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How to learn like a fighter pilot

Discover how the discipline and drive of fighter jet pilots can revolutionize learning and development.

As a fighter jet pilot turned facilitator, I believe that the world of flying can shed light on the closely guarded secrets of intrinsic motivation. Air Force pilots possess a unique personal drive. Selected from a sea of hopefuls, their passion propels them to achieve the extraordinary. The thrill and adventure of their experience are beyond the reach of many.

The question then arises: Can we instill a similar fervour in those we train for learning and development? As learning and development (L&D) professionals, our challenge is to align individuals with a purpose that transcends the confines of training room. Here are a few of my insights into how to do that:

Embark on a journey of learning.

In the realm of learning, the common practice of bombarding participants with a list of learning objectives, prominently displayed on a board, is widespread. However, the reality is that this approach frequently falls short in triggering individuals’ intrinsic motivation, the powerful inner drive that propels meaningful engagement and learning.

Just as a novice pilot wouldn’t be thrust into the cockpit of a fast jet without proper training, the ambition to become a successful leader cannot be reduced to a mere checklist, assuming that ticking off tasks will lead to instantaneous mastery.

Instead guide participants through a gradual learning curve. By initiating with the known and progressively moving into the unknown, ensure that each individual grasps the materials at a pace that suits them. This journey should unfold gradually, much like ascending a set of stairs. This approach not only enhances comprehension but also nurtures a sense of accomplishment as participants navigate through each step of the learning journey.

Clarify Roles Explicitly:

The flying world operates on the principle of absolute clarity regarding who is responsible for what—any ambiguity could lead to catastrophic consequences! Whether briefing a flight or an exam, the communication protocol doesn’t involve vague statements like “we’ll do this and then go over here.” Instead, every individual is clear on their roles and responsibilities.

Translating this to the realm of learning, intrinsic motivation takes center stage. In the learning journey, individuals must take ownership of their path, avoiding the inclination to solely rely on the trainer for answers. There is no magical pill to swallow. The learner needs to engage in the hard work, navigating the intricacies of the subject matter independently.

Bridge the Gap between Theory and Practice:

In the world of aviation, merely discussing the theory of lift within the confines of a classroom is insufficient. You need to actually fly the aircraft! This principle is applicable in the realm of training and development. While theories and models can be extensively explored through discussion, the true essence of learning motivation lies in putting these concepts into practice.

In the field of training, the application of theories involves more than intellectual discourse. It requires an immersive approach, where individuals actively engage with the concepts, make mistakes, correct them, and gain a profound awareness of the learning process.

To strike an effective balance between theory and practice, the learning journey must be a harmonious interplay of both elements. By fostering a balanced and varied approach to learning, individuals gain a comprehensive skill set, ready to face the challenges of the real world with a deep motivation derived from both theory and practical application.

Adapt Your Style:

When I’m teaching flying, repeating an explanation in the same manner when someone doesn’t grasp the concept can be counterproductive. The same goes for workplace learning. Instead, the key lies in adapting your style to cater to diverse learning preferences. If the initial explanation doesn’t resonate, provide an alternative—whether through visual aids like drawings, engaging in writing exercises, or fostering interactive discussion.

Understanding and appreciating diverse learning styles is crucial because the destination is the understanding itself, not the uniformity of the journey. While some learners prefer a traditional approach others thrive when actively participating, whether through verbal expression or hands-on manipulation of physical objects.

Motivation blossoms when individuals uncover their own unique learning style. As a facilitator, leading individuals to discover their own learning preferences ensures that motivation is not just a byproduct but a cornerstone of the educational journey, fostering a lifelong love for learning.

Initiate the Learning Journey with Self-Awareness:

Of course as a facilitator it is impossible to automatically know the learning style of each participant, so the primary focus of any training should be to foster self-awareness among learners.

The journey of self-awareness holds immense significance, both for individual and group dynamics. Understanding self is a motivational and exhilarating process, shedding light on personal strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations. Moreover, this extends beyond the individual, fostering a deeper comprehension of others within the group.

The ultimate goal is to recognize that training outcomes can vary significantly for different people. However, by guiding participants to comprehend their own operating styles—identifying strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, and preferred leadership approaches—the facilitator guarantees that the learning journey aligns with their individual needs. The result is not only better training outcomes but also a profound and lasting impact on participants’ motivation.

Much like pilots are inherently driven by their profound passion for flying, facilitators hold the power to instill a comparable motivation within their attendees. This transformative process starts with cultivating self-awareness—an essential cornerstone in the foundation of lifelong learning. Attendees, armed with self-awareness, can carry their newfound passion into various aspects of their lives, applying it to professional endeavors and personal pursuits alike.

As a trainer, I am steadfast in my role as a guide and facilitator. My responsibility lies in introducing concepts and steering discussions, fostering an environment conducive to learning. However, the critical component- the graft – rests on the shoulders of the learner.

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