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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill

This article will be a bit less conclusive than the others I’ve posted because I don’t have the answer to the question I’m about to ask. The question is, “Can Bloom’s Taxonomy be used to help define how best to train pilots to identify and recover their aircraft from upsets?” This question is a continuation of previous articles I’ve written about training pilots. It’s just now I’m introducing Bloom’s Taxonomy into the equation. 

For those who don’t know, Bloom’s Taxonomy was an attempt in the late 1950's by educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom to promote higher forms of thinking about education by using something more systematic than simple memorization. Since its introduction, his method has been widely used throughout the education world and is even referenced in the FAA’s Instructor Handbook. The taxonomy was slightly updated by one of his students in the early 2000’s. That's the version I’m using for this article. The updated levels of learning are as follows:

Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating

From the lowest level to the highest, these verbs are used to describe how a student learns. For example, a student who simply remembers elements in a subject area—rote memorization—operates at the lowest level, while a student who creates with those elements operates at the highest. It’s an interesting concept that seems to fit. It also helps when designing course material.

There are further distinctions to each of these levels to demonstrate that a student has to be more “learned” to operate at the higher level. For example, remembering is simply “recalling previously learned information.” Analyzing involves “…distinguishing between facts and inferences.” The higher the level of learning, the more complex the task the student is able to perform.

For us aviators, we constantly operate at the first three levels of this taxonomy. We remember our critical actions. We demonstrate our understanding of what we’ve been taught by restating our lessons in our own words. We apply our understanding of the material to effectively operate in the aviation environment. An interesting question is: do we need to operate at higher levels when we’re just doing our day-to-day flying thing?

I bring this up because I wonder: 
When you encounter a situation or a set of circumstances beyond your specific training, how do you resolve the situation without operating at the higher levels of learning? In other words, if your procedural training had you do certain things in certain situations but never required you to consider things beyond those situations, how would you know what to do without operating at a higher level of learning? I'm thinking of the crew of the Air France Airbus accident a few years back. It seems they did not comprehend what was happening for many reasons. One reason that could've contributed to their confusion despite the training they received was the lower level of learning they were operating at.

This leads me back to the original question I asked. I think Bloom's Taxonomy CAN be helpful. For example, if the level of learning requires the pilot to be able to separate inferences from fact, you’ll likely have to train to the analyzing level. This would lead to certain training levels to ensure the students were operating at the right levels.

I already apply some of Bloom’s Taxonomy in my work in developing the curriculum at the Test Pilot School. As I consider this, I’ll likely use this technology to solve a couple of pointed issues currently challenging us at the school. I'm far from being an expert at using this so the methodology for applying the technology will be learned on the fly. I'll keep you posted how it goes.



  1. Tom this is an interesting post and a good discussion on levels of training. I can remember if I memorize...but without understanding it never really sticks. If we apply it... as in doing on the flight line, we have a better chance of training sticking. This is where the disconnect is.

    What we learn in training, and may understand, if we don't use it because of automation, it doesn't stick long. If we analyze the data, it's more apt to understand. So it's kine of a loop.... we lose it because we don't apply.

    But the best way for me to learn is to create. When I write study guides... I go to the next level. When we teach... we have a different level of learning. We create ways to teach the subject.

    AF447... I don't think they ever truly learned, understood or hit any level.

    Also... is it really possible to remember if you don't understand? Because, you are not really remembering something you don't know. So I suspect the remember is simple rote. But... if that is all you do...memorize words... and have no understanding... Are you really learning anything?

    Thanks for another great post!

  2. Pilots -- the good ones, anyway -- operate on the 4th level ("analyzing") all the time. Even a simple instrument scan in IMC falls into that category. We analyze weather reports, synoptic data, our own flight time, the industry itself. There's a lot of analysis in aviation. I'd imagine you see a lot of that at a test pilot school!

    1. This is so true! But how do we get them to analyze the planes they fly if there is nothing wrong... until it goes wrong and it's to late? One of the issues with the automated world.
      Thanks so much for the comment Ron!

  3. >> is it really possible to remember if you don't understand?<<
    Excellent point, and that's why the learning shouldn't stop after the final exam.

    >>But how do we get them to analyze the planes they fly if there is nothing wrong ?<<
    Ah, there doesn't have to be anything "wrong" to [in order to] analyze! OBSERVE as you fly along!
    Compare the wind, temperature, turbulence, and cloud shapes with the weather map as you fly along. Pay Attention! Did you notice what happened when you crossed that trough line, jet stream,etc.? (Do you really understand what a trough or the tropopause is?)
    Do you pull out the performance charts, or just fly the flight plan?
    When you hand fly, is the flight director on? Do you notice what pitch an power it's taking for each phase of flight?
    Ever noticed the TAS change with temperature (at the same Mach)?
    Do you know how many miles it takes for each configuration step, or do you just "wing it?"
    There's lots to analyze without anything going wrong, if you chose to do it.
    On the other hand if you let the autopilot do all the flying and the flight director do all the thinking, you'll be ill prepared to take over when the chips are down, just like the AF447 pilots.

    The application of skills to upset recovery requires more than just the rote level, more than just understanding an applying. It required understanding the principles involved, analyzing the situation, and creating a solution the the unique circumstances. Each upset is different, there's no way to teach them all, and what works at 5000 feet may not work at 35,000 feet (that full power stall recovery that the AF447 pilots attempted did nothing).

    If you saw the film "Blackfish" ( ),you saw the story of a killer whale (orca) that killed 3 of its trainers over the years (orcas have killed exactly zero people in the wild). Trainers and handlers (interviewed in the movie) did not study (and were not taught) the animal's natural behavior, were apparently not trained extensively about safety, and did not study or even know about previous accidents and incidents with even the same individual orcas.
    For someone who was deeply involved in airline training and safety culture, I was aghast at these serious omissions, and the corporate culture that fostered it.
    I can see a lot of parallels between these poorly paid barely trained 'trainers' who always dreamed of working with the whales, and the new pilot (many of whom are also poorly paid and also just happy to be there).
    Another interesting point is that in the end OSHA took the trainers out of the pool, and they had to stand behind a wall.
    If pilots don't (re) learn to recover airplanes from upsets or other unusual situations, the engineers are going take us out of the pool as well.

    Don't be like the whale trainer that knew little about whales. It can kill you too.

    1. Bill, excellent points and so true. It's too easy on the automated planes to get lazy. Something that we must continue to understand. We all saw this coming when we once knew where molecule of air went after it entered the engine to..."you don't need to know that, the plane will tell you."

      This not need to know occurred in systems training and somehow slid to the flight line as SOP.

      By the way... I saw that fill. Fascinating! But I did not know the solution. Which on the surface speaks volumes. If we don't know what to do, we'll hide!

      Thanks for your comment!


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