I recently had several fascinating discussions with the top Program Managers in cognitive neuroscience at DARPA. It came as no surprise, to me anyway, that cognitive neuroscience and, specifically, enhancing neurological and cognitive performance in war-fighters, is a top priority in current military research.
It’s gratifying to me — after 25 years of applying and embedding cognitive neuroscience concepts and principles into training for professionals who go in harm’s way — to see the serious attention (as measured in dollars and human resources) given to addressing the “mental platform” of war-fighters and combat athletes.
Most of the questions that come to me are variants on “What is neural-based training?” People who have trained with me are probably grinning as they read this, as they know much how I dislike talking (or writing) about a skill when there’s an opportunity to actually *do* or train a skill.
Neural-based training for the mental platform doesn’t require a range, cool guy clothing or high-speed weapons; you can train constantly throughout your daily interactions by adding a level of attention, knowledge, and skill to your inherent attributes. You can significantly increase your performance in whatever skill set you want to improve in a very short period of time.
Neural-based training is training designed to work with the way your neurology and cognitive processes develop naturally. It’s training designed to make it easy for you to learn the way your brain most wants to learn, in the way that’s simplest for your brain to learn.
I like to use the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle. When you learned to ride a bike, did you get a Powerpoint presentation on the theory of the bicycle, memorize the nomenclature, familiarize yourself with the operating characteristics, get tested on the principles of bicycle riding? Or did you get on the bike, and with or without technical enhancement (training wheels, for instance) just start doing the skill, first roughly approximating it, then gaining skill and experience through the application of the skill in a real-world environment (starting in the driveway, then moving to the sidewalk, then out into the street…) and then moving through the various level of skill acquisition to the point where the skill is deeply embedded at an other-than-conscious level, where you can ride a bike, carry on a conversation, watch the street, even text?
For those who learn skills that *must* be used under immediate-onset-threat-to-life stress, which approach embeds skills in such a fashion as to be more usable more quickly in the end-use environment?
I’ve found — in my opinion, based on my research and experience over 25 years — that it’s the latter.
The second approach requires the instructor to take a position as a facilitator/coach/co-learner (not as the fount of all knowing and knowledge) and requires the *student* to take ownership of her/his own learning process.
It’s as much a philosophy of learning as it is an art and practical science. Many instructors have a significant ego investment in being an “instructor” — as such, they don’t want to give up that position and step aside at some point and let the student be responsible for his/her learning process. That requires letting go, and trusting in the process and the student. There’s inherent risk in any training that involves preparing people for dangerous work under stress; at some point, those trainees will be out on their own making decisions and taking action under stress. So doesn’t it make sense to give them that experience as early on in the learning process as you safely can?
That requires an evaluation of what constitutes “safe” and a determination as to when someone is ready. That requires instructors who can facilitate learning and coach as well as “stand and deliver” — and who are mature and capable enough to be able to step aside and let adult learners take charge of their learning at an appropriate place in the training flow.
This is nothing new in the field of accelerated learning as applied in elementary education; but it was radical beyond belief 25 years ago in law enforcement and military training. I’m happy to see this approach finally getting serious scientific attention from the war-fighters leading the research into this for the military.
Interesting, yes? I find it so. So stay tuned for more specific tips, techniques and drills adapted from my body of work for application in dangerous professions.