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Chapter 1 | Human Behavior

Chapter 1

Human Behavior

Derek’s student Jason is very smart and able to retain a lot of information, but has a tendency to rush through the less exciting material and shows interest and attentiveness only when doing tasks that he finds to be interesting. This concerns Derek because he is worried that Jason will overlook many important details and rush through procedures. For a homework assignment Jason was told to take a very thorough look at Preflight Procedures, and that for his next flight lesson, they would discuss each step in detail. As Derek predicted, Jason found this assignment to be boring and was not prepared. Derek knows that Jason is a “thrill seeker” as he talks about his business, which is a wilderness adventure company. Derek must find a way to keep Jason focused and help him find excitement in all areas of learning so that he will understand the complex art of flying and aircraft safety.


This chapter discusses human behavior and how it affects the learning process. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge or understanding of a subject or skill through education, experience, practice, or study. A change of behavior results from learning. To successfully bring about learning, the instructor must know why people act the way they do, how people learn, and then use this understanding to teach. The study of applied educational psychology underlies the information and theories that are discussed. To be an effective instructor, knowledge of human behavior, basic human needs, the defense mechanisms humans use that prevent learning, as well as how adults learn is essential for organizing student activities and promoting a productive learning experience for students.

Definitions of Human Behavior

The study of human behavior is an attempt to explain how and why humans function the way they do. A complex topic, human behavior is a product both of innate human nature and of individual experience and environment. Definitions of human behavior abound, depending on the field of study. In the scientific world, human behavior is seen as the product of factors that cause people to act in predictable ways.

For example, speaking in public is very high on the list of fears modern humans have. While no two people react the same to any given fear, fear itself does trigger certain innate biological responses in humans such as an increase in breathing rate. How a person handles that fear is a product of individual experiences. The person who has never spoken in public may be unable to fulfill the obligation. Another person, knowing his or her job requires public speaking, may chose to take a class on public speaking to learn how to cope with the fear.

Human behavior is also defined as the result of attempts to satisfy certain needs. These needs may be simple to understand and easy to identify, such as the need for food and water. They also may be complex, such as the need for respect and acceptance. A working knowledge of human behavior can help an instructor better understand a student. It is also helpful to remember that to a large extent thoughts, feelings, and behavior are shared by all men or women, despite seemingly large cultural differences. For example, fear causes humans to either fight or flee. In the public speaking example above, one person may “flee” by not fulfilling the obligation. The other person may “fight” by learning techniques to deal with fear.

Another definition of human behavior focuses on the typical life course of humans. This approach emphasizes human development or the successive phases of growth in which human behavior is characterized by a distinct set of physical, physiological, and behavioral features. The thoughts, feelings, and behavior of an infant differ radically from those of a teen. Research shows that as an individual matures, his or her mode of action moves from dependency to self-direction. Therefore, the age of the student impacts how the instructor designs the curriculum. Since the average age of a student can vary, the instructor needs to offer a curriculum that addresses the varying student tendency to self-direct. [Figure 1-1]

Figure 1-1. The average age of a student pilot is 34, while the average age of a maintenance student is 25.

By observing human behavior, an instructor can gain the knowledge needed to better understand him or herself as an instructor as well as the learning needs of students. Understanding human behavior leads to successful instruction.

Personality Types

In a continuing quest to figure out why humans do what they do, the mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers pioneered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test in 1962. The MBTI was based on Jungian theory, previous research into personality traits, and lengthy personal observations of human behavior by Myers and Briggs. They believed that much seemingly random variation in human behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment. They distilled human behavior into sixteen distinct personality types. Inspired by their research, clinical psychologist and author, Dr. David Keirsey condensed their sixteen types into four groups he calls Guardian, Artisan, Rational, and Idealist. Others have either contributed or continued to expand personality research and its influence on human behavior. Personality type testing now runs the gamut from helping people make career choices to helping people choose marriage partners.

Instructor and Student Relationship

How does personality type testing affect instructors and students? Research has led many educational psychologists to feel that based on personality type, everyone also has an individual style of learning. In this theory, working with that style, rather than against it, benefits both instructor and student. Although controversy often swirls around the educational benefits of teaching students according to personality types, it has gained a large following and been implemented at many levels of education. Today’s student can visit any number of websites, take a personality test, and discover what type of student he or she is and how best to study.

Not only does personality type influence how one learns, it also influences how one teaches. Learning one’s personality type helps an instructor recognize how he or she instructs. Why is it important to recognize personal instruction style? The match or mismatch between the way an instructor teaches and the way a student learns contributes to student satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Students whose learning styles are compatible with the teaching styles of an instructor tend to retain information longer, apply it more effectively, learn more, and have a more positive attitude toward the course in general. Although an instructor cannot change his or her preferred style of teaching to match a learning style, steps can be taken to actively bridge the differences.

Consider Derek’s dilemma with Jason. Derek knows he is the type of instructor who provides a clear, precise syllabus and has a tendency to explain with step-by-step procedures. His teaching style relies on traditional techniques and he often finds himself teaching as he was taught. Observation leads Derek to believe Jason is the type of person who needs the action, excitement, and variation reflected in his career choice. In an effort to focus Jason on the need to learn all aspects of flight, Derek sets up a scenario for the day that features how to scout locations for future adventure tours.

By adjusting the flight scenario, Derek pushes himself out of his lock-step approach to teaching. He has also added an element of variation to the lesson that not only interests Jason, but is one of the reasons he wants to learn to fly.

Human Needs and Motivation

Human needs are things all humans require for normal growth and development. These needs have been studied by psychologists and categorized in a number of ways. Henry A. Murray, one of the founders of personality psychology who was active in developing a theory of motivation, identified a list of core psychological needs in 1938. He described these needs as being either primary (based on biological needs, such as the need for food) or secondary (generally psychological, such as the need for independence). Murray believed the interplay of these needs produce distinct personality types and are internal influences on behavior.

Murray’s research underpins the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow who also studied human needs, motivation, and personality. While working with monkeys during his early years of research, he noticed that some needs take precedence over others. For example, thirst is relieved before hunger because the need for water is a stronger need than the need for food. In 1954, Maslow published what has become known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which remains valid today for understanding human motivation. [Figure 1-2] According to Maslow, human needs go beyond the obvious physical needs of food and shelter to include psychological needs, safety and security, love and belongingness, self esteem, and self actualization to achieve one’s goals.

Figure 1-2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Human needs are satisfied in order of importance. Once a need is satisfied, humans work to satisfy the next level of need. Need satisfaction is an ongoing behavior that determines everyday actions.

Human Needs That Must Be Met To Encourage Learning


These are biological needs. They consist of the need for air, food, water, and maintenance of the human body. If a student is unwell, then little else matters. Unless the biological needs are met, a person cannot concentrate fully on learning, self-expression, or any other tasks. Instructors should monitor their students to make sure that their basic physical needs have been met. A hungry or tired student may not be able to perform as expected.


Once the physiological needs are met, the need for security becomes active. All humans have a need to feel safe. Security needs are about keeping oneself from harm. If a student does not feel safe, he or she cannot concentrate on learning. The aviation instructor who stresses flight safety during training mitigates feelings of insecurity.


When individuals are physically comfortable and do not feel threatened, they seek to satisfy their social needs of belonging. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection, and the sense of belonging. For example, aviation students are usually out of their normal surroundings during training, and their need for association and belonging is more pronounced. Instructors should make every effort to help new students feel at ease and to reinforce their decision to pursue a career or hobby in aviation.


When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the need for esteem can become dominant. Humans have a need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect and respect from others. Esteem is about feeling good about one’s self. Humans get esteem in two ways: internally or externally. Internally, a person judges himself or herself worthy by personally defined standards. High self-esteem results in self-confidence, independence, achievement, competence, and knowledge.

Most people, however, seek external esteem through social approval and esteem from other people, judging themselves by what others think of them. External self-esteem relates to one’s reputation, such as status, recognition, appreciation, and respect of associates.

When esteem needs are satisfied, a person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless, and worthless. Esteem needs not only have a strong influence on the instructor-student relationship, but also may be the main reason for a student’s interest in aviation training. 

Cognitive and Aesthetic

In later years, Maslow added cognitive (need to know and understand) and aesthetic (the emotional need of the artist) needs to the pyramid. He realized humans have a deep need to understand what is going on around them. If a person understands what is going on, he or she can either control the situation or make informed choices about what steps might be taken next. The brain even reinforces this need by giving humans a rush of dopamine whenever something is learned, which accounts for that satisfying “eureka!” moment. For example, a flight student usually experiences a major “eureka!” moment upon completing the first solo flight. 

Aesthetic needs connect directly with human emotions, which makes it a subtle factor in the domain of persuasion. When someone likes another person, a house, a painting, or a song, the reasons are not examined—he or she simply likes it. This need can factor into the student-instructor relationship. If an instructor does not “like” a student, this subtle feeling may affect the instructor’s ability to teach that student.


When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do.” To paraphrase an old Army recruiting slogan, self-actualization is to “be all you can be.”

Self-actualized people are characterized by:

  • Being problem-focused.

  • Incorporating an ongoing freshness of appreciation of life.

  • A concern about personal growth.

  • The ability to have peak experiences.

Helping a student achieve his or her individual potential in aviation training offers the greatest challenge as well as reward to the instructor.

Instructors should help students satisfy their human needs in a manner that creates a healthy learning environment. In this type of environment, students experience fewer frustrations and, therefore, can devote more attention to their studies. Fulfillment of needs can be a powerful motivation in complex learning situations.

Human Nature and Motivation

Human nature refers to the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits shared by all humans. Motivation (discussed more fully in Chapter 2, The Learning Process) is the reason one acts or behaves in a certain way and lies at the heart of goals. A goal is the object of a person’s effort.

Consider Jason, who came to aviation because he wanted to participate more actively in another realm of his business. Derek needs to capitalize on this motivation to keep Jason interested in the step-by-step procedures that must be learned in order to fly safely. There is a gap between Jason and his goal of earning a pilot certificate. It is Derek’s job to close the gap. The successful instructor channels student motivation and guides the student toward the goal of learning aviation skills through education, experience, practice, and study.

Building on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, social psychologist Douglas McGregor set out two opposing assumptions about human nature and motivation in 1960. [Figure 1-3] Although McGregor’s famous X-Y Theory was designed for use in human resource management, it offers information about how people view human behavior at work and organizational life which makes it useful for aviation instructors.

Figure 1-3. Douglas McGregor developed a philosophical view of humankind with his Theory X and Theory Y in 1960. These are two opposing perceptions about how people view human behavior at work and organizational life.

Theory X assumes that management’s role is to coerce and control employees because people need control and direction. Managers who think in Theory X terms believe people have an inherent dislike for work, avoid it whenever possible, and must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment in order to get them to achieve the objectives.

McGregor believed these assumptions were false, that the role of managers (or instructors) is to develop the potential in employees (students) and help them to release that potential toward common goals. This view of humans he termed “Theory Y” and holds that:

  • Work is as natural as play and rest. The average person does not inherently dislike work. Depending on conditions, work may be a source of satisfaction and, if so, it is performed voluntarily. On the other hand, when work is a form of punishment, it is avoided, if possible.

  • People exercise self-direction if they are committed to the goals (they are not lazy).

  • Commitment to goals relates directly to the rewards associated with their achievement.

  • People learn to accept and seek responsibility. Shirking responsibility and lack of ambition are not inherent in human nature, but are usually the consequences of experience.

  • Creativity, ingenuity, and imagination are widely distributed among the population. People are capable of using these abilities to solve problems.

  • People have potential.

Since it is human nature to be motivated, the responsibility for discovering how to realize the potential of the student lies with the instructor. How to mold a solid, healthy, productive relationship with a student depends on the instructor’s knowledge of human behavior and needs. Being able to recognize factors that inhibit the learning process also helps the instructor in this process.

Human Factors That Inhibit Learning

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms can be biological or psychological. The biological defense mechanism is a physiological response that protects or preserves organisms. For example, when humans experience a danger or a threat, the “fight or flight” response kicks in. Adrenaline and other chemicals are activated and physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure occur.

An example of this might occur when an anxious student pilot is learning to place the aircraft (helicopter) in an autorotative descent, which is used in the event of engine failure or tail rotor failure. Emergency procedure training is necessary to practice as the outcome of a true emergency is directly related to the pilot’s ability to react instantly and correctly, and in taking the proper corrective action since there may be limited time to analyze the problem. The anxiety that the student pilot may feel while practicing such maneuvers may resolve itself into a “fight or flight” response.

The instructor needs to recognize the student’s apprehension about performing the autorotation and help the student gain the necessary skill level to feel comfortable with the maneuver. In this case, the instructor could take the procedure apart and demonstrate each stage of an autorotation. Allowing the student to then practice the stages at various heights should instill the confidence needed to perform the autorotation.

Sigmund Freud introduced the psychological concept of the ego defense mechanism in 1894. The ego defense mechanism is an unconscious mental process to protect oneself from anxiety, unpleasant emotions, or to provide a refuge from a situation with which the individual cannot currently cope. For example, someone who blots out the memory of being physically assaulted is using a defense mechanism. People use these defenses to prevent unacceptable ideas or impulses from entering the conscience. Defense mechanisms soften feelings of failure, alleviate feelings of guilt, help an individual cope with reality, and protect one’s self-image. [Figure 1-4]

Figure 1-4. Several common defense mechanisms may apply to aviation students.

When anxiety occurs, the mind tries to solve the problem or find an escape, but if these tactics do not work, defense mechanisms are triggered. Defense mechanisms share two common properties:

  • They often appear unconsciously.

  • They tend to distort, transform, or otherwise falsify reality.

Because reality is distorted, perception changes, which allows for a lessening of anxiety, with a corresponding reduction in tension. Repression and denial are two primary defense mechanisms.


Repression is the defense mechanism whereby a person places uncomfortable thoughts into inaccessible areas of the unconscious mind. Things a person is unable to cope with now are pushed away, to be dealt with at another time, or hopefully never because they faded away on their own accord. The level of repression can vary from temporarily forgetting an uncomfortable thought to amnesia, where the events that triggered the anxiety are deeply buried. Repressed memories do not disappear and may reappear in dreams or slips of the tongue (“Freudian slips”). For example, a student pilot may have a repressed fear of flying that inhibits his or her ability to learn how to fly.


Denial is a refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening. It is the refusal to acknowledge what has happened, is happening, or will happen. It is a form of repression through which stressful thoughts are banned from memory. Related to denial is minimization. When a person minimizes something, he or she accepts what happened, but in a diluted form.

For example, the instructor finds a screwdriver on the wing of an aircraft the maintenance student was repairing and explains the hazards of foreign object damage (FOD). The student, unwilling to accept the reality that his or her inattention could have caused an aircraft accident, denies having been in a hurry the previous day. Or, the student minimizes the incident, accepting he or she left the tool but pointing out that nothing bad happened as a result of the action. 

Other defense mechanisms include but are not limited to the following:


Compensation is a process of psychologically counterbalancing perceived weaknesses by emphasizing strength in other areas. Through compensation, students often attempt to disguise the presence of a weak or undesirable quality by emphasizing a more positive one. The “I’m not a fighter, I’m a lover” philosophy can be an example of compensation. Compensation involves substituting success in a realm of life other than the realm in which the person suffers a weakness.


Through projection, an individual places his or her own unacceptable impulses onto someone else. A person relegates the blame for personal shortcomings, mistakes, and transgressions to others or attributes personal motives, desires, characteristics, and impulses to others. The student pilot who fails a flight exam and says, “I failed because I had a poor examiner” believes the failure was not due to a lack of personal skill or knowledge. This student projects blame onto an “unfair” examiner.


Rationalization is a subconscious technique for justifying actions that otherwise would be unacceptable. When true rationalization takes place, individuals sincerely believe in the plausible and acceptable excuses which seem real and justifiable. For example, a student mechanic performs poorly on a test. He or she may justify the poor grade by claiming there was not enough time to learn the required information. The student does not admit to failing to join the class study group or taking the computer quiz offered by the instructor.

Reaction Formation

In reaction formation a person fakes a belief opposite to the true belief because the true belief causes anxiety. The person feels an urge to do or say something and then actually does or says something that is the opposite of what he or she really wants. For example, a student may develop a who-cares-how-other-people-feel attitude to cover up feelings of loneliness and a hunger for acceptance.


Fantasy occurs when a student engages in daydreams about how things should be rather than doing anything about how things are. The student uses his or her imagination to escape from reality into a fictitious world—a world of success or pleasure. This provides a simple and satisfying escape from problems, but if a student gets sufficient satisfaction from daydreaming, he or she may stop trying to achieve goals altogether. Perhaps the transitioning pilot is having trouble mastering a more complex aircraft, which jeopardizes his or her dream of becoming an airline pilot. It becomes easier to daydream about the career than to achieve the certification. Lost in the fantasy, the student spends more time dreaming about being a successful airline pilot than working toward the goal. When carried to extremes, the worlds of fantasy and reality can become so confused that the dreamer cannot distinguish one from the other.


This defense mechanism results in an unconscious shift of emotion, affect, or desire from the original object to a more acceptable, less threatening substitute. Displacement avoids the risk associated with feeling unpleasant emotions and puts them somewhere other than where they belong. For example, the avionics student is angry with the instructor over a grade received, but fears displaying the anger could cause the instructor to lower the grade. The student might choose to express the anger but redirects it toward another, safer person such as a spouse. Maybe the student yells at the spouse, but the student knows the spouse either forgives the anger or ignores it. The student is allowed to express anger without risking failure in a class.

Psychology textbooks or online references offer more in-depth information about defense mechanisms. While most defense mechanisms fall within the realm of normal behavior and serve a useful purpose, in some cases they may be associated with mental health problems. Defense mechanisms involve some degree of self-deception and distortion of reality. Thus, they alleviate the symptoms, not the causes, and do not solve problems. Moreover, because defense mechanisms operate on an unconscious level, they are not subject to normal conscious checks and balances. Once an individual realizes there is a conscious reliance on one of these devices, behavior ceases to be an unconscious adjustment mechanism and becomes, instead, an ineffective way of satisfying a need.

It may be difficult for an instructor to identify excessive reliance on defense mechanisms by a student, but a personal crisis or other stressful event is usually the cause. For example, a death in the family, a divorce, or even a failing grade on an important test may trigger harmful defensive reactions. Physical symptoms such as a change in personality, angry outbursts, depression, or a general lack of interest may point to a problem. Drug or alcohol abuse also may become apparent. Less obvious indications may include social withdrawal, preoccupation with certain ideas, or an inability to concentrate.

An instructor needs to be familiar with typical defense mechanisms and have some knowledge of related behavioral problems. A perceptive instructor can help by using common sense and discussing the problem with the student. The main objective should be to restore motivation and self-confidence. It should be noted that the human psyche is fragile and could be damaged by inept measures. Therefore, in severe cases involving the possibility of deep psychological problems, timely and skillful help is needed. In this event, the instructor should recommend that the student use the services of a professional counselor.

Student Emotional Reactions

While it is not necessary for a flight instructor to be a certified psychologist, it is helpful to learn how to analyze student behavior before and during each flight lesson. This ability helps a flight instructor develop and use appropriate techniques for instruction.


Anxiety is probably the most significant psychological factor affecting flight instruction. This is true because flying is a potentially threatening experience for those who are not accustomed to flying and the fear of falling is universal in human beings. Anxiety also is a factor in maintenance training because lives may depend on consistently doing the job right the first time. The following paragraphs are primarily concerned with flight instruction and student reactions.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, often about something that is going to happen, typically something with an uncertain outcome. It results from the fear of anything, real or imagined, which threatens the person who experiences it, and may have a potent effect on actions and the ability to learn from perceptions.

The responses to anxiety range from a hesitancy to act to the impulse to do something even if it’s wrong. Some people affected by anxiety react appropriately, adequately, and more rapidly than they would in the absence of threat. Many, on the other hand, may freeze and be incapable of doing anything to correct the situation that has caused their anxiety. Others may do things without rational thought or reason.

Both normal and abnormal reactions to anxiety are of concern to the flight instructor. The normal reactions are significant because they indicate a need for special instruction to relieve the anxiety. The abnormal reactions are even more important because they may signify a deep-seated problem.

Anxiety can be countered by reinforcing the students’ enjoyment of flying and by teaching them to cope with their fears. An effective technique is to treat fears as a normal reaction, rather than ignoring them. Keep in mind that anxiety for student pilots is usually associated with certain types of flight operations and maneuvers. Instructors should introduce these maneuvers with care, so that students know what to expect and what their reactions should be. When introducing stalls, for example, instructors should first review the aerodynamic principles and explain how stalls affect flight characteristics. Then, carefully describe the physical sensations to be expected, as well as the recovery procedures.

Student anxiety can be minimized throughout training by emphasizing the benefits and pleasurable experiences that can be derived from flying, rather than by continuously citing the unhappy consequences of faulty performances. Safe flying practices should be presented as conducive to satisfying, efficient, uninterrupted operations, rather than as necessary only to prevent catastrophe.

Normal Reactions to Stress

As mentioned earlier in the chapter, when a threat is recognized or imagined, the brain alerts the body. The adrenal gland activates hormones, which prepare the body to meet the threat or to retreat from it—the fight or flight syndrome.

Normal individuals begin to respond rapidly and exactly, within the limits of their experience and training. Many responses are automatic, highlighting the need for proper training in emergency operations prior to an actual emergency. The affected individual thinks rationally, acts rapidly, and is extremely sensitive to all aspects of the surroundings.

Abnormal Reactions to Stress

Reactions to stress may produce abnormal responses in some people. With them, response to anxiety or stress may be completely absent or at least inadequate. Their responses may be random or illogical, or they may do more than is called for by the situation.

During flight instruction, instructors are normally the only ones who can observe students when they are under pressure. Instructors, therefore, are in a position to differentiate between safe and unsafe piloting actions. Instructors also may be able to detect potential psychological problems. The following student reactions are indicative of abnormal reactions to stress. None of them provides an absolute indication, but the presence of any of them under conditions of stress is reason for careful instructor evaluation.

  • Inappropriate reactions, such as extreme over-cooperation, painstaking self-control, inappropriate laughter or singing, and very rapid changes in emotions.

  • Marked changes in mood on different lessons, such as excellent morale followed by deep depression.

  • Severe anger directed toward the flight instructor, service personnel, and others.

In difficult situations, flight instructors must carefully examine student responses and their own responses to the students. These responses may be the normal products of a complex learning situation, but they also can be indicative of psychological abnormalities that inhibit learning or are potentially very hazardous to future piloting operations. [Figure 1-5]

Figure 1-5. A student with marked changes in mood during different lessons, such as excellent morale followed by deep depression, is indicative of an abnormal reaction to stress.

Flight Instructor Actions Regarding Seriously Abnormal Students

A flight instructor who believes a student may be suffering from a serious psychological abnormality has a responsibility to refrain from instructing that student. In addition, a flight instructor has the personal responsibility of assuring that such a person does not continue flight training or become certificated as a pilot. To accomplish this, the following steps are available:

  • If an instructor believes that a student may have a disqualifying psychological defect, arrangements should be made for another instructor, who is not acquainted with the student, to conduct an evaluation flight. After the flight, the two instructors should confer to determine whether they agree that further investigation or action is justified.

  • The flight instructor’s primary legal responsibility concerns the decision whether to endorse the student to be competent for solo flight operations, or to make a recommendation for the practical test leading to certification as a pilot. If, after consultation with an unbiased instructor, the instructor believes that the student may have a serious psychological deficiency, such endorsements and recommendations must be withheld.

Teaching the Adult Student

While aviation instructors teach students of all ages, the average aviation student age is 30 years old. This means the aviation instructor needs to be versed in the needs of adult students. The field of adult education is relatively young, having been established in the late twentieth century by Dr. Malcolm Knowles. His research revealed certain traits that need to be recognized when teaching adult students as well as ways instructors can use these traits to teach older students.

Adults as learners possess the following characteristics:

  • Adults who are motivated to seek out a learning experience do so primarily because they have a use for the knowledge or skill being sought. Learning is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

  • Adults seek out learning experiences in order to cope with specific life-changing events—marriage, divorce, a new job. They are ready to learn when they assume new roles.

  • Adults are autonomous and self-directed; they need to be independent and exercise control.

  • Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge and draw upon this reservoir of experience for learning.

  • Adults are goal oriented.

  • Adults are relevancy oriented. Their time perspective changes from one of postponed knowledge application to immediate application.

  • Adults are practical, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work.

  • As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect.

  • The need to increase or maintain a sense of self-esteem is a strong secondary motivator for adult learners.

  • Adults want to solve problems and apply new knowledge immediately.

Instructors should:

  • Provide a training syllabus (see Chapter 8, Planning Instructional Activity) that is organized with clearly defined course objectives to show the student how the training helps him or her attain specific goals.

  • Help students integrate new ideas with what they already know to ensure they keep and use the new information.

  • Assume responsibility only for his or her own expectations, not for those of students. It is important to clarify and articulate all student expectations early on.

  • Recognize the student’s need to control pace and start/stop time.

  • Take advantage of the adult preference to self-direct and self-design learning projects by giving the student frequent scenario based training (SBT) opportunities.

  • Remember that self-direction does not mean isolation. Studies of self-directed learning indicate self-directed projects involve other people as resources, guides, etc.

  • Use books, programmed instruction, and computers which are popular with adult learners.

  • Refrain from “spoon-feeding” the student.

  • Set a cooperative learning climate.

  • Create opportunities for mutual planning.

An aviation student may be the retired business executive who always wanted to learn how to fly, an Army helicopter pilot who wants to learn how to fly an airplane, or a former automobile mechanic who decides to pursue avionics. These students may be financially stressed, or they may be financially secure. They may be healthy, but they may be experiencing such age-related problems as diminished hearing or eyesight. Whatever the personal circumstances of the student, he or she wants the learning experience to be problem-oriented, personalized, and the instructor to be accepting of the student’s need for self-direction and personal responsibility.

Chapter Summary

This chapter discussed how human behavior affects learning, human needs that must be met before students can learn, defense mechanisms students use to prevent learning, how adults learn, and the flight instructor’s role in determining a student’s future in the aviation community. For more information on these topics, it is recommended the instructor read a general educational psychology text or visit one of the many online sites devoted to education.