“The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock…”
“This is going to be like drinking from a firehose.”
“Once we start putting out information, we don’t stop. We don’t have time.”
“We have too much information to cover and not enough time, so buckle up. We’re going to hit it hard!”
“We’re going to pack as much information into today as we possibly can.”
“We don’t go backwards in this course, only forwards.”
Do any of these quotes sound familiar? If you’ve been around a while in the shooting and tactical training industry, they probably do. If you’re an instructor, you’ve probably said something similar. In fact, you may say something similar virtually every time you teach.
If you do, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. I know that we’ve done this as instructors on many occasions in years past. In fact, I distinctly recall opening each iteration of an advanced weapons training block for a military unit with a speech about how we were going to pack over a month’s worth of information into a week. And we did—or at least tried to.
There are probably several reasons that instructors do this. It’s not worth attempting to analyze them all here, but the biggest reason is because they really care about their students. We deal in life and death subject matter, even in training. As instructors, we know that if the students don’t learn effectively, they could die—even in training. Most of us have internalized this quite personally at some point in our respective pasts, either as armed professionals, or as concerned citizens, so we take what we do seriously.
All of this is good. Unfortunately, the methods of teaching that sometimes manifest through this burning desire to help our students—those often aren’t so good.
For effect, let’s reiterate something stated above, “As instructors, we know that if the students don’t learn effectively, they could die.” (Emphasis added.)
Let’s assume we agree on that.
It says students must learn effectively; it says nothing about us teaching. Learn. Not teach. Learn.
This might seem like it’s splitting hairs; however, it’s really not. Sure, our teaching impacts the students’ learning. However, teaching is not the same thing as learning. It’s quite possible to be a very good instructor (presenter) and teach very good content, while producing very little in the way of effective learning in the students. In fact, it’s more than possible; it’s common.
We recently completed a series of articles about the civilian training market. One is about various training structures and their impacts on the different aspects of the training industry. Another is focused on how to apply what we know about brain-science to improve outcomes and reduce the chances of negatively impacting student long-term potential when using the common, one-day training structure.
Real world limitations are what they are; sometimes we have to work within them whether we like them or not. However, working inside those limitations aren’t our primary interest at BUILDING SHOOTERS. Instead, our objective is to help drive fundamental change in training design across the industry, change that bypasses these artificial limitations in favor of exploiting the capabilities of the human brain.
Like you, we are passionate about what we do. We also fully recognize, from personal experience, the life and death nature of this subject matter, whether it be for armed professionals, civilians who carry concealed, or simply folks who want to safely own a firearm for recreational purposes. The application doesn’t particularly matter; a fight is a fight and people are people. Whether you’re a Delta Force ninja, a security guard at the mall, or a yuppie in suburbia who goes to the range a few times a year, we all have the same basic brain functions.
This crucial fact is something we often fail to recognize in the world of firearms and tactical training. Part of this is due to training myths, like the one about people having different learning styles. However, just as often it’s because we are simply teaching the same way that things were taught to us, “back in the day.” Monkey see, monkey do. (Please don’t take this as an insult, trust us, we’ve also been the monkey—it’s how we know.)
This is the area in which we want to stage an intervention within the industry.
Here’s a fun fact: all people have brains that pretty much work the same way—and the brain is responsible for learning.
What does this mean to us? It means that if we want to assure that our students learn, we need to understand how their brain works, then use this knowledge to our advantage. For the military folks out there—as a trainer, the student’s brain is the terrain you’re fighting on. If you want to win the fight, it’s critical to know and understand the relevant KOCCOA. (For non-military folks, that’s a military terrain analysis tool.)
Our book Building Shooters, is intended to provide this—a “terrain analysis” of the brain—as well as guidance on how to exploit this knowledge to improve training outcomes through better design and delivery methods.
While we won’t reiterate the book here, one of the things that we discovered during our research into modern brain-science is that putting information into the brain is the result of a specific and consistent sequence. If we want to effectively make our students learn, this brain process is what we need to understand and then apply through our training systems.
If you’re interested in the science, it’s in the book. For purposes of this article, we’ll stick with a simple analogy to highlight the concept. You can think of training like a constructing a foundation for a new home. (Many thanks to Ken Murray of the Reality Based Training Association for brainstorming and coming up with this analogy.)
The first step is to prime the surface. You can’t just slap concrete down; you need to prepare the ground first. It’s the same with the brain. You can’t just throw information at it and expect good results. You have to prime it first.
Next you need to pour the concrete. In training terms, this is the actual teaching component. Once information is primed, and the brain is ready to receive it, it can be taught with far more effectiveness and consistency—so it actually goes into the brain.
After the pouring of the concrete is complete, the next stage is to protect it. Eventually the concrete will cure, and become the equivalent of a man-made rock. It will then support the structure and take a tremendous amount of strain. However, just after it’s poured, it’s extremely vulnerable. Rain, animals, people, vehicles—all can screw it up before it hardens. During this vulnerable time, even concrete needs to be protected. It also needs to be left alone.
It’s the same with the brain. Right after information makes it into the brain, it is extremely vulnerable to disruption. During this vulnerable time-period, it needs to be protected from interference and other factors that can corrupt or erase it. It also needs to be left alone for at least 24 hours so that the brain can conduct its natural processes for transferring the information that needs to be retained into long-term memory.
Finally, if you’re going to use the concrete as a flooring surface, you need to polish it. Concrete surfaces are rough and dusty. They might be structurally sound, but they are not functional as a floor. However, with a little more work, and some continual maintenance, even a poured concrete slab can be turned into a beautifully polished surface.
It’s the same with the brain. Once you get the information into the correct long-term memory system, you have a good foundation, but you still need to make it operationally functional. In training we call this process enhancement, which should involve a preponderance of applied interleaved training methods.
When you think about it, it’s an intuitive, almost absurdly obvious thing.
So, where’s the rub? Why is this different than how most of our training is delivered today?
The simple answer is volume and timing. We currently try to do too much in too short a time. The end-result is that we never really build a solid foundation. In most training programs, students struggle with consistent grip and presentation; they frequently fail to acquire an adequate sight picture frequently under even a minimal amount of stress.
After the training programs? Within a few weeks many students, even those who are attending “advanced” courses, may struggle to even load and unload their weapons safely in some cases, much less employ them with skill. (True story—we’ve seen this first-hand on more than one occasion.)
This usually isn’t because the skills weren’t taught, nor is it because the instructors were fools or didn’t know how to present information effectively. Most often, it’s a result of the training system used.
Too much information is put out in too short a time-period. There’s no priming, and information isn’t protected from the devastating effects of interference. Instead, it’s barreled over by the next subject matter in line and corrupted through progressive interference during well-intentioned training repetitions.
The practical result of these industry standard training methods is that most students very quickly learn a ton of bad-habits that they must invest hundreds or thousands of hours to correct if they ever want to become highly-skilled. In fact, while there is perhaps some hyperbole here, consider that most shooters spend the first 8 hours of their shooting experience learning every bad habit they will ever have. Then, if they want to be good, they spend the next 10 years trying to correct them—if they can get there at all.
Let us reiterate—these harms are usually NOT happening because the instructor is doing something “wrong” in training or teaching bad material. Rather, they occur because the training system itself is fundamentally flawed.
This—the system—is what we need to change, at a fundamental level. Instead of packing as much information as we can into a single training period, we should be using what we know about the brain to build the foundations of gunfighting in a deliberate, methodical, and informed way.
This may mean that we start out slower—but it will not only get us to the destination (operational proficiency) more consistently, it will also get us there faster, with fewer resources.