Improving Learning and Recall

Improving Learning and Recall

Is there a role for humor while training officers on critical, life-saving, skills?

The flight attendant begins dolling out the obligatory, in fact, federally mandated, pre-flight safety instructions. If you’re a frequent flyer, your situational awareness is probably pretty low. You know the routine and it’s boring. If you’re an infrequent flyer, the monotone, or should I say “mono-drone” voice, of the lead flight attendant is enough to make you bury your eyes deep into the sky magazine. But, on this flight to Vegas, something’s different.

The flight attendant begins by saying:

“Our airline employs some of the safest pilots in the industry. Unfortunately, our flight today doesn’t have any of them, so you’d better fasten your seat belt and pay close attention to what I’m about to lay down. We’re (undisclosed) airlines and we’re going to take all your money“.

All eyes and ears were immediately fixated on the lead flight attendant. Trust me, I was on the flight and witnessed it first-hand. This was one of the best stand-up comedic routines I’ve seen in a long time. I actually enjoyed the flight briefing.

Funny Flight Attendant

What made a speech I’ve heard over 50 times so interesting? There are two explanations, both rooted deep in our cognitive brain. First, the speech was unexpected. We listen with baited anticipation to hear things that surprise us. That’s why talk show hosts and newscasters bait listeners with phrases like, “When we come back we’re going to show you an amazing video you’re not going to want to miss” and we wait to see it.

Second, it was emotional. Emotional messages (and it doesn’t matter what emotion the messages invoke) not only capture and keep our attention, but they help in the uptake and storage of those messages into long-term memory. That’s right, you tend to remember and recall emotional messages and events with much more accuracy than boring messages and boring events. How well does it work? That flight attendant greeting I shared with you was from a flight I took in 2017, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Ok…for you instructors out there who are sharing important, life-saving messages – remember, make portions of your message unexpected and use emotions. Both will not only keep attention, but they will also help in learning and recall. Anyone who has attended one of my programs knows I use a healthy dose of both. The results are truly win-win. The attendees are satisfied with their day of learning on how to survive an active shooter event. I have the satisfaction of knowing those lessons are going to stick with the attendees for a long time.

I teach my students that when they go in for a job interview to use appropriate humor or some other tactic to separate themselves from all the other candidates.  If they don’t, they will be just a number. Use humor and emotional content to help your lessons stick with your audience.

Drew Moldenhauer’s Advice

When doing training try adding emotional and humorous messages.  These will help the listeners retain and recall the lessons you teach them.  By using emotional and humorous messages, it will break up mundane training and help your audience be more attentive.

Action Items

  1. Discuss how to use appropriate humor in your next training lesson.
  2. Discuss creative ways to use emotional messages into training scenarios and training lessons.
  3. Discuss ways to make mundane trainings more memorable and improve the audience recall of your most important points.

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Police Science and Leadership at Bemidji State University and is a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Context Dependent Learning

Context Dependent Learning

As public safety providers, we could make a fundamental improvement in developing situational awareness by looking at how we train. There are some valuable lessons from brain science that can help improve the design of our training programs. One such lesson is “context dependent learning.”  It has been validated through numerous studies. If you are a training officer, this article may cause you to rethink how to train fellow police officers.

The concept of context dependent learning is fundamentally simple, yet often overlooked in the training of police officers. Essentially, it means if we train police officers in the same environment in which they are going to perform their work they are far more likely to recall their lessons when put back into the same environment on the job.

I remember I had this experience once in the gym I work out at.  I remember we were training for an event call “Murphy”. It’s a very grueling workout that begins with a one mile run, then proceeds with 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, and finishes off with another one mile run. This is all done while wearing a 20 pound weighted vest. We would do this at the gym every Memorial Day.

I can recall doing this workout several times and I practiced and trained for it at Yorfit in Ramsey, Minnesota.  I used the same weighted vest, the same pull up bar, and I ran the same route around the building every time.  My times reflected this and I got my personal best time while training at my gym and doing the Murphy on Memorial Day.

Fast forward a few months and I did the same workout, only I went to a different gym.  I wasn’t used to their pull up bar and I didn’t know the exact route I was going to run. The lack of familiarity had a huge impact on my times.  I had never trained in this environment before and my results showed it.

A more formal research study involved two groups of SCUBA divers. One was the test group and one was the control group. The researchers put the test group in ten feet of water and gave them some information to memorize. They did the same thing with the control group, except the control group was on land. Then the researchers tested the participants by putting both groups in ten feet of water and asked them to answer questions about what they had learned. The group that learned the information while in the water had a remarkably better recall than the group that learned the information while standing on dry land.

This is an example of context dependent learning. It can work while wearing SCUBA gear in ten feet of water, and it can work in police training. If we train police officers how to perform hands-on tasks while in a classroom, they are likely to recall less of what they learned when they are in the field.  We need to do more realistic, context-dependent, hands-on scenario-training that involves stress.

Drew Moldenhauer’s advice

Train police officers in the environment in which they will be performing their tasks. It may seem trivial, but science suggests the brain ties the lessons to the environment. The more the learning environment mimics the working environment, the stronger the lessons are encoded into memory.

I recall learning many of my active shooter lessons in a classroom. It wasn’t very realistic. To improve recall, put police officers in their natural working environment and teach them how to handle realistic situations. The lessons will be more readily recalled when needed most.

Action Items

  1. When you were trained in your basic police skills, did your learning environment always mimic the real-world environment you would operate in?
  2. Provide some examples where instructors taught basic skills in a context dependent environment that you would consider unique.
  3. Share some ideas for how your training programs could be improved by using context dependent learning.

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Do We Train To Fail?

Do We Train To Fail?

Is it possible to erode a police officer’s situational awareness and to train a police officer to fail? Absolutely! I have seen it often. In fact, I still see it at police academies, on YouTube Videos and during police officer training sessions.

There was a time when I didn’t see it. In fact, I was one of those instructors who were training police officers to fail. I didn’t realize I was doing it. No instructor would train a police officer to fail on purpose. But, accidentally, it’s happening all the time and the consequences can be catastrophic.

I remember when I was in the academy and we would do a variety of training to get us ready for our careers as police officers.  One of the drills we would train on was felony stops.  Felony stops were intended for when we would pull someone over that had just committed a felony level crime or had a felony warrant.

We would first learn to put space between our squad car and the suspects car.  This was to give us more reaction time and create a safe distance from the suspect.  We would then exit our squad, take cover behind our driver side door and call the suspect back to us.  We would then either have the suspect lay on the ground or kneel.  Our partners would come up and handcuff the suspect, search, and secure them in the back of the squad car.  The drill would run smoothly, and officers would feel good after it was all done.  However, without even knowing it we were training to fail.

How were we training to fail?  Well, in law enforcement we learn the difference between cover and concealment. Cover is something we can hide behind that will stop bullets from hitting us (e.g., a brick wall, the engine block of a vehicle).

Concealment is something we can hide behind that bullets can penetrate (e.g., a car door, bushes, sheetrock).  In the felony stop drill we were concealing ourselves behind the car door of our squad, which bullets can penetrate.  Instead we should be angling our squad cars and hiding behind the engine block of the squad, while giving the suspect orders.  We were training to fail, we were placing ourselves behind concealment instead of cover.  This could have catastrophic effects if a suspect were to exit their vehicle and begin shooting at us.

KEY TAKEAWAY

The lesson here is that under stress, we become creatures of habit. Our brain will instruct our body to perform exactly how we were programmed to perform based mostly on memorization and repetition. This is true when recalling cognitive information (e.g., people’s names and email addresses). It is also the case with muscle memory (i.e., the physical movements tied to performing a task). Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent! This can lead to eroding a police officer’s situational awareness and in stressful environments police officers can revert right back to how they were trained.  Let’s train for success not failure!

Everyday life:

Think of when you trained a friend or your teen on how to change a flat tire on a vehicle.  This training usually takes place in nice the controlled safe environment of a clean garage (unless it’s my garage).  In reality, they will probably be changing a flat tire on the side of a busy road with a lot of traffic cars passing by, often at a high rate of speed.  Have they been trained when it is unsafe to change that tire and call a tow truck instead?  If they haven’t been trained on this alternate decision, this could lead to poor situational awareness and they could get struck by a passing vehicle operated by an inattentive driver.

Discussions

  • Look at your department’s training programs. Can you identify areas where you may be training to fail?
  • If you can identify areas where your department is training to fail, discuss solutions so that officers can avoid catastrophic mistake. Example: Have your officers ever thrown stop sticks during training from behind cover? Remember practice makes permanent.

The most important objective is for police officers to go home at the end of their shift. Training for success plays an important role in improving situational awareness and high-risk decision making.

Written By:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

 

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.