In 1966, the McMaster University School of Medicine in Canada pioneered a new approach to teaching and curriculum design called problem-based learning (PBL). In the intervening years, PBL has helped shift the focus of learning from an instructor-centered approach to a student-centered approach. There are many definitions for PBL, but for the purposes of this handbook, it is defined as the type of learning environment in which lessons are structured in such a way as to confront students with problems encountered in real life that force them to reach real world solutions.
PBL starts with a carefully constructed problem to which there is no single solution. The benefit of PBL lies in helping the learner gain a deeper understanding of the information and in the learner improving his or her ability to recall the information. This results when the material is presented as an authentic problem in a situated environment that allows the learner to “make meaning” of the information based on his or her past experience and personal interpretation. This type of problem encourages the development of HOTS, which include cognitive processes such as problem solving and decision-making, as well as the cognitive skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
Developing good problems that motivate, focus, and initiate student learning are an important component of PBL.
- Relate to the real world so students want to solve them.
- Require students to make decisions.
- Are open ended and not limited to one correct answer.
- Are connected to previously learned knowledge as well as new knowledge.
- Reflect lesson objective(s).
- Challenge students to think critically.
Teaching Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)
Risk management, ADM, automation management, situational awareness, and Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) awareness are the skills encompassed by HOTS. To teach the cognitive skills needed in making decisions and judgments effectively, an instructor should incorporate analysis, synthesis, and evaluation into lessons using PBL. HOTS should be taught throughout the curriculum from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract.
Basic approach to teaching HOTS:
- Set up the problem.
- Determine learning outcomes for the problem.
- Solve the problem or task.
- Reflect on problem-solving process.
- Consider additional solutions through guided discovery.
- Reevaluate solution with additional options.
- Reflect on this solution and why it is the best solution.
- Consider what “best” means (is it situational).
Types of Problem-Based Instruction
While there are many variations as to how a problem-based lesson might work, it usually involves an incentive or need to solve the problem, a decision on how to find a solution, a possible solution, an explanation for the reasons used to reach that solution, and then reflection on the solution. Three types of problem-based instruction are discussed: scenario based, collaborative problem-solving, and case study.
Scenario-Based Training Method (SBT)
SBT uses a highly structured script of real-world experiences to address aviation training objectives in an operational environment. It is a realistic situation that allows the student to rehearse mentally for a situation and requires practical application of various bits of knowledge. Such training can include initial training, transition training, upgrade training, recurrent training, and special training. Because improper pilot decisions cause a significant percentage of all accidents and the majority of fatal accidents in light single- and twin-engine aircraft, SBT challenges the student or transitioning pilot with a variety of flight scenarios with the goal of reducing accidents. These scenarios require the pilot to manage the resources available in the flight deck, exercise sound judgment, and make timely decisions. Since it has been documented that students learn more effectively when actively involved in the learning process, SBT is also used to train AMTs.
The aviation instructor is the key to successful SBT and the overall learning objective in this method of training delivery is for the student to be more ready to exercise sound judgment and make good decisions. The scenario may not have one right or one wrong answer, which reflects situations faced in the real world. It is important for the instructor to understand in advance which outcomes are positive and/or negative and give the student freedom to make both good and poor decisions without jeopardizing safety. This allows the student to make decisions that fit his or her experience level and result in positive outcomes.
Once the class has mastered the ability to compute weight and balance, Bob decides to give them the following scenario with the objective of teaching them how to reconfigure weight and balance in the real world. A customer wants a tail strobe light installed on his Piper Cherokee 180. How will this installation affect the weight and balance of the aircraft?
Since the student must remove the position light, install a power supply, and also install the tail strobe light, he or she needs to make several decisions that effect the final weight and balance of the aircraft. The real world problem forces the student to analyze, evaluate, and make decisions about the procedures required.
For the flight instructor, a good scenario tells a story that begins with a reason to fly because a pilot’s decisions differ depending on the motivation to fly. For example, Mark’s closest friends bought him a ticket for a playoff game at their alma mater and they paid him to rent an airplane. He is flying the four of them to the “big” football game. Another friend is planning to meet them at the airport and drive everyone to the game and back.
Mark has strong motivation to fly his friends to the game so he keys up College Airport AWOS which reports clear and unrestricted visibility. His flight is a go, yet, 15 miles from College Airport he descends to 1,000 feet to stay below the lowering clouds and encounters rain and lowering visibility to 3 miles. The terrain is flat farmland with no published obstacles. What will he do now?
Remember, a good inflight scenario is more than an hour of flight time; it is also a learning experience. SBT is a powerful tool because the future is unpredictable and there is no way to train a pilot for every combination of events that may happen in the future.
A good scenario:
- Is not a test;
- Will not have one, right answer;
- Does not offer an obvious answer;
- Should not promote errors; and
- Should promote situational awareness and opportunities for decision-making.
Collaborative Problem-Solving Method
Collaboration (two or more people working together) to solve problems has been used throughout time. In education, the collaborative problem-solving method combines collaboration with problem solving when the instructor provides a problem to a group who then solves it. The instructor provides assistance when needed, but he or she needs to remember that learning to solve the problem or task without assistance is part of the learning process. This method uses collaboration and can be modified for an interactive one-on-one learning situation such as an independent aviation instructor might encounter. The instructor provides the problem to the student, offering only limited assistance as the student solves it, but participating in finding solutions. Once again, open-ended “what if” problems encourage the students an opportunity to develop HOTS.
Case Study Method
A case study is a written or oral account of a real world situation that contains a message that educates the student. An increasingly popular form of teaching, the case study contains a story relative to the student that forces him or her to deal with situations encountered in real life.
The instructor presents the case to the students who then analyze it, come to conclusions, and offer possible solutions. Effective case studies require the student to use critical thinking skills.
An excellent source of real-world case studies for flight instructors can be found at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) where descriptions of more than 140,000 aviation accidents are located. By removing the NTSB’s determination of probable cause, a flight instructor can use the description as a case study. The following paragraph is an example of one such accident.
“The private pilot was on a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country flight when he began encountering instrument conditions. The pilot continued into the instrument conditions for about 30 minutes before asking Atlanta Approach Control for directions to the nearest airport for landing. The controller directed the pilot to two different nearby airports, but both were below minimums. The pilot informed the controller that he was low on fuel and needed to land as soon as possible. The controller directed the pilot to the Columbus Metropolitan Airport, Columbus, Georgia. The pilot told the controllers that he would attempt an instrument approach. The pilot attempted four unsuccessful approaches with the controllers talking him through each approach. On the fifth approach, at five miles from the runway, the pilot stated that both engines quit due to fuel exhaustion. The pilot called “mayday” and during the forced landing the airplane collided with trees and the ground separating the right wing, half of the left wing, and coming to rest inverted. The pilot did not report any mechanical deficiencies with the airplane during the attempted approaches. Injuries: one serious, one minor, one uninjured.”
The flight instructor has the student analyze the information and suggest possible reasons for the accident. The instructor then shares the NTSB’s determination of probable cause: “The pilot’s inadequate decision to continue VFR flight into IMC conditions, which resulted in a loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion” which can lead to further discussions of how to avoid this type of accident. Accident data is available at NTSB’s Aviation Accident Database & Synopses at www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp/.