A determination of objectives and standards precedes instruction. Although some schools and independent instructors may develop their own syllabus, in practice, many instructors use a commercially-developed syllabus. For the aviation instructor, the objectives listed in the syllabus are a beginning point for instruction.

Training Objectives and Standards

Aviation training involves two types of objectives: performance-based and decision-based. Performance-based objectives help define exactly what needs to be done and how it is done during each lesson. As the learner progresses through higher levels of performance and understanding, the instructor should shift the training focus to decision-based training objectives. Decision-based training objectives rely on a more dynamic training environment and are ideally suited to scenario-based training and teach aviation learners critical thinking skills, such as risk management and aeronautical decision-making (ADM).

As indicated in The Learning Process, training objectives apply to all three domains of learning—cognitive (knowledge), affective (attitudes, beliefs, values), and psychomotor (physical skills). Objectives should incorporate the desired level of learning, and these level of learning objectives may apply to one or more of the three domains of learning. Since each domain includes several educational or skill levels, the instructor adapts training objectives to a specific performance level of knowledge or skill. Clearly defined training objectives that the learner understands are essential to the teaching process regardless of the teaching technique used.

Standards are closely tied to objectives since they include a description of the desired knowledge, behavior, or skill stated in specific terms, along with conditions and criteria. When a learner performs according to well-defined standards, evidence of learning is apparent. Standards should contain comprehensive examples of the desired learning outcomes, or behaviors. As indicated in The Learning Process, standards for the level of learning in the cognitive and psychomotor domains are easily established. However, the design of standards to evaluate a learner’s level of understanding or overt behavior in the affective domain (attitudes, beliefs, and values) is more difficult.

The overall objective of an aviation training course is usually well established, and the general standards are included in various rules and related publications. For example, eligibility, knowledge, proficiency, and experience requirements for pilots and AMT learners are stipulated in the regulations, and the standards are published in the applicable Airman Certification Standards (ACS)/Practical Test Standards (PTS) or oral and practical tests (O&Ps). It should be noted that ACS/PTS and O&P standards are limited to the most critical job tasks. Certification tests do not represent an entire training syllabus.A broad, overall objective of any pilot training course is to qualify the learner to be a competent, efficient, safe pilot for the operation of specific aircraft types under stated conditions. Similar objectives and standards are established for AMT learners. While the established criteria or standards to determine whether the training has been adequate use the 14 CFR certification requirements, professional instructors should not limit their objectives to meeting the minimum published requirements for pilot or AMT certification.

Successful instructors teach their learners not only how, but also why and when. By incorporating ADM and risk management into each lesson, the aviation instructor helps the learner understand, develop, and reinforce the decision-making process which ultimately leads to sound judgment and good decision-making skills.

Performance-Based Objectives

Performance-based objectives set measurable, reasonable standards describing the learner’s desired performance, and may be referred to as a behavioral, performance, instructional, or educational objective. All refer to the same thing, the behavior of the learner.

These objectives provide a way of stating the level of performance a learner needs to demonstrate before he or she progresses to the next stage of instruction. Again, the objectives should be clear, measurable, and repeatable and mean the same thing to any knowledgeable reader. The objectives should be written to avoid the fallibility of recall, interpretation, or loss of specificity with time.

Performance-based objectives consist of three elements: description of the skill or behavior, the conditions, and the criteria. Each part should be stated in a way that leaves every reader with the same picture of the objective, how it is performed, and at the level of performance. [Figure 1]

Preparation of a Lesson
Figure 1. Performance-based objectives are made up of a description of the skill or behavior, conditions, and criteria

Description of the Skill or Behavior

The description of the skill or behavior explains the desired outcome of the instruction as a change in knowledge, skill, or attitude. The skill or behavior should be in concrete and measurable terms. Phrases such as “knowledge of …” and “awareness of …” cannot be measured very well and should be avoided. Phrases like “able to select from a list of …” or “able to repeat the steps to …” are better because they describe something measurable.


Conditions explain the rules for demonstration of the skill. If the desired objective is to navigate from point A to point B, the objective, as stated, is not specific enough for all learners to do it in the same way. Information such as equipment, tools, reference material, and limiting parameters should be included. For example, inserting several conditions narrows the objective as follows: “Using appropriate charts, a prepared flight log, and training aircraft, navigate from point A to point B while maintaining standard hemispheric altitudes.” Sometimes, in the process of reading the objective, someone might say, “But, what if …?” This is a good indication that the conditions are confusing and need clarification.


Criteria are the standards that measure the accomplishment of the objective. Good criteria define performance so there can be no question whether or not the performance meets the objective. In the previous example, the criteria may include that navigation from point A to point B be accomplished within 5 minutes of the preplanned flight time and that en route altitude be maintained within 200 feet. The revised performance-based objective may now also include arrival at point B within 5 minutes of planned arrival time and cruise altitude should be maintained within 200 feet during the en route phase of the flight.” The alert reader has already noted that the conditions and criteria changed slightly during the development of these objectives. In real-world objective development, that is exactly the way it will occur. Conditions and criteria may be refined as necessary.

The Importance of the ACS in Aviation Training Curricula

ACS documents hold an important position in aviation training curricula because they supply the instructor with specific performance objectives based on the standards for the issuance of a particular aviation certificate or rating. [Figure 2] The FAA frequently reviews the ACS test Areas of Operation and Tasks to maintain their relevance to the current aviation environment. Test items included as part of a test or evaluation should be both content valid and criterion valid. Content validity means that a particular maneuver or procedure closely mimics what is required in actual flying. Criterion validity means that the completion standards for the test are reflective of acceptable standards.

Preparation of a Lesson
Figure 2. Examples of Airman Certification Standards

For example, in flight training, content validity is reflected by a particular maneuver closely mimicking a maneuver required in actual flight, such as the learner pilot being able to recover from a power-off stall. Criterion validity means that the completion standards for the test are reflective of acceptable standards in actual flight. Thus, the learner pilot exhibits knowledge of all the elements involved in a power-off stall as listed in the ACS.

As discussed in The Learning Process, humans develop cognitive skills through active interaction with the world. This concept has led to the adoption of scenario-based training in many fields, including aviation. An effective aviation instructor uses the maneuver-based approach of the ACS but presents the objectives in a scenario situation.

It has been found that flight learners using SBT methods demonstrate flying skills equal to or better than those trained under the maneuver-based approach only. Of even more significance is that the same data also suggest that SBT learners demonstrate better decision-making skills than maneuver-based learners—most likely because their training occurred while performing realistic flight maneuvers and not artificial maneuvers designed only for teaching that maneuver.

The incorporation of SBT as part of the lesson is discussed in more detail later in this site, as well as in Planning Instructional Activity.

Decision-Based Objectives

The design and use of decision-based objectives specifically develops pilot judgment and ADM skills. Improper pilot decisions cause a significant percentage of all accidents, and the majority of fatal accidents in aircraft. Decision-based objectives facilitate a higher level of learning and application. By using dynamic and meaningful scenarios, the instructor teaches the learner how to gather information and make informed, safe, and timely decisions.

Decision-based training is not a new concept. Experienced instructors have been using scenarios that require dynamic problem solving to teach cross-country operations, emergency procedures, and other flight skills for years.

Decision-based learning objectives and the use of flight training scenarios do not preclude traditional maneuver-based training. Rather, flight maneuvers are integrated into the flight training scenarios and conducted as they would occur in the real-world. Those maneuvers requiring repetition may still be taught during concentrated settings. However, once they are learned, they are integrated into realistic and dynamic flight situations.

Decision-based objectives are also important for the aviation instructor planning AMT training. An AMT uses ADM and risk management skills during the repair and maintenance of aircraft.

Other Uses of Training Objectives

Performance-based and decision-based objectives help an instructor design a complete lesson plan. An instructor can use the standards of assessment, objectives, conditions, and criteria to fashion many of the details on the lesson plan. For example, many of the objective components may be used to determine the elements of the lesson and the schedule of events. The equipment necessary and the instructor and learner actions anticipated during the lesson have also been specified. By listing the criteria for the training objectives, the instructor has already established the completion standards normally included as part of the lesson plan.

Use of training objectives also provides the learner with a better understanding of the big picture, as well as knowledge of what is expected. This overview can alleviate a significant source of uncertainty and frustration on the part of the learner.