Flight Training - January 2015 - 49

INSTRUCTOR REPORT

Mental gymnastics

Sensory saturation and working memory
ยป By Rod Machado

TRY THE FOLLOWING experiment:
Multiply 73 by 59 in your head
while someone nearby asks you
questions or generally chats on
and on as if he or she is attempting
to use up a weekly word allotment.
Not too easy to do, is it?
When we're focused on a
demanding task-such as mental
math or learning how to hold
altitude in a steep turn-our shortterm, or working, memory quickly
reaches its saturation point.
Attending to something new when
our short-term memory is saturated means that anything already
resident in working memory is
evicted. The result is that we lose
our ability to focus or concentrate on the task at hand. Because
short-term memory is the gateway
to consciousness, anything that
disrupts or saturates it interferes
with our ability to learn.
In case you didn't get the memo,
you have a Stone Age brain. Yep,
the Homo sapien brain hasn't
evolved much over the past
120,000 years. It's a Fred Flintstone relic with an information
input pipeline that makes two cans
connected by a string look like
AT&T in comparison.
In the 1950s, psychologist
George Miller conducted a landmark study to determine the size
of our short-term memory. He
concluded that we're able to hold
about seven distinct items in our
working memory at any one time.
This number essentially represents
the bandwidth of human consciousness. Yep, seven items is all
that will flow through your mental
pipe at any one time.
If you want to see this in action,
the next time you're strolling
around with a friend, ask him to

mentally multiply 73 by 59. As soon
as he concentrates on the math,
his working memory becomes
saturated. Because it takes a small
amount of consciousness to navigate the strolling path, he will most
likely stop in his tracks as his lobes
perform mental math. There's
simply no room left in his working
memory to walk and calculate at
the same time.
It's true that our mighty brain
allows us to learn almost any
behavior, but only because we're
able to build strong habit patterns
despite the restrictions of our

As your student attempts the
steep turn for the first time, you
should be satisfied if he manages
to maintain the desired bank
angle and attitude reference. If,
however, you begin asking questions and chatting on and on
about coordination, throttle movement, and scanning for traffic, you
can be sure that you'll overload
your student's working memory.
To the student, this is very similar
to giving him double digits to mentally multiply while he's walking.
In an airplane, he might just stop
in his tracks, meaning that he'll

WE NEED TO GET OUT OF OUR STUDENT'S MIND
(HIS OR HER SHORT-TERM MEMORY) WHILE HE OR
SHE IS ATTEMPTING TO LEARN.
working memory. Because habit
patterns work independently of
short-term memory, these automated routines free our conscious
mind to learn additional things.
Now that we understand the
limitations of short-term memory,
how does this affect us as flight
instructors? I hope it inspires us to
look for every opportunity to avoid
interfering with our student's
ability to learn. We need to get out
of our student's mind (his or her
short-term memory) while he or
she is attempting to learn.
For example, when introducing a student to steep turns, you
shouldn't overload him with too
many individual components of
the maneuver. No doubt you'll
demonstrate how to roll into the
turn, how to identify the correct
bank angle, and how to select an
attitude reference that allows the
airplane to hold its altitude. Then
you'll let the student practice
these items.

likely lose attitude or bank control
as he attempts to process the new
information you're providing.
Of course, after a few steep
turns, your student will begin
developing the habit patterns
necessary to perform this maneuver. Now his working memory
has a little more free space with
which to absorb the additional
information necessary to improve
his skill level.
Effective flight training requires
that you understand how consciousness is defined by working
memory. If you interfere with
your student's working memory,
you'll distract his or her ability to
learn. So be of the right mind and
stay out of your student's mind
as he concentrates on the task
at hand. This is what effective
teachers do.
Rod Machado is a flight instructor,
author, educator, and speaker.
Visit his blog (www.rodmachado.com).

JANUARY 2015 FLIGHT TRAINING

/ 49


http://www.rodmachado.com

Flight Training - January 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Flight Training - January 2015

Contents
Flight Training - January 2015 - Cover1
Flight Training - January 2015 - Cover2
Flight Training - January 2015 - Contents
Flight Training - January 2015 - 2
Flight Training - January 2015 - 3
Flight Training - January 2015 - 4
Flight Training - January 2015 - 5
Flight Training - January 2015 - 6
Flight Training - January 2015 - 7
Flight Training - January 2015 - 8
Flight Training - January 2015 - 9
Flight Training - January 2015 - 10
Flight Training - January 2015 - 11
Flight Training - January 2015 - 12
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Flight Training - January 2015 - 14
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Flight Training - January 2015 - 16
Flight Training - January 2015 - 17
Flight Training - January 2015 - 18
Flight Training - January 2015 - 19
Flight Training - January 2015 - 20
Flight Training - January 2015 - 21
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Flight Training - January 2015 - 25
Flight Training - January 2015 - 26
Flight Training - January 2015 - 27
Flight Training - January 2015 - 28
Flight Training - January 2015 - 29
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Flight Training - January 2015 - 31
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Flight Training - January 2015 - 49
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Flight Training - January 2015 - Cover3
Flight Training - January 2015 - Cover4
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