Students learn through different modalities. These Fairfax County EVOC students can see it in the classroom, hear it from their instructor and then practice behind the wheel. (Photo courtesy Fairfax Police Department)
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Training is something every one wants but often ignores because of other perceived priorities. This shortsighted philosophy can come back to haunt law enforcement agencies. To protect your agency and offi cers from liability when the depth and quality of training is in question during a litigious (read civil damages) situation, you must have documentation and protocols that show your training programs were constructed and conducted properly. Having a training plan makes it easier to gather appropriate resources to ensure that training is provided in a manner that satisfies the requirements of outside accreditation organizations or your agency's internal needs.
In Part 1, I discussed the basic implementation structure for any type of training program, using EVOC as an example. The components of conducting a needs assessment, and determining an instruction goal that addresses your target audience's needs in the proper learning setting apply to any instructional plan. In Part 2, I discuss the importance of understanding learning styles, setting performance objectives and choosing proper instructional modalities.
As human beings, we have many different learning processes. Some of our indi vidual processes are learned at a very young age as we are exposed to various learning styles. Example: A child who reads many books may develop a learning style that relies heavily on the written word to absorb new materials. By contrast, a child whose family is light on books but heavy on hands-on learning may retain a hands-on strategy to learning when older.
When designing a training program, it's vital to develop instructional materials that address many learning styles at once to minimize the risk of student frustration. In differentiated learning, instructors offer many different instruction strategies for one topic.
What do we mean by learning styles? Every student has a teacher who provides information in a format they understand best. This begins with their particular learning style.
The first style is the Visual Learner, which means a student learns by seeing. In EVOC terms, these students have to watch an instructor complete a driving exercise demonstration to understand what they're supposed to do. Telling them or having them do it on their own without a demo doesn't work well. In the classroom, they like PowerPoint presentations, dia grams, white-board explanations and handouts. During a lecture or classroom discussion, visual learners often take detailed notes so they can absorb the information. They like textbooks and training manuals.
The second style is the Auditory Learner, which means the student learns by listening. Lectures, discussions, talking things through and listen ing to what others have to say are very important to these students. Using EVOC training as an example, these are the students who have to hear the instructor explain the exercise and are usually the ones who stand right next to the instructor. They may get little from a handout on the exercise, so these students will ask a lot of questions to gain verbal instruction cues. They also key into instructor responses in terms of tone, pitch, speed and accentuated emphasis on specific content.
The third learning style is the Tactile/Kinesthetic Learner, who learns by doing. These students learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. In EVOC, these students can see it in the classroom and hear it from their instructor's mouth, but they don't really get it until they're behind the wheel and feel it.
For an EVOC training program, accommodating these learning styles requires visual materials, personalized instructor explanations with demonstrations and lots of behind-the-wheel time. It's important to note that all three learning styles can be accommodated in multiple environments. Example: An EVOC instructor could provide a handout with the exercise's written explanation and diagram, then explain the exercise and demonstrate it, followed by the student actually doing the exercise themselves. This scenario would satisfy the needs of visual, auditory and tactile/kinesthetic learners, and wouldn't require more than a sheet of paper, an instructor, a vehicle and a driving area.
Other influences, such as direct, indirect and experiential factors, affect learning, but instructors looking to develop a program can address most learning styles by including visual, auditory and tactile/kinesthetic aspects.
One trap that ill-designed training programs encounter is the lack of clear-cut expectations of what's being measured. It's important to define the performance objectives so instructors and students know what's expected of them. This can be done only after establishing a goal for the training and accounting for learning styles. After all, it's hard to measure a student's ability unless you have a goal in mind and are teaching them in terms they understand.
In Part 1, I offered a general training goal based on a department's need to train its officers on SUV operation. The goal was, "Upon completion of the class, students will possess a clear understanding of the design and operation of department 4WD SUVs in all types of weather, and how to properly use them in the law enforcement environment." This goal defines the general purpose behind the training.
Performance-based objectives are used to assess the students and ensure that proficiency has been attained. These objectives must have a measurable aspect to them because just having an instructor say, "The student gets it," without an incorporated assessment scale and documentation sets the agency up for liability issues.
For our SUV training program's instruction goal, we can establish writ ten performance-based objectives, such as "Given a schematic diagram, students must be able to properly identify (minimum 100%) the top five important com ponents in a vehicular 4WD-system driveline as defined in class." We can also establish tactile/kinesthetic performance-based objectives, such as, "Given a closed-course, perception-reaction driving exercise, students must be able to complete the course at minimum speeds of 25, 30 and 35 mph at least three times at each speed, while choosing the proper lane as directed, without striking the cone markers that delineate the course."
These performance objectives allow students to understand what is expected of them and the instructor to know what the evaluation parameters are. They also make it easier to create and track evaluation documents. If it isn't documented, it didn't happen.
When establishing performance-based objectives, make sure they're relevant to the overall instructional goal, have clear-cut definitions of minimum proficiency and are attainable through your agency's resources.
The instructional modality is simply the primary way the class will be taught. In other words, will the class be taught by video, an instructor, textbook, online? Is there a need for an instructor and face-to-face instruction? Or is the training program self-taught and self-paced in an off-campus environment?
In our EVOC training program, there's a clear need for an instructor and course time. So the instructional modality could be defined as: "The nature of the class requires an instructor-
led course. There will be a need for classroom instruction, behind-the-wheel demonstrations and hazard-simulation exercises that require access to vehicles and a closed-course environment." This statement tells anyone reviewing the program's needs exactly what resources it requires. Always include the instructional modality requirements when constructing your training plan.
Building a training plan, whether it's on EVOC or another law enforcement topic, requires a systematic approach to ensure all bases are covered. The training should be relevant, realistic and achievable, and protect the agency from liability, should any legal issues arise. Program designers need to consider the different learning styles of their students, clearly and measurably define the program's objectives and define the instructional modality.
In Part 3, I'll discuss developing formative and summative assessments, content choice, material resources, instruc tional strategies and proper instructor acquisition. In the meantime, use the concepts outlined so far to continue developing your training protocols.