Retention of Learning

Each of the theories implies that when a person forgets something, it is not actually lost. Rather, it is simply unavailable for recall. The instructor's problem is how to make certain that the student's learning is readily available for recall. The following suggestions can help.

Teach thoroughly and with meaning. Material thoroughly learned is highly resistant to forgetting. This is suggested by experimental studies and it also was pointed out in the sections on skill learning. Meaningful learning builds patterns of relationship in the student's consciousness. In contrast, rote learning is superficial and is not easily retained. Meaningful learning goes deep because it involves principles and concepts anchored in the student's own experiences. The following discussion emphasizes five principles which are generally accepted as having a direct application to remembering.

Praise Stimulates Learning

Responses which give a pleasurable return tend to be repeated. Absence of praise or recognition tends to discourage and any form of negativism in the acceptance of a response tends to make its recall less likely.

Recall is Promoted by Association: As discussed earlier, each bit of information or action which is associated with something to be learned tends to facilitate its later recall by the student. Unique or disassociated facts tend to be forgotten unless they are of special interest or application.

Favorable Attitudes Aid Retention: People learn and remember only what they wish to know. Without motivation there is little chance for recall. The most effective motivation is based on positive or rewarding objectives.

Learning with All our Senses is most Effective: Although we generally receive what we learn through the eyes and ears, other senses also contribute to most perceptions. When several senses respond together, a fuller understanding and greater chance of recall is achieved.

Meaningful Repetition Aids Recall: Each repetition gives the student an opportunity to gain a clearer and more accurate perception of the subject to be learned, but mere repetition does not guarantee retention. Practice provides an opportunity for learning, but does not cause it. Further, some research indicates that three or four repetitions provide the maximum effect, after which the rate of learning and probability of retention fall off rapidly.

Along with these five principles, there is a considerable amount of additional literature on retention of learning during a typical academic lesson. After the first 10-15 minutes, the rate of retention drops significantly until about the last 5-10 minutes when students wake up again. Students passively listening to a lecture have roughly a five percent retention rate over a 24-hour period, but students actively engaged in the learning process have a much higher retention. This clearly reiterates the point that active learning is superior to just listening.

Transfer of Learning

During a learning experience, the student may be aided by things learned previously. On the other hand, it is sometimes apparent that previous learning interferes with the current learning task. Consider the learning of two skills. If the learning of skill A helps to learn skill B, positive transfer occurs. If learning skill A hinders the learning of skill B, negative transfer occurs. For example, the practice of slow flight (skill A) helps the student learn short-field landings (skill B). However, practice in making a landing approach in an airplane (skill A) may hinder learning to make an approach in a helicopter (skill B). It should be noted that the learning of skill B may affect the retention or proficiency of skill A, either positively or negatively. While these processes may help substantiate the interference theory of forgetting, they are still concerned with the transfer of learning.

It seems clear that some degree of transfer is involved in all learning. This is true because, except for certain inherent responses, all new learning is based upon previously learned Experience. People interpret new things in terms of what they already know.

Many aspects of teaching profit by this type of transfer. It may explain why students of apparently equal ability have differing success in certain areas. Negative transfer may hinder the learning of some; positive transfer may help others. This points to a need to know a student's past experience and what has already been learned. In lesson and syllabus development, instructors should plan for transfer by organizing course materials and individual lesson materials in a meaningful sequence. Each phase should help the student learn what is to follow.

The cause of transfer and exactly how it occurs is difficult to determine, but no one disputes the fact that transfer does occur. The significance of this ability for the instructor is that the students can be helped to achieve it. The following suggestions are representative of what educational psychologists believe should be done.

• Plan for transfer as a primary objective. As in all areas of teaching, the chance for success is increased if the teacher deliberately plans to achieve it.

• Make certain that the students understand that what is learned can be applied to other situations. Prepare them to seek other applications.

• Maintain high-order learning standards. Overlearning may even be appropriate. The more thoroughly the students understand the material, the more likely they are to see its relationship to new situations. Avoid unnecessary rote learning, since it does not foster transfer.

• Provide meaningful learning experiences that build students' confidence in their ability to transfer learning. This suggests activities that challenge them to exercise their imagination and ingenuity in applying their knowledge and skills.

• Use instructional material that helps form valid concepts and generalizations.

• Use materials that make relationships clear.

Habit Formation

The formation of correct habit patterns from the beginning of any learning process is essential to further learning and for correct performance after the completion of training. Remember, primacy is one of the fundamental principles of learning. Therefore, it is the instructor's responsibility to insist on correct techniques and procedures from the outset of training to provide proper habit patterns. It is much easier to foster proper habits from the beginning of training than to correct faulty ones later.

Due to the high level of knowledge and skill required in aviation for both pilots and maintenance technicians, training traditionally has followed a building block concept. This means new learning and habit patterns are based on a solid foundation of experience and/or old learning. Everything from intricate cognitive processes to simple motor skills depends on what the student already knows and how that knowledge can be applied in the present. As knowledge and skill increase, there is an expanding base upon which to build for the future.

 
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