A Major Problem We Must Confront as Police Trainers and Students: How To Improve Performance?

Carl Jung says “affective learning is a product of both education and training. It’s a change in behavior as a result of experience. Learning clearly includes training and education. How we perceive is highly related to how we think and learn and to what we know. Evidence shows we have preferences for using one mode of apprehension, thinking, and evaluation over others and that such preferences are ‘hard-wired,’ but not beyond our control. We can learn to alternative ‘world views’ clearly distinct from our own and then begin viewing the world as others do. These preferences also define a learning style, because they define how we think about what we perceive.”

A major problem we confront as police trainers, teachers, and developers is as Dr. Robert Bjork states in his outstanding research at the UCLA, Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab 

Conditions of instruction that make performance improve rapidly often fail to support long-term retention and transfer, whereas conditions of instruction that appear to create difficulties for the learner, slowing the rate of apparent learning,  often optimize long-term retention and transfer. In other words our ability to take the knowledge we have gained then apply it to the rigors of police work, is improved when we slow things down, challenge those officers to learn by doing.

How we learn verses how we think we learn is crucial for police trainers to understand and able to apply as they facilitate and develop cops. We cannot just keep teaching using lecture, competency based education and teaching school solutions. We must develop police officers who can think, size up situations and solve problems. We must use methods that challenge both student and teacher if we are to succeed at becoming more effective in handling 21st century policing in a free society.

There are, in fact, certain training conditions that are difficult and appear to impede performance during training but that yield greater long-term benefits than their easier training counterparts. ~Dr. Robert Bjork 

When developing competencies its important teachers establish the outcomes they seek along with measures of effectiveness. Some simple examples:

  • Sense-making: an officer will demonstrate the ability to assess the environment and size-up situations.
  • Problem Solving: an officer will demonstrate the ability to evaluate the adequacy of generated options and or choices (fluid OODA Loop).
  • Adaptability: an officer will demonstrate the ability to detect change and adjust attitudes, emotions, and actions.
  • Meta-cognition: an officer’s ability to monitor and self-regulate learning and cognition.
  • Attention control or focus of effort: an officer ability to deploy and sustain focused attention on a chosen course of action.

These competencies and instructional goals are important to police officer effectiveness it is imperative that police trainers challenge student officers and yes make the learning tougher on individual officers and groups of officers. We do this through experiential learning and developing not only the physical skills but also the cognitive skills which are critical to sound judgment in novel and complex situations.

Sound judgment depends on reliable intuition and “thought models” to sort the routine from important problem nuance that demands critical thinking, and creative solution. Relational skills are critical to persuade and lead, negotiate and settle disputes, and for cooperation and teamwork. All crucial to effective and safe police operations that “teaching to the test” or teaching “what to think” just will not do. Instead we as police trainers, teachers, and developers must take the more difficult task and teach police officers and police leaders “how to think” under pressure.

Stay Oriented!