Monday, February 2, 2009

Praxis: Training Notes

US Soldier Training Iraqis in Map Reading

From a very serious, very experienced trainer up North we have these excellent points.

Some training notes that might help folks move beyond "rote memory" and "group lock step"....

Energize your FTX’s by Determining Skill Mastery and Adapting Your Style to the Men

If you’re using “Group Lock Step” methodolgy when you train your folks and you don’t see a high level of enthusiasm for training, you might be using the wrong method for the group you have under your ‘wing’.

Sometimes, believe it or not, trainers don’t take into account various levels of skill mastery or consciousness that their trainees have in various tasks. Trainers are human, and sometimes have the mistaken pre-conceived notion that everyone they are going to train is most likely brand new to the subject or cannot process information or learn quickly. Don’t think so? Ask a group leader you trust to critically observe your next training session. Have him to note how you talk to the men, their reaction, how many get bored (and how fast that happens), start side conversations and even wander off to do something else. If this is happening, chances are that you are using ‘group lock step’ training methods on a group that needs to have their training flow adapted to the level of skill mastery they possess which is higher than you've guessed. To be clear, if the example used above is occurring in your group, it’s a bad thing, because not a lot of effective training is being accomplished, and if you’re like others, you realize we don’t have much time to spare. But don’t take it personally--it’s not your fault to this point, because ‘group lock step’ is usually what most folks who’ve served in the military or other public service organizations are indoctrinated with when they are taught to instruct.

Group lock step is the kind of training where the group only goes as fast as the slowest guy. When bringing a large group of people into an organization that has specific behavior requirements or task performance requirements, such as a professional military organization or a large manufacturing plant, it usually works. However, even in those places, as folks advance and their potential is developed, the ones who can get away from group lock step training and get into areas they can learn based on their ability to master a task or subject.

Here’s an example of group lock step applied to an imaginary class on ‘ruck sack familiarization’:

Instructor (in an authoritarian, “Full Metal Jacket” DI type voice): “This is your ruck sack…get-to-know-it. Today, we will learn the basic parts of the ruck sack, their function and basic ruck sack terminology. At the end of the day, you will recite the definitions of each part. Then, tomorrow, if any of you have what it takes, we will move on to putting the ruck sack on and adjusting the shoulder straps which will also be evaluated not only by how long it takes you to do it, but how smoothly you can do it. From there, those who proved they can hack it will learn about loading it with your personal belongings. I will watch each step you take. If you do something wrong, I will dump your ruck sack out and you will begin again. You will have 3 chances to do it right. By the end of the next 3 days, you will have learned all about your ruck sack and will be able to take it into the field!”

So, how many guys you know are going to enjoy that kind of instruction? I’m betting not many.

Now, make no mistake, group lock step training has its place, usually when bringing individuals from diverse backgrounds into a culture that everyone is totally equal and egos must be ‘trimmed’ before the group can effectively perform or with an entire group that has no skill mastery of the subject you are going to cover, but even then, as the group gets into the subject, group lock step has to be modified as the individuals in the group start to learn at different paces, picking up the elements of the task series more quickly or more slowly than you are presenting them.

In our environment where everyone involved has the freedom to stay or leave as they choose, this method can lead to the downfall of your group. Why? First, many of your folks are probably veterans who most likely feel they’ve already “paid their dues” and have various levels of mastery in the skills you’re trying to teach, re-teach, or maintain mastery in. Secondly, group lock step instructors tend to be very autocratic in delivery on every subject or task dealt with, and men who’ve ‘been there, done that’ don’t appreciate that particular style, let alone guys who are brand new to your group. Very few will appreciate the “PWE” (prick with ears) type of trainer.

In our world, we usually have a group with a spread of comprehension abilities and experience where some learn very fast and some learn very slow, and one or two just might take a lot longer to “get it”. These facts should demonstrate that group lock step will not be effective in most cases because a significant percentage of your group will get bored from not moving forward at a pace that keeps them engaged in what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ll know if this is the case when your FTX attendance starts to drop and before you realize it, all that attend are you, your training assistant, and your closest buddy in the group.

So, if you want to energize your FTX’s by getting your more experienced people engaged and basically break out of group lock step into a much more effective method of training, you must understand and accept that mastery of task performance is based upon ‘task maturity’. We’re not talking about age, emotion or intellect here. Maturity in this case is defined as the level of possessed ability to perform the task with little or no error without any prompting from supervisory or instructor personnel.’ In plain language, it means how well the trainee can do the task without thinking. Determining task maturity is the key to the speed with which the trainee can move through a set of tasks you are training him on.

Generally, your men will fall into one of the following categories in their overall ability to perform in the field. Later, we’ll look at how your men can be tops in one area and clueless in another, and how to recognize and get them into the top level of mastery. So, let’s go over the four categories of skill mastery.

Unconsciously Unskilled: “I don’t know what I don’t know.” This is the brand new guy who shows up and hasn’t even bought a MBR yet because he doesn’t know what he should have. He doesn’t know a flank from a front, a false horizon from a real one, and what’s more, he knows it and knows that you know it. If the SHTF now, this guy, out of necessity, and if he wants to live, should be paired up with a fully trained man and be told: “You do exactly what I tell you, no more, no less.” To do otherwise in this case would be to put him and your entire group in jeopardy. But, all things being equal, and the S has not HTF, this is the man you will have to start slow with until you see how quickly he can pick things up.

Consciously Unskilled: “I know I don’t know much.” This is the guy who’s been to a couple FTX’s with you and has been jolted awake and now understands that he does not know much about surviving in a hostile environment. He may have learned that he’s not in the shape he thought he was; he doesn’t know about camouflage or first aid that much; and he sure doesn’t know what it takes to move undetected through an area where people are hunting him. Basically, he’s in ‘boot camp’ in your group. Again, assigning him to a more experienced man might help him out, especially if your experienced man has a heart to help out the “newbie”. “Do as I do” comes into play, and high levels of encouragement when he’s having problems learning a particular set of tasks.

Consciously Skilled: “I know how to do it but I have to concentrate on it.” This guy has successfully completed all your ‘basic’ requirements. He’s qualified on the AQT, he is fit enough to demonstrate all your PT requirements, he’s seen the importance of having all the required gear, he knows how to blend in with his surroundings, he knows his rifle fairly well, and so on. But, he has to be reminded from time to time because the skills haven’t become ‘second nature’ to him where he not only can perform them without thinking, he knows when to perform them without thinking. You’ll see errors in his performance at this stage. He’ll need correction, reinforcement, and possibly retraining on a given task or subject. However, it’s important to note that at this stage, the trainer should be encouraging and save any ‘negative reinforcement’ for dire situations, because at this point you’re trying to get him to the top category of skill mastery.

Unconsciously Skilled: “I don’t have to think about it; I just do it.” You know this guy as soon as you see him. He doesn’t need to be told how to do something. He just does it, sometimes anticipating what, where, who, when, and how. He’s the guy who can do everything you require quickly and effectively, and then he turns quickly to help someone else get through the task who’s not so fast. He’s the guy who, when he does ‘screw up’ a task, can laugh at his own mistakes and joke about being a prime example of what not to do. Bottom line: He’s got his act together.

Each of these categories also have complimentary training styles you might find successful employing with the various levels of skill mastery enountered:

Unconsciously Unskilled: Tell them how to do what you want them to do. Be firm, but talk to them the way you want to be talked to in the same situation. “Ok, this is how you set up material to build a fire when you don’t have accelerants. First, you gather tinder. Tinder is any material that will catch a spark and flame within a very short period of time. Some examples are…. Ok, now that you know what tinder is, I want each of you to get at least two handfuls in the next 15 minutes and come back here.”

Consciously Unskilled: Encourage them through the steps. Not so much telling here as helping them figure it out and reinforcing their learning with praise (not effusive…a simple, “good job!” could be the ticket). “Each buddy team needs to set out all the materials for a fire within 50 minutes. This includes tinder, match sticks, logs, and, of course, the position you’ve prepared to build the fire at taking into account wind direction, overhead smoke dispersion, and heat reflecting material. Remember, lay your material out before you start to make a spark! It’s more efficient when you have a small flame going to have everything you want at your finger tips! You guys did this great yesterday, so I know you can do it well again today!”

Consciously Skilled: Participation. Let them work through it and be there to back them up when they ask for it. When they’re stumped or having problems, you can get them thinking by saying, “How would you do it?” or “Remember when we did it yesterday?” or “You can do it…take a breath and relax…now, what comes next?”

Unconsciously Skilled: Delegation. Look for results. Allow improvisation, modification, and initiative. “Men, each buddy team needs to have their shelter constructed and camouflaged within 2 hours. It must meet our sanitation and defensive posture requirements as well. I’ll be by to check on you later. Let’s go.”

Movement between the skill levels can be extremely fast or slow, depending on the task complexity, prior experience, and individual ability to pick things up. Think of skill mastery being on a continuum with an indicator that slides on a silicon rail. This is where it gets tricky.

Why? Because you, the trainer, have to recognize almost immediately when a person you’re training slides from Unconsciously Skilled to Consciously Skilled or any other category of skill mastery and adapt your training style to where they are at the moment.

So where do you start, you might wonder. On day one, the first FTX your man attends. Make some time before you start to talk to him about his experiences. Get an idea of where he is by observing him with the other men. How does he handle his equipment and weapon? Is he at ease, clumsy, or somewhere in between? Does he seem fit or is he a chain smoker? Is his clothing arranged “hollywood style” or for function? All these factors may help you determine where’s he’s at in skill mastery. Time will be your major measuring tool. As the day wears on, you’ll be able to observe what you need to in order to determine the most effective training style.

Employing this system across the board will provide a large return on the investment of time you and your folks have put into getting themselves ready for what appears to be in the future.


Concerned American said...

Terrific article. Tx!

CorbinKale said...

That was dead on. The only thing I would add is that no one knows everything. Seek subject matter experts in various fields from within your group. Have the RN in your group teach 1st aid, for example. If they are unable to deliver a period of instruction, they can train the trainer and be a great demonstrator as assistant instructor.