I was convinced that clicker training works in the flight simulator environment, helping the instructor to be very precise in reinforcing all the "microtasks" or small behavioral skills being asked of the student. Now, I wondered, how would it work in the air? I was working toward becoming a flight instructor. I looked forward to adapting the methods of clicker training (a.k.a. operant conditioning), to the flight training industry, while still working within the Federal Aviation Administration directives and guidelines (which, interestingly, actually propose use of techniques developed by B.F. Skinnerâ€¦)
Off the Beaten Path
Ann Edie is blind. And, like many blind people, she used a guide dog to help her get around. When her dog suddenly died, it was a very sad thing for Ann. Not only did she miss her special friend, but she also missed his help. What would she do?
She could use her white cane, of course. And she could get another guide dog. But dogs can work for only a few years. So she came up with a different idea: "What about a guide HORSE?"
-Five-year-old SHIP program participant
Many clicker trainers have experienced it. You are training your dog, clicking and reinforcing for desired behavior, making swift progress toward your goal, and communicating with your animal at a level you never dreamed possible. Suddenly, it dawns on you that clicker training is so much more than a training technique; it is a powerful new way of interacting, a technology and a philosophy rolled into one-that can change lives.
My flight instructor was younger than I was, a nice lad I'm sure, but he couldn't seem to find the Initial Approach Fix (a point in space we aim our aircraft at on an instrument approach) for an arc-shaped entry to the final approach out over the high desert in Southern California. He knew that he ought to know and was appropriately embarrassed. We circled and found our way eventually; but it was the proverbial "straw" that made me stop and evaluate my flight, my flight training and flight training in general. Why do instrument-rated pilots continue to make CFIT (controlled flight into terrain)? Could bad training be the root of "pilot error," "loss of control" from "spatial disorientation," and chronic deterioration of "proficiency" over time? What could I do to insure that I wasn't trained poorly?
More and more parents are beginning to use the clicker system, and sometimes the actual clicker, to shape behavior and skills in their children (click here for an example from Don't Shoot the Dog!) People in professional circles, however, are sometimes still nervous about the idea. Here's a report from a teacher faced with an emergency situation who put the clicker to work in a truly imaginative way.