A Random Firearms Instructor Hack from Neural-Based Learning

by | Oct 21, 2015

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-O0xKnJt48&w=560&h=315]

This video clip discusses a fundamental principle in accelerated learning and neural based training design: multiple encoding of new information in the student’s brain.

What does that mean?

Let’s look at a specific example drawn from firearms instruction. The example is teaching the draw stroke from concealment.

One traditional method of firearms instruction might call for the instructor to:

• Describe what he’s going to teach and why it’s important (verbally)
• Demonstrate it to the students (visually)
• Take students through the draw stroke (visually and verbally)
• Have students repeat the draw stroke with remediation along the way (visually and verbally coaching)
• Have students demonstrate their retention of the material in a dry fire and then live fire context. (Experiential for the student and coached by instructor)

So…how many ways is the information presented to the student and how many learning modalities the student engages?

• Visual (the student watches).
• Auditory (the student listens)
• Kinesthetic (the student does the technique)

Are there other ways to present information to the student? And why is that important?

Without going into a long technical dissertation about state-based learning and the transference of a motor skill learned in a static environment to the application under stress in a 3-dimensional gunfight, here’s a short answer:

The more ways you encode life-saving information in a student’s brain, the more opportunities that student’s brain has to retrieve that information when under severe stress.

Another specific example. Take a tennis ball. Tack a piece of cord to it. Lob it to somebody and tell him or her they must catch it only by the piece of cord. Not easy. Now tack three pieces of cord. And do it again. Easier? Now tack nine to ten pieces of cord to the ball and lob it. Easier?


The ball is the critical information that must be caught. Student modalities engaged in learning are the cords.

Add more cords = better retention in the real world.

So how do we do that?

Going back to the previous example of the draw stroke, what if the instructor, in the same amount of time, followed this approach instead of the one initially discussed:

• Brief discussion of the material to be presented.
• Demonstrate the draw stroke.
• With minimal intervention by instructor, have students IMMEDIATELY practice the general movement for 3-5 reps.
• Then break students down into pairs, and for only 3-5 reps, observe and coach (parroting the instructor) the elements of the general movement (as in don’t refine the fine points, just get the big chunks down).
• The instructor then models/demonstrates refinement.
• The students immediately work on their own for 3-5 reps.
• Then break into groups of three: one observes, one is the “student”, the other is the “coach.” Observer observes, coach coaches per the instructor’s model, student does the motion. Rotate positions/duties after 3-5 reps till all have been a coach, an observer, a student.
• Students break into pairs. For 60 seconds, one student is the speaker, the other is the listener. Then rotate. They talk about what they have learned/are learning about the draw stroke, sharing what they have seen and experienced as a student, coach and observer.
• Take a break and students write down their notes and/or sketch/draw insights
• Return after break and then as a group the instructor facilliates discussion of learning thus far.
• Instructor models/refines the refinement of the motion.
• Instructor walks around and checks each student individually.
• Move to dry-fire/live fire.

Does this seem like too much work? In real time it takes less than it does for “traditional” instruction where the instructor talks talks talks and the student listens (or doesn’t) with multiple mechanical repetitions.

This approach frees the instructor from much of the “menial” work of instruction and focuses on higher order class management; it also provides multiple modes of encoding for the student brain – and the novelty of the approach makes the learning faster and more fun as well.

What kind of encoding are we seeing in addition to the previous three identified in the traditional approach?
• Visual (watching the instructor)
• Auditory (listening to the instructor)
• Kinesthetic (moving like the instructor)
• Coaching (taking new material and applying it to another)
• Observation (of others doing the technique)
• Listening (to others discussing their experience and interpretation of the material)
• Talking (articulating what they’ve learned and what insights they have about the material)
• Writing (taking information and writing it down on paper)
• Drawing (sketches of movement or diagrams)
• Collaborating as a team of three to refine the technique

All of this second series requires novel engagement by the student’s brain and provides additional “cords” to grasp the material when needed.

And it frees the instructor up to manage the learning environment and ensure that maximal learning is taking place.

None of this compromises safety when executed by a competent instructor; the biggest risk I’ve found is to instructor ego when they find they have to talk less and watch more, and that they are not the only essential component of the student’s learning – this is andagogy, learning for the adult brain, where the instructor shares responsibility for learning with THE LEARNER — not pedagogy, as in teaching down to ignorant peasants. Many firearms instructors don’t realize that most of the commands and principles for firearms instructors were set down and codified in the 1700s…and are still taught in military academies to this day.

We’ve come a long way since then, and most of us are not engaged in training illiterate peasants.

By the way, most of the approach has been heavily validated since the 70s in accelerated learning and adult education, and has been adopted as an approach by many many Fortune 500 companies as the most efficient way to train adults http://www.alcenter.com/whatisal.html .

My small contribution is to add the Accentus-Ludus spin on accelerated learning and simultaneous stress inoculation to this approach, with results you can examine on our web page, www.accentusludus.com.

As always, don’t take my word for it. Go and try it yourself. If it works for you, keep it; if it doesn’t, feel free to ask for clarification, or just bin it.

Stay safe, and remember that if you’re training life-saving skills, you have a moral and ethical responsibility to provide that training in the best possible fashion to ensure retention in the real world. Science and training has come a long way since the 1770s.