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Developing Training Interventions

Formal pilot training was first codified in 1917 into what became known as the ‘Gosport Model’, named after the military flight school at the Royal Naval Air Station at Gosport, in the UK. Since then, broadly speaking, aviation has relied on the repetition of manoeuvres and procedures at fixed calendar intervals to validate proficiency. Hours flown and manoeuvres accomplished have long been recognised as a weak guarantee of competence, let alone expertise. Furthermore, initial pilot training courses have been progressively shortened over the years and, increasingly, simulation has been substituted for on-aircraft training. To a large degree, this was driven by economics: pilot training is expensive and there needs to be a cost-benefit cut-off for those, such as the military, who foot the bill.

Historically, the ‘apprenticeship’ model, or learning by watching others, could almost be described as the default approach to learning. Recent developments in neuroscience and the discovery of the mirror neurone system (MNS) suggest that we are designed by evolutionary processes to learn by copying. This model of repetitive imitation underpinned the medieval craft guild systems found in countries all over the world. Apprentices served under a master craftsman, learning the various tasks and processes involved in the craft over a period of years. ‘Graduation’ involved producing a piece of work that was then assessed by the guild headmen. The classic instruction to new pilots to ‘follow me through on the controls’ embodies this approach. Of course, guilds did more than simply train new entrants: they set prices for work, regulated competition, represented their members and provided support to those in need. As a training method, it is restricting and expensive but the fact that it has survived for so long is probably testament to its implicit logic. But, by the 20th century, a need for mass-produced trainees emerged.

Many of the business processes we now take for granted originated in wartime. During the final years of the 1914-1918 war, vocational selection tests were being used to better fit trainees to roles, air gunners and submariners being examples. Selection was seen as a way of making training more efficient by improving course pass rates. Training could also be dangerous. During the Second World War, 10% of UK RAF pilot fatalities were losses in training accidents (Terraine, 1985). By the end of the 1939-1945 war, it was realised that conscript armies could not cope with the level of complex weaponry entering service. New approaches to the design of training were needed. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the basic building blocks of curriculum development were formulated. Blooms ‘taxonomy of learning’ (Bloom et al., 1956), Mager’s (1961) ‘training objectives’ and Gagne’s (1965) ‘conditions of learning’ all appeared at this time. The aim was to make training more cost-effective through a better analysis of requirements and organisation of inputs. Known as Instructional Systems Design (ISD) or the Systems Approach to Training (SAT) by the military, who were significant early adopters of this approach, this period is probably epitomised by the textual frame-based ‘programmed learning’ materials that heavily influenced the design of early computer-based training. The field of psychology at this time was predominantly behaviourist and so training was intended to deliver an observable output. What happened inside the head - cognition - was invisible and, therefore, off limits. Training objectives are still, today, phrased using

‘action verbs’ for this reason. It is not enough to ‘know’ something: that ‘knowledge’ has to be demonstrated in some tangible way so that we can say that learning has occurred.

The Instructional Design (ID) model, by which I mean both ISD and SAT, was applied to military aviation in the 1970s and was introduced to civil aviation in the USA through the Advanced Qualification Program (AQP) in 1990. A much watered- down version of ID was rolled out under the auspices of the then-Joint Aviation Authorities in Europe in the mid-1990s, known as the Alternative Training and Qualification Programme (ATQP). The move to the new training philosophy was not without incident. In 1998, a United Airlines B-747 departing San Francisco suffered an engine failure after take-off (ASRS, 1998). The First Officer (FO), at the controls, mishandled the event and the aircraft came close colliding with the peak of San Bruno Mountain. In March 2003, an American Airlines DC-9-82 landed on the taxiway at Seattle-Tacoma Airport (NTSB, 2004). The subsequent investigations made reference to the introduction of AQP as a possible factor in both events. In neither case could blame be laid at the door of the training design concept but questions were asked of its implementation. In order to encourage airlines to adopt the new philosophy, permission to increase the interval between recurrent training events - and, thus, reduce cost - was granted from the moment an airline undertook to start implementation rather than at some future point after the shift to the AQP philosophy had been evaluated. This ‘loss-leader’ approach was intended to create a budget to encourage uptake, given that airlines would have been reluctant to invest if they could continue with the old approach, still satisfy the regulator and incur no additional cost. The apparent competitive advantage that would accrue to any airline that could now meet its obligations with crews making just a single visit to the simulator each year, as opposed to at least 2 under existing rules, was what prompted the European authorities to create the ATQP programme.

Although the initial motivation to introduce the military SAT model into commercial aviation through AQP was the belief that a more rigorous approach would offer safety benefits, implementation was problematic. In the USA, the regulation applied to both initial-type conversion training (Indoctrination in the FAA terminology) and also periodic recurrent training (Continuing Qualification). Most airlines that implemented AQP focussed only on Continuing Qualification training, and it is really only the larger carriers that have adopted the concept. The JAA (now EASA) regulation was a skeleton version of AQP and, because of the division of the European regulations into Licensing and Operations, ATQP only applied to that component of training that related to approvals granted by the operator, the equivalent of the US Continuing Qualification. This includes the Operator’s Proficiency Check (OPC) and the annual Line Check. Periodic License Proficiency Checks (LPCs) were still required under the Flight Crew Licensing rules but these fell outside of the scope of ATQP, which was therefore hamstrung from the outset. The supposed benefits of delivering training that was both relevant to the operation and innovative ran up against the need to still undertake periodic sets of prescribed manoeuvres.

Competency-based approaches to training emerged in the 1960s. One creation myth is that the USA was humiliated by being beaten into space by the Russians, with their Sputnik, and the blame was laid at the door of the US educational system.

Ironically, one of the first groups to be exposed to the ‘competence’ approach was US teachers themselves. To be considered ‘competent’, it was not sufficient simply to have passed a course, you now had to show that you could do the job. The competence movement had a bit of a boost in the 1980s when many of the major global economies started to undergo significant restructuring. Economies that had been based on heavy industries such as steel making, shipbuilding and coal mining were facing fierce competition from the developing world. New industries were emerging and the workforce needed to be redeployed. The challenge was to find a way to redeploy, say, a few thousand unemployed steelworkers or coal miners when what you now needed were call-centre workers or logistics hub staff. The competence movement proposed that you could generalise workplace-specific skills and knowledge into abstract clusters of ‘competencies’. Vocational training Lead Bodies were created and tasked with developing competence frameworks for employees in their fields. In the UK, for example, a cabin crew vocational qualification was developed and cabin crew were able to gain a recognised accreditation for the first time. The parallel airline pilot qualification foundered because, in order to be employed as a pilot, you needed a licence issued by the UK CAA, not a vocational qualification issued by an ‘industry Lead Body’. Unlike the field of ID, which is a coherent body of concepts and tools, the ‘competence’ movement lacked any differentiating processes. Instead, it shifted the emphasis to one of looking more at outcomes and workplace performance rather than placing importance on the design of training interventions, or inputs.

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