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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Proficiency by pieces

As I made my way through Redbird's "Winging It" series, I came across a nice description of progressive practice: "Proficiency by Pieces".

It is a short mention inside this video where Brittney Miculka simulates an in-flight problem. (I say "problem" because some of us would look at it as a full-blown emergency, whereas others call it a minor annoyance. Each pilot has their own mix of skill level, recent experience, and risk tolerance, so there is no One Right Answer.)

What I like about the phrase is that it sums up nicely what I've been discussing a lot this year: learning by little. Instead of looking at any task or skill as something to tackle all at once, break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then break those small tasks into microtasks. Then start on one of them and just do it!

This approach is one also taken by an app I recently came across: Duolingo. It breaks down learning any of several languages into small chunks, then lets you work on however many or few of those you want to work on each day. This hits on two parts of effective and efficient learning: small and daily.

What my French tree looks like in Duolingo. Notice the 29-day streak!
I originally got my degree in Spanish. That, unfortunately, was almost 15 years ago, and I haven't had a chance to practice it much since then. I decided to take the pre-test to see how bad I had become. As it turns out, I wasn't as bad as I thought. I've been using it to shake the rust off, and the thing I had forgotten most about Spanish was how much I enjoyed Spanish!

Since I get flight benefits as a pilot, I'm planning on taking the wife to Paris sometime in the near future. It might help to learn French, obviously, so I've been using Duolingo to help me with that and to see how others put modern learning research into practice. I've been rather impressed on both accounts.

One of the things about becoming proficient in pieces is that even little chunks of time (I spend approximately 10 minutes a day on Duolingo) add up in the long run. According to Duolingo, I've learned over 500 words in French already! If you put a list of 500 French words in front of me and told me to learn them, I'd probably get up and walk away. However, by breaking the process into small bites and making those bites small enough that I can squeeze 29 consecutive days of them (it keeps track of that for you!) into my schedule, I've already learned 1/6th of the words that an average fluent speaker of most languages uses regularly.

It's free, so give it a try yourself. Although there isn't a "Duopilot" yet to help you learn aviation, you can do the same sort of thing yourself by doing things like studying five questions for the written exam you might be taking; opening up the FAR/AIM, the Pilot's Operating Handbook for your plane, or the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge to a random page and reading it; or looking at a random approach plate and mentally flying through it for five minutes (or setting it up in a flight simulator on your computer and flying it, although that might take 10-15 minutes instead).

If it's been effective for you, leave a comment and let me know. See you next Wednesday! (If time permits, that is. I'm away in St. Louis doing the final phase of my ERJ-145 training.)

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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