As part of the 2024 SHOT Show Law Enforcement Education Program Force Science’s Von Kliem and I reinforced the benefits of random practice over block practice in law enforcement skills training. Graduates of VirTra’s Advanced Trainer Certification Course or the Force Science Method of Instruction Course are familiar with the research detailing the advantages of random practice for skill development. For those yet to be exposed to these advanced concepts, this article will outline the importance of random practice and its transformative effects on law enforcement training.
The Traditional Approach: Block Practice
Law enforcement training has primarily relied on block practice for decades. In block practice, a single skill or technique is repeated repetitively before moving on to the next. This path allows the trainee to improve at each repetition of the skill, and most will show improvement over time. While block practice has short term benefits, it falls short in preparing officers for the dynamic and unpredictable nature of real-world policing. Block practice can lead to rote memorization and the illusion of proficiency, but it fails to prepare officers to adapt and apply skills in complex situations.
Random practice involves mixing and varying skill sets in training sessions. With random practice, officers must constantly shift their focus and adapt to different demands, a process that more closely replicates real-life challenges. This method enhances skill transfer, promotes critical thinking, and improves decision-making. Although practice sessions will predictably involve more frequent errors and improper skill choices, the long-term benefits are undeniable.
Advantages of Random Practice for Law Enforcement Training
Adaptability: Random practice better simulates the unpredictable nature of law enforcement situations, preparing officers to respond effectively and swiftly in various scenarios. Instead of telling officers to deploy to a location where they will “draw and fire two rounds,” officers will be required to evaluate the problem, filter the signals, and identify the relevant information for decision-making and skill selection. Random practice fosters the ability to think on your feet and make split-second decisions, skills that are critical in high-pressure situations.
Retention and Transfer: By practicing a range of skills in a diverse and unexpected manner, officers are better able to retain and transfer their knowledge to new situations. Officers rarely get to execute a set play against a predictable offense. Instead, they learn to adjust among effective choice options identified and developed with random practice. This promotes a deeper understanding of the skills’ underlying principles, making it easier to apply them in unfamiliar contexts. Random practice challenges officers to think and problem-solve, improving their overall skill set. It helps them recognize patterns, adapt strategies, and develop a well-rounded approach to handling varied and novel situations.
Conclusion: Bringing Awareness to the Potential of Random Practice
Understanding the benefits of random practice begins with education and awareness. Meaning, to facilitate the highest level of performance and ultimately improve public safety, trainers must first familiarize themselves with the latest research and incorporate random practice into their training programs. By challenging officers with various skill choices, trainers can enhance officers’ adaptability, decision-making, and ability to apply techniques effectively. With random practice, we expect to elevate the skill and the transfer of those skills from the training room to the operating environment. Outcomes that will both protect our officers and the communities they serve.
Join me at SHOT Show next year, where we will continue to discuss the science of learning and the advantages of constraint-led approach to training.
Lon Bartel is the Director of Training and Curriculum for VirTra, a leading-edge simulation and training company which provides products and services within the Military and Law Enforcement space. He relies on over 20 years of law enforcement training experience to improve the performance of the officers and trainers he works with. He was recognized by the State of Arizona P.O.S.T. as a subject matter expert in both firearms and defensive tactics. He is internationally certified as an instructor with the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, where he has won innovation awards. Mr. Bartel has presented at multiple conferences on performance under stress. These presentations were at the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association conference (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022), The International Law Enforcement Training Network, Law Enforcement Education Program (2020 and 2022), and Force Science Annual Conference (2020 and 2022).
Mr. Bartel earned his Master’s degree in Applied Exercise Science from Concordia University-Chicago and his Bachelor’s from Arizona State University in Exercise Sport Science with a concentration in physiology and biochemistry. He holds national certifications with the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He has published peer-reviewed research exploring how weapons and holster combinations affect perception-response times in peace officers and investigating the performance envelope for officers transitioning between lethal and less-lethal weapon platforms.
Mr. Bartel is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in General Psychology with an emphasis in Performance Psychology. He is taking his experience with the physiological aspects of human performance and integrating it with his doctoral work in performance psychology. This multifaceted effort removes a silo approach that can plague high stress/arousal human performance evaluations. His mission is to provide a holistic approach to fast and accurate decision-making and response for our military warfighters and law enforcement officers. Much of this work requires an objective look at the complex problems faced and how best to address them. The goal is to ensure the sanctity of life when possible in law enforcement while making our warfighters better decision-makers in combat.