Instructional theory

Effective teaching must be based on the principles of learning discussed in Learning theory. The learning process does not seem to be naturally divisible into a definite number of steps.

Sometimes it occurs almost instantaneously, as when a child learns about heat from touching a hot stove. In other cases, learning is acquired only through long, patient study and diligent practice.

A close examination of the teaching process reveals that different recognised authorities specify a varying number of steps. Here we will concern ourselves only with the four basic steps25 that can be applied either to ground lectures or flight instruction. They are:

  • Preparation
  • Presentation
  • Application
  • Review and evaluation.


For each lesson or instructional period, you must refer to the syllabus and determine what can reasonably be covered in the time available. From this information, the objective of the lesson is set. The objective is a statement of what the student will be able to do on completion of the lesson26.

For an objective to result in the desired learning outcome it must:

  • Be achievable. The objective must be something the student could reasonably be expected to be able to do, given their past experience.

If the student cannot achieve the objective, motivation may be adversely affected.

  • Be observable. The objective must be observable by both student and instructor. For example, "The student will know the symptoms of the approaching stall" is not an observable objective, whereas "The student will state the symptoms of the approaching stall" is observable.

The observed performance is what evaluation should be based on.

  • Be measurable. The objective must have some limits by which both you and student can measure acceptable performance27. For example, "State the symptoms of the approaching stall in the correct order without error".

The parameters stated need not be perfection or final test parameters. They should relate directly to what it is you expect the student to be able to do at the end of this lesson.

In addition a statement may be made as to the conditions under which the student must perform, for example, whether by using a briefing handout or from memory.

In summary, in the objectives you spell out what the student is expected to do, how well, and under what conditions28. In your instructional techniques course, this will be described as Performance, Standard, and Conditions.

Care must be taken in preparing an objective to ensure that it accurately describes the desired learning outcome. The objective "to state the symptoms" is aimed at the knowledge level and could be achieved without the student ever having experienced a stall. Therefore, assuming the student achieved the above objective under the conditions stated, the following learning outcomes would result:

  • the student can read a list from top to bottom; or
  • the student has memorised a list from top to bottom.

To write a lesson objective, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is it I expect the student to be able to do at the end of this lesson?
  • How will I know that they are doing it?
  • How well should they do it? and, if applicable,
  • Under what conditions?

Preparing objectives in this way not only gives the student a clear idea of what is expected of them at the end of the lesson, but, more importantly, also focuses your attention directly on what it is you want your student to achieve as a result of your instruction.

To achieve a desired learning outcome, multiple objectives may be required. If you find you have more than three objectives for a lesson, serious consideration should be given to breaking the lesson down into smaller units.

Preparation must involve the development of a detailed written lesson plan if the instructional period is to be effective. The lesson plan is your statement of lesson objectives, the procedures and facilities to be used in presenting it, and the specific goals to be attained. The development of lesson plans by instructors signifies, in effect, that they have taught the lessons to themselves before teaching the lesson to students. The use of a lesson plan should:

  • Assure a wise selection of material and eliminate unimportant details.
  • Ensure due consideration is given to each part of the lesson.
  • Aid the presentation of material in a suitable sequence.
  • Give the inexperienced instructor confidence.

Preparation should also include pre-lesson handouts29 or assigned reading to be completed by the student before the lesson.

As part of the preparation, you should make certain that all necessary supplies, materials and equipment are readily available and that the equipment is operating properly before the student arrives.


It is your presentation of the knowledge and skills that make up the lesson. The choice of the method of presentation is determined by the nature of the subject matter and the objective.

The lecture method is suitable for presenting new material, for summarising ideas and for showing relationships between theory and practice. For example, it is suitable for the presentation of a ground school lesson on aircraft weight and balance. This method is most effective if accompanied by instructional aids and training devices. In the case of a lecture on weight and balance, a whiteboard could be used effectively, so could a seesaw.

The demonstration-performance method is desirable for presenting a skill, such as use of the flight navigation computer. Great care must be taken in using this method, to ensure that the demonstration follows the correct steps in the proper order, so the student gets a clear picture of each separate part of the operation.


Application is the student's use of the ideas presented by you. This is where you discover if the images transmitted are similar to those received by the student, and if transfer of learning has occurred. In a classroom situation, the student may be asked to explain the new material, or to perform an operation. For example, at the end of a lesson on the use of the navigation computer, the student may be asked to work a flight-planning problem involving the computation of groundspeed and drift.

In classroom and flight instructing situations, portions of your explanation and demonstration are alternated with student practice. It is rare that you complete an explanation and demonstration and then expect the student to complete the performance.

It is very important that the student perform the manoeuvre or operation the right way the first few times, for this is when habits are established. Faulty habits are difficult to correct.

The emphasis is on the correct sequence – not the speed at which it is performed. Speed of performance may be an important goal, but it should not take precedence in the early stages of instruction.

After reasonable competence has been attained, the manoeuvre or operation should be practised until correct performance becomes almost automatic.

Review and evaluation

Review and evaluation is an integral part of each classroom or flight lesson. Before the end of the instructional period, you should review what has been covered and require students to demonstrate the extent to which the lesson objectives have been met.

Evaluation may be informal and noted only for use in planning the next lesson, or it may be recorded to certify the student's progress. In either case, the student should be aware of their progress.

In flight training, you must remember that it is difficult for students to obtain a clear picture of their progress, since they have little opportunity for a direct comparison with others, especially in the early phases of training. The students recognise that they are in a competitive situation unlike any previously experienced. The unseen competitor is that intangible competency which must be achieved. The student's own evaluation can only be subjective. Direct comparisons for them are only possible with the performance of the instructor. Only you can provide a realistic evaluation of performance and progress.

In addition to knowledge and skills learned during the period just completed, each lesson should review things previously learned. If faults not associated with the present lesson are revealed, they should be pointed out. Such corrective action as is practical within the limitations of the situation should be taken immediately; more thorough remedial action must be included in future lesson plans.

The evaluation of student performance and accomplishment during a lesson should be based on the stated objective30. For example, in the taxiing briefing, if you have stated the objective that the student should watch for potholes, then you cannot evaluate the student's performance as poor when the student taxies through a pothole, especially if the student states that they saw the pothole.

Recommended reading

Effective Aviation Instruction by RA Telfer (1993) in Aviation Instruction and Training14 p219-236
Preparing Instructional Objectives26 by RF Mager (1984)

Teaching methods