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Objective vs. Subjective Teaching….

Posted 3 years 190 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

It is common within flight instruction for the subject matter being presented to have a theme of “my instructor taught me this way.” Often, flight instructors only have the experience gained during their own training program to impart to their students. In many cases, this is acceptable; after all, it was [their] flight instructor that facilitated the learning process, thus an inference to an instructor’s methods when they received their training is normal. However, did their Instructor teach from an objective or subjective perspective?  

Within education, there are two basic tenets of teaching methodology: objective or subjective perspectives. An objective perspective holds that knowledge is absolute. No individual owns the information as the information itself is a fact. An example of an objective fact in aviation is that lift opposes weight (gravity). This is not a debatable topic. 

In direct contrast, a subjective perspective maintains that knowledge is part of the individual and their unique experiences. The subjective approach is that knowledge and reality do not have an absolute value. In other words, subjective perspective is a belief that when multiple methods of action will end in the same result, an individual with prior experience may provide the best technique or solution. 

When training pilots, maneuvers have been developed to provide a catalyst for the minimum skill sets required to operate an aircraft safely. Handbooks and other related training material developed by the Federal Aviation Administration are available to provide an objective perspective to conduct maneuvers. Additionally, test standards accompany this training material to complete the instructional process, ensuring each level of learning is addressed. The levels are: rote, understanding, application, and correlation. Each maneuver is clear regarding: (1) what the maneuver is (2) how or why we’re doing a maneuver (3) an explanation or description of how to do the maneuver, and (4) a predetermined minimum standard on how well the maneuver must be completed.     

Subjectively teaching a flight maneuver may skip this learning process entirely. When an instructor initially teaches a pilot-in-training from a subjective perspective, the supporting foundation of the student’s knowledge and experience is compromised. The true objective or desired intent may get lost! When subjectively teaching, the focus is on the process of doing—not working through the individual skill sets to get it done. It’s a big-picture approach that requires the student to primarily mimic the instructor’s actions to an end goal.

An example of this would be teaching autorotations where an instructor simply demonstrates an autorotation beginning at pattern altitude and then expects the student to begin practicing from that same profile. In this scenario, the student never truly gained insight into the objective of an autorotation. Key components of the objective [the autorotation] to include the how and why of airspeed and rotor RPM control, the effects of pitch attitude versus airspeed and other characteristics of an autorotation only learned by a methodical process of breaking down the maneuver piece-by-piece at altitude may be lost. It is only after practicing such a high-profile maneuver at altitude and gaining a keen understanding of the maneuver elements, traffic pattern altitudes should be attempted. The outcome may be a pilot behind the aircraft resulting in a high-vertical velocity accident!

Subjectively teaching or skipping instructional steps in the learning process may be the result of instructional boredom and often identified as a causal factor within helicopter training accidents. 

Teach the lesson objectively; enhance the lesson subjectively. Implement instructional discipline—stay sharp, stay focused, and stay safe!

About Randy:  Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.