trainees are well aware of the fact that everything is always assessed, and this might induce anxiety in some.
What are we trying to achieve during a training session?
Training and assessment or assessment and training. This depends on the stage of the trainee’s career.
Training and Assessment: This applies generally to TR and MPL trainees, for example, who have embarked on a course of new learning. The emphasis is on the imparting of knowledge, skills and attitudes which is retained to a degree at the time by the trainee. There is some assessment at the time by the instructor to ensure that key principles have been learned. This may also apply to a previously qualified pilot who is learning new skills. For example, RNP (AR) approach training or specific airfield training (Salzburg approaches).
Trainee expectations of themselves and their instructor may be variable and may not match yours or those of the ATO, so it is important to understand those expectations early on.
Despite spending considerable effort on standardisation, getting instructors to teach according the ATO’s/company’s culture is still a problem. Trainees’ expectations will depend to a degree on their previous training experiences, so this is another reason to ensure that both trainee and instructor understand their respective points of view.
Assessment and Training: The distinct difference here is the implicit understanding between trainee and instructor of what is expected. In this case, it should be understood by both that there is an expectation of competence in company procedures which the trainee demonstrates. Training then follows to correct or adjust in order to either achieve competence or develop expertise. An example is a company LPC/OPC, or LOE where a training syllabus has been issued for company pilots in advance of training. EBT in its various implementation phases also satisfies this description.
The issue is that quite often, this distinction is not agreed or understood by the two parties. This can lead to anxiety, frustration, and a less than optimum training experience for both trainee and instructor.
So how can we minimise the occurrence of this type of misunderstanding, and how can we make the training experience as positive as we can?
The Trainee/Instructor Contract – Taking time to develop trust between instructor and trainee.
We want to ensure that both parties understand what each expects of the other. In theory, this would be an easy transaction – the golden 5, the getting to know you phase is important. This is the time when the first assessment is made.
We look at each other and decide, within a few seconds, ‘do I like you’ and ‘can I work with you’. If the answer to either of these two questions is no, then we are going to find it difficult to get the most out of the training session. As an instructor it is important to approach the session with a manner and an attitude that sets the tone. You are the leader, and trainees will reference their behaviour to yours.
If you haven’t met before, trainees always like to hear your (brief) background story, it cements a bond of shared information. Whether the instructor goes first, or after the trainee depends on the instructor’s assessment. It might be better to go first if the trainee seems nervous or anxious for reasons you haven’t yet discovered. Let the trainee talk first if they are outgoing and confident.
A clear interest in the trainee’s progress to date engenders a sense of shared ownership of the training. It may not be possible or appropriate to review a training record, but even if you can, it may not give you a clear picture of the trainee’s confidence and anxiety level. Well thought out and open questions can elicit useful information, which can inform your training style later on.
What do we mean by open questions? Here are some examples:
1. What’s your career story?
2. What flying challenges have you faced since your last check?
3. I struggled with the new company briefing format. Which of the new SOPs have you found easy or difficult to fulfil? ….. Why was that?
4. What skill do you most want to develop during this training session?
5. When you look back and reflect on this training, what would you like to remember most about it?
6. What will a good training session look like to you?
7. How can I, as your instructor, help you to fulfil your training expectations?
Negative, short or blunt responses might indicate stress or anxiety, so it is worth drawing out the trainee a little if this happens. These interactions are important if you are to get the most from the training. Because you have taken time to get to know them, the trainee will begin to understand that you are interested in their success and that you have a shared training goal. Gradually, as the trainee relaxes and begins to trust you, their answers will become more informative and expansive.
It’s important to ensure that the trainee is completely clear about what is expected from them and what a good training session will look like. This type of positive language projects a successful scenario to the trainee and can develop confidence. There are many styles and techniques that work. Some instructors write aims and objectives on the board, review them, then ask a couple of open questions to ensure that the trainees have some knowledge and have prepared adequately. Again, this is a good opportunity to assess the trainees’ level of knowledge and confidence, which can inform your training later on.
Discuss with the trainee what he or she wants to gain from the training. What are their training goals for the day? How are they feeling going into the training? Their motivation might simply be a signature on the licence, or are they hoping to gain insight and develop their expertise? Most trainees will hope to improve their professional skills, provided they feel safe and that they feel their instructor has their best interests at heart.
Another thing to bear in mind about training is the longevity of the instructor’s input. Training is expensive. In order to provide a return on investment, training must be seen as credible and worthwhile. The trainee must understand the benefit and buy in to the concept of the training. Without it, instructor effort and training benefit is likely to be short lived as trainees will revert to old habits and techniques soon afterwards.
On the other hand, if you as the instructor have an interest in and understanding of the needs of the trainee, there is a better likelihood that the trainee will develop trust in you and what you say. In turn, the trainee will be more likely to persevere with new techniques and procedures which will form the basis of better habits.
With all this in mind, it’s clear that the instructor quickly needs to gain an insight into how the trainee feels, what motivates them and how to get the most out of the training session. Since instructors are not generally psychologists, we need a more colloquial method of assessment which can quickly and accurately assess a trainee’s sense of wellbeing prior to training.