No more death by PowerPoint

Extract from Air Law InforGraphic
Extract from Air Law InforGraphic

For the past few months, I have been working on a major project for a drone training company in the UK. The vision of the business owner was to develop a course that was as far removed from what appeared to be common the marketplace. Let me explain.

Some time ago I went through drone training to get my permission for commercial operations from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). There was about 25 of us in the classroom, just like being back at school; being talked at for a day and a half with the instructor reading from 200 or more PowerPoint slides. It was a good thing he was reading from the slides as the text was so small on some I could not from the back of the room. The two-day course included the exam in the afternoon of the second day so the material I had managed to memorise was still fresh enough in my short-term memory, and I managed to pass the exam. This was classic ‘death by PowerPoint’.

Within a few days much of what I had learnt (out of context) I had forgotten. This is a typical shortcoming of the traditional type of instructional course. Reviews of social media sites would suggest that there are still courses being run where candidates have remembered sufficient to pass an exam but then need to ask basic questions on topics such as air law because they too have forgotten, or were not instructed in the material.

An acquaintance who experienced the same training had a vision of setting up an NQE (National Qualified Entity) but one that would do things differently. They knew I came from a learning and development background and asked if it was possible to develop a course that fulfilled the requirements of the CAA but was different from and better than the rest. I made a few suggestions and earlier this year we started to develop the course that would use experiential and accelerated learning techniques.

The first big hurdle was to abandon the reliance on PowerPoint slides. In a conversation, I stressed the importance that the predominant vehicle for candidate learning must be through active engagement with the material and in some sort of context. The client had already devised the idea of a ‘Workflow’ covering all aspects of a project from client enquiry to post project administration. This provided a perfect platform upon which we started to create an experiential learning programme that was integrated across pre-course learning, ground school and operations manual development.

In August, the client had their NQE audit with the CAA where the Air Law module was trialled. The auditors were taken by surprise by the level of engagement and immediately recognised the power of the technique. They commented that this was the first time they had encountered this method and praised the client for their unique approach.

Cognitive bias

I have been writing a handbook to support a CAA approved NQE deliver their drone training course. Part of the remit has been to expand the theoretical and technical material into something more context based and easier to grasp. One topic which is a part of Human Factors (a syllabus requirement indicated in CAP 722) was the introduction of Cognitive Bias and how this might adversely affect the safety of an operation. After a little thought I came up with the following scenario:

On arriving at a site, the remote pilot identifies a good takeoff and landing area. They do not continue to identify other alternative sites. (Anchoring)
The observer on the team points out an alternative location but the remote pilot confirms with the observer that the initial choice is appropriate and dismisses the alternative. (Confirmation)
The remote pilot is experienced with and favours the aircraft of a particular maker and decides to use that aircraft despite it not being the most appropriate. (Halo)
Because the remote pilot is comfortable flying their chosen aircraft, they conduct the flight to showcase their skills rather than meeting the primary client objective. (Self serving)
As a result of selecting an aircraft not best suited to the role, the remote pilot indicates that they can undertake a task within the flight. On attempting that manoeuver the pilot gets into difficulty. (Dunning-Kruger)
The remote pilot has been shown an alternative landing site, more suitable than the primary site, but can’t decide on which to choose. The aircraft ran out of battery power and crashed between the two landing areas. (Cognitive dissonance)