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

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, 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. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Become Unconsciously Competent

Automaticity and Adaptive Expertise vs Rote Memorization

Automaticity and adaptive expertise are essential for airline pilots to improve Situational Awareness (SA). Without automaticity and adaptive expertise, decision-making ability is limited, reducing the pilot's ability to deal with the unexpected. 

What is Automaticity and Adaptive Expertise?

Automaticity is when a pilot’s knowledge is at a level where he or she does not have to think about what to do and their response is automatic. Automaticity is achieved by over-learning to the point where the pilot becomes unconsciously competent, in that they can perform tasks without conscious thought. Adaptive expertise is where understanding and contextual-based knowledge, combined with motivation for problem solving, creates adaptive and flexible strategies for unexpected events. 

Performance in a changing environment demands a deeper level of understanding that will adapt to unique situations. Rote memorization, however, limits the pilot's ability to transfer task at hand duties tconscious thought that would be necessary to adapt to changes in the environment. The distinction between automaticity, adaptive expertise, and rote memorization is the level of understanding. 

Rote memorization does not guarantee the pilot understands the automatic response. Knowledge-based automaticity and adaptive expertise, however, imply a deeper level of understanding than simply memorizing. Adaptive expertise requires precise knowledge, in both quality and content, to be structurally organized in the memory, as well as required for metacognitive skills necessary for planning, monitoring, and memory. 

Becoming unconsciously competent is where knowledge is at the highest level of understanding. Automaticity and adaptive expertise further differ from rote memorization because rote memorization is associated with routine experience, whereas automaticity and adaptive expertise improve performance during novel situations. Rote memorization could result in limited understanding of memorized procedures that may not transfer to the aircraft or emergencies beyond events practiced and anticipated in the simulator.

Time And Place For Rote Memorization

With all this said, there is a time and a place for rote memorization. Practicing flows for example. I am an advocate of memorizing the procedures we call flows, or the processes, to configure the plane for flight during the many phases---preflight, before start, taxi, before takeoff, taxi, shutdown.... While we memorize where to go, understanding what we are doing while there makes the difference. 

This week I have memorized my flows and procedures, but I'm working to that higher level of understanding to achieve automaticity and adaptive expertise in order to become unconsciously competent. The best thing about this goal is that everyone can work toward it as it's a moving target because in aviation, it's not possible to know everything. Just when you think you're there, you get to learn something new. 

Enjoy the Journey!

XOX Karlene 


  1. Love this. Knowing what buttons to hit in a flow is one thing but the deeper knowledge you need to make good choices in the air takes more! Thank you for teaching!

    1. Thank you so much for the comment Nicnacjak. And you are so welcome!


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