On The Job Training and Deliberately Framing Experience

This post is taken from the US Marine Corps Small Unit Decision Making January 2011 Workshop Final Report Published by US Marine Corps Training and Education Command, August 2011. The section I took this from is Deliberately Framing Experience and is in my opinion is the type of training policing needs to be evolving towards if we are to successfully develop effective decision makers and tactical artisans, who can size up and respond to crisis situations.

“If the Marine Corps really wants to implement the organizational changes required to improve its small-unit leaders’ ability to make intuitive, complex decisions, it is going to take more than a workshop. It is going to take more than a series of workshops. It is going to take a concerted effort to maintain the mandate, access, resources, partnerships, and science.” —Dr. Eduardo Salas

Many small unit leaders already demonstrate effective decision-making skills; often, these skills are acquired through operational experience. However, it is risky to assume that all small unit leaders receive sufficient, structured experience through such on-the-job training (OJT) and “discovery” leadership development. As currently implemented, these methodologies are not consistent.

Instead of relying upon unstructured OJT, Marines need to be given deliberate opportunities to exercise their decision-making skills, and instructors/leaders need to explicitly draw out the applicable learning points of each experience. Thus, to effectively develop small unit leaders’ decision-making skills, the Marine Corps must provide its small unit leaders an integrated instructional framework that deliberately focuses their experiences and develops the psychomotor, cognitive, relational, and social skills they need to get the most out of each experience.

Mastery Learning Philosophy Dr. K Anders Ericsson, Florida State University, estimates that 90–95 percent of students can learn to a mastery level, if they are given enough time and appropriate instruction. Mastery learning theory suggests that instructional interventions should focus on different learners’ mastery of the same material. Learners who do not satisfactorily complete a topic/ task should be given additional instruction until they are successful, and learners who master the topic early should engage in enrichment activities.

In mastery learning, the amount of time and type of instructional activities may vary from student to student, but the outcome performance levels remain constant. This approach differs from common instructional models in which all learners are given the same amount of time and, often, the same instructional interventions and their achievement levels are allowed to vary. Mastery learning includes many elements of successful mentoring and coaching. Mastery learning requires well-prepared instructors who have a vast “toolkit” that includes a wide variety of instructional techniques and materials for remediation (see Block & Burns, 1976, for a review).

Deliberate Performance

Currently, a vast majority of Marines’ professional development occurs while assigned to the Operating Forces. Ideally, these on-the-job experiences would maximize learning opportunities and be supplemented with structured Constrained Conditional Models (CCMs). This can be achieved with an appropriate combination of deliberate performance and deliberate practice.

According to Dr. Gary Klein, Macro Cognition, LLC, deliberate performance uses job and life situations as opportunities for learning. Deliberate performance is similar to military on-the job training (MOJT), except that just-in-time MOJT, Small Unit Decision Making SUDM usually focuses on particular skills and procedures (e.g., explicit declarative and procedural knowledge), whereas deliberate performance focuses on building the tacit knowledge and intuitive expertise associated with extensive job experience.

A deliberate performance focus emphasizes higher-level patterns, principles, and associations employed by more experienced individuals in their occupational specialty. An individual can build tacit knowledge by systematically predicting what will happen in work situations. If their predictions are incorrect, attempts are made to understand the reasoning and rationale behind them.

CCM conducted by leaders will also provide Marines an opportunity to learn from decisions made by their leaders. This is particularly powerful when discussions emphasize why decisions were made and what cues were identified. Anomalies, inconsistencies, and changes are assessed as to how they affected the outcome/decision. Through deliberate performance exercises, Marines can become reflective practitioners. Deliberate performance exercises also can improve Marines’ performance and continuously increase their levels of mastery.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice refers to a set of instructional activities explicitly designed to improve performance by encouraging individuals to constantly strive to master objectives just beyond their current level of competence. Deliberate practice relies upon accurate and immediate feedback, and individuals engaging in deliberate practice must have opportunities for reflection and chances to repeat the same and similar tasks until mastery is achieved.

Not all experiences (i.e., practice/training) are equal, and simply performing tasks repetitively can actually lead to degradation of skills, while training something incorrectly can reinforce bad habits. In contrast, deliberate practice has been found to account for individual differences among the world’s best athletes, chess players, surgeons, and other professionals (Ericsson, 2006). In other words, deliberate versus ad hoc practice and experience can “make the difference” when it comes to the development of expertise.

Deliberate practice principles have also been shown to successfully increase academic learning performance (Deslauriers, Schelew, & Wieman, 2011) to increase Air Force pilots’ ability to handle emergency situations during regular missions (McKinney & Davis, 2004), and to be the most effective method for training warfighters and their group leaders in all the branches of the military (Ericsson, 2009).

Most current examples of deliberate practice involve decision making by individuals in dynamic situations, such as soccer players deciding what to do when presented a video sequence of a game (Ward, & Williams, 2003), medical doctors acquiring skill to diagnose X-rays in pediatrics (Pusic, Pecaric, & Boutis, 2011), or chess players having to make decisions during a chess game (Charness, Tuffiash, Krampe, Reingold, & Vasyukova, 2005). How deliberate practice has been developed to support training for cognitive readiness is described in a recent chapter (see Ericsson, in press).

This whole document on Small Unit Decision Making is great and it would benefit every police leader, teacher and officer to read it. The best instructors have a “bag of tricks” that contains a wide array of fresh instructional methods, communication approaches, and assessment techniques. If one strategy fails to achieve desired outcomes, great teachers are prepared to employ alternative approaches, constantly adapting to reach each student.

Adaptive Leader Training and Education is a holistic approach to the planning, preparation, execution, and assessment of training that goes beyond task proficiency and incorporates a focus on developing critical attributes in police officers and leaders by emphasizing the “why” behind actions and the consequences of decisions within a wider context. To learn as quickly as possible, we must be more deliberate, more disciplined, and more thorough in our approach in order to squeeze as much as possible from each experience.

Stay Oriented!