It should come as no surprise, but most instructors spend a great deal of their time trying to perfect their craft – trying to figure out how to reach the greatest population of students, help their students understand more about the topics under discussion, and of course how to get their students to reliably perform at their best. All while making the process safer, quicker, and more dependable. With so much research these days into the field of education, and emerging topics such as the Adult Learning Model, even a seasoned instructor can become distracted by the many different theories of how people gain an understanding of new information or what approaches work best for providing instruction and facilitating learning. However, throughout my time as a private sector and military instructor, there have been 3 universal techniques that consistently made immediate and measurable improvement in student performance, regardless of their beginning skill level:
1) Do Less, Better.
There is a lot to be said for keeping things simple. The fewer the task steps involved in completing an action or executing a process the less there is to learn and the less there is to screw up. From the student’s perspective it’s easier to memorize and successfully replicate the action or process when starting out. This translates to a student rapidly being able to more accurately and appropriately apply the new skill set to more difficult training evolutions such as being placed under an increasing amount of stress or by forcing the student to adapt the skill set in a dynamic scenario.
From the instructor’s point of view, it means a quicker diagnosis of where a student is having a problem or, just as important, in pointing out what they’re doing right. Therefore, in a set training period less time is spent on remediation and more emphasis can be placed on higher level application drills to challenge and exercise the new skill set.
This technique isn’t just limited to individual task steps; it’s a training philosophy that can be applied to an entire course curriculum or even across multiple disciplines. For example, a few years ago it wasn’t uncommon for even major metropolitan police departments to teach their officers several different stances when employing different lethal and non-lethal weapon systems – batons were employed from a bladed off stance, while handguns were supposed to be shot from a square combat stance. These unnecessarily complicated methods of instruction meant officers were actually building inappropriate muscle memory which delayed their deployment of a handgun if a situation escalated to the need for lethal force. A more common example for the average shooter is the idea that you should ever “administratively” load your gun before firing rather than treating every non-tactical reload as an Emergency Reload. Sure, you don’t need to execute it at full combat speed. But even casually completing the steps for an Emergency Reload helps maintain the muscle memory.
Finally, any technique, action, or process that can be used as part of another technique, action, or process should be. Not only does it help a student relate their known experiences to a new/unknown skill set, but it ensures maximum positive habit transfer with minimal possibility for error. Let’s revisit that Emergency Reload for a moment. If I build the appropriate muscle memory to roll into the Working Space, drop the empty magazine free, reload, and sling shot the slide forward… all I have to do in order to properly conduct Immediate Action for a malfunction is modify the task steps to exclude dropping the magazine free, and modify the reload to simply slapping the magazine. That’s a process which is essentially 75% identical, meaning I’ve built 2 critical skills with only 25% more effort.
2) Do This… Then That.
“Blending” is a common error I know we are all guilty of committing, no matter what your skill level or experience. Blending occurs when an individual treats a multi-step process as one continuous action with no discernible individual actions. Take for example the proper concealed carry draw which the MWP teaches as five individual steps: Cover, Clear, Draw, Join, Extend. When a new shooter is learning to conduct a concealed carry draw the most common tendency is for them to blend the Clear step with the Draw step. We see this manifest whenever the cover garment is either never actually moved completely out of the draw path or the clothing falls down over the handgun before a combat grip can be established which ends up tangling the gun and preventing a safe, quick, effective Draw.
This can also be seen with shooting drills like the “Movement Off-Line” drill – during which the shooter faces a Tueller style charge and must move off the aggressor’s line of advance and draw their firearm to engage the threat. All too often you’ll see shooters combining the movement with the draw and they end up tangling their gun because they didn’t properly clear their cover garment or they become overwhelmed with the complex combination of gross and fine motor skills which delays their presentation. When you make your students address the individual steps as separate consecutive actions they are much more likely to perform each one correctly.
Yes, blending has its place. And with a solid foundation and multiple repetitions of practice we can begin to identify shortcuts in a process or action that many not only be at times appropriate, but necessary when applying a skill set to a real world scenario. However, for those learning a new skill or knocking the rust off, blending can be very counterproductive, frustrating, and even sometimes a little dangerous.
3) The Say and Do Method.
The “Say and Do Method” is a tool an instructor can use to bridge the gap between the philosophical purpose behind the “Do This… Then That” approach to training with the practical application of a new or complex skill.
It’s pretty simple. All you do is clearly define the overall process by way of specific and distinct task steps, and then begin working through the process by the numbers, saying out loud the name of whatever step it is you are accomplishing at the time (think military Drill & Ceremony… only for doing something much cooler than the 15 Count Manual Arms).
This method forces a student to focus on each step individually long enough to actually verbalize it in order to ensure correct performance and proper sequencing. What’s even better is that it works regardless of the skill being learned from shooting, combatives, or flying, to trouble shooting a loss of air while SCUBA diving. As the skill develops, emphasis is placed on never performing any step in the process faster than it can be done correctly. Eventually you will see a decrease in the time it takes to execute a task and equally important, a decrease in the number of errors made during each iteration. And yes, you stop saying the steps out loud once you’ve got a firm grasp on the overall TTP – you don’t want to look like a weirdo at the range now, do you?