The ability to learn is one of the most outstanding human characteristics. Learning occurs continuously throughout a person’s lifetime. To understand how people learn, it is necessary to understand what happens to the individual during the process. In spite of numerous theories and contrasting views, psychologists generally agree there are many characteristics of learning.

Knowledge of the general characteristics of learning help an aviation instructor use them in a learning situation. If learning is a change in behavior as a result of experience, then instruction needs to include a careful and systematic creation of those experiences that promote learning. This process can be quite complex because, among other things, an individual’s background strongly influences the way that person learns. To be effective, the learning situation also should be purposeful, based on experience, multifaceted, and involve an active process.

Learning Is Purposeful

Each learner sees a learning situation from a different viewpoint. Each learner is a unique individual whose past experiences affect readiness to learn and understanding of the requirements involved. For example, an instructor may give two aviation maintenance learners the assignment of learning certain inspection procedures. One learner may catch on quickly and be able to competently present the assigned material. The combination of an aviation background and future goals may enable that learner to realize the need and value of learning the procedures. A second learner’s goal may only be to comply with the instructor’s assignment, and may result in only minimum preparation. The responses differ because each learner acts in accordance with what he or she sees in the situation.

Most people have fairly definite ideas about what they want to do and achieve. Their goals sometimes are short term, involving a matter of days or weeks. On the other hand, their goals may be carefully planned for a career or a lifetime. Each learner has specific intentions and goals. Some may be shared by other learners. Learners learn from any activity that tends to further their goals. Their individual needs and attitudes may determine what they learn as much as what the instructor is trying to teach. In the process of learning, the goals are of paramount significance. To be effective, aviation instructors need to find ways to relate new learning to the learner’s goals.

Learning Is a Result of Experience

Since learning is an individual process, the instructor cannot do it for the learner. The learner can learn only from personal experiences; therefore, learning and knowledge cannot exist apart from a person. A person’s knowledge is a result of experience, and no two people have had identical experiences. Even when observing the same event, two people react differently; they learn different things from it, according to the manner in which the situation affects their individual needs. Previous experience conditions a person to respond to some things and to ignore others.

All learning is by experience, but learning takes place in different forms and in varying degrees of richness and depth. For instance, some experiences involve the whole person while others may be based only on hearing and memory. Aviation instructors are faced with the problem of providing learning experiences that are meaningful, varied, and appropriate. As an example, learners can learn to say a list of words through repeated drill, or they can learn to recite certain principles of flight by rote. However, they can make them meaningful only if they understand them well enough to apply them correctly to real situations. If an experience challenges the learners, requires involvement with feelings, thoughts, memory of past experiences, and physical activity, it is more effective than a learning experience in which all the learners have to do is commit something to memory.

It seems clear enough that the learning of a physical skill requires actual experience in performing that skill. Pilots in training learn to fly aircraft only if their experiences include flying an aircraft; AMTs in training learn to overhaul power plants only by actually performing that task. Mental habits are also learned through practice. If learners are to use sound judgment and develop decision-making skills, they need experiences that involve knowledge of general principles and require the use of judgment in solving realistic problems.

Learning Is Multifaceted

If instructors see their objective as being only to train their learners’ memory and muscles, they are underestimating the potential of the teaching situation. Individuals learn much more than expected if they fully exercise their minds and feelings. The fact that these items were not included in the instructor’s plan does not prevent them from influencing the learning situation.

Psychologists sometimes classify learning by types, such as verbal, conceptual, perceptual, motor, problem-solving, and emotional. Other classifications refer to intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, and attitudinal changes, along with descriptive terms like surface or deep learning. However useful these divisions may be, they are somewhat artificial. For example, a class learning to apply the scientific method of problem-solving may learn the method by trying to solve real problems. But in doing so, the class also engages in verbal learning and sensory perception at the same time. Each learner approaches the task with preconceived ideas and feelings, and for many learners, these ideas change as a result of experience. Therefore, the learning process may include verbal elements, conceptual elements, perceptual elements, emotional elements, and problem-solving elements all taking place at once. This aspect of learning will become more evident later in this site when lesson planning is discussed.

Learning is multifaceted in still another way. While learning the subject at hand, individuals may be learning other things as well. They may be developing attitudes about aviation—good or bad—depending on what they experience. Under a skillful instructor, they may learn self-reliance. The list is seemingly endless. This type of learning is sometimes referred to as incidental, but it may have a great impact on the total development of the learner.

Learning Is an Active Process

Learners do not soak up knowledge like a sponge absorbs water. The instructor cannot assume that learners remember something just because they were in the classroom, shop, or aircraft when the instructor presented the material. Neither can the instructor assume the learners can apply what they know because they can quote the correct answer verbatim. For effective knowledge transfer, learners need to react and respond, perhaps outwardly, perhaps only inwardly, emotionally, or intellectually.