Motivation – Student’s Need; Instructor’s Challenge

All students have some level of motivation when seeking flight training. It’s up to the instructor to determine the level of student motivation and figure out the best way to either maintain or increase the student’s motivation to fly.

The challenge for the flight instructor is to determine why the student wants to fly; what motivates this pursuit? There are countless factors that play into the motivation of individuals who pursue the dream to fly. It could be a curiosity about flight; or the perception of how useful it could be; or something to be conquered; or the status it will project to others. The bottom line is that different things motivate all students, and each student brings a different level of motivation to the table.

A goal that each instructor should have is to encourage students to be self-motivated, independent learners. Things that instructors can do to encourage this behavior are:

  • Give frequent, early, positive feedback that supports students’ beliefs that they can do well.
  • Build scenarios that make possible the students’ success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult – set them up to succeed.
  • Help students find personal meaning and value in the material – relate it to why they are there.
  • Be approachable, friendly and encouraging – instructors are who they look up to.
  • Help students feel that they are a part of an elite aviation fraternity.

An instructor should come to each lesson well prepared, organized, excited to be there, and genuinely focused on the student. The world revolves around the student during each lesson and the instructor should give him 100% of his attention. If a student has an instructor who approaches the instructor-student relationship in this manner, he will be motivated to do well.

Student personas vary; each student’s manifested needs reflect a little about who he is. A student may be seeking knowledge itself; the challenge is to structure various material in an orderly fashion to facilitate the attainment of knowledge. A student may be seeking a new experience; the lesson must be adventurous and focus on the thrill of the experience. A student may be looking for the precision of flight; profiles should be designed to bring attention to the perfection and attention-to-detail of the aviation process. A student may want to be a part of something bigger; the idea of being a part of the aviation fraternity can be blended into the accomplishment of difficult tasks. Whatever the need, the instructor has the responsibility to identify the student persona and provide the instructional style that facilitates an optimum learning experience.

The student who pursues aviation is typically driven and wants to be involved; the instructor should provide a “hands-on” experience for the student during the training process and the sooner the better. To keep a student engaged, the instructor should design each lesson so the student is doing, making, designing, creating, or solving. The instructor should ask questions to stimulate the critical thinking ability of the student; the goal is to relate previously learned knowledge with new material. The internal motivation of the instructor should be to “Delight in Learning”. The discovery of new information or a new process feeds the desire to know and experience more. Only if it is a “delight” will individuals be life-long learners; the goal of the instructor is to make learning a delight. An instructor shouldn’t “tell” the student the answer; instead he should help him discover the answer for himself. This process of research and critical thinking will begin a life-long, inquisitive approach to aviation learning and the application of this knowledge; the result is a more confident and competent aviator. For information that seems irrelevant to the student, the instructor needs to make it either more relevant, remove it from training, or move it to a more appropriate place in the training process. The instructor must also ensure that the material is appropriate for the stage of training; too easy or too hard will diminish the student’s motivational level.

The FAA has set expected performance levels in the Practical Test Standards. These standards set the minimum performance that must be demonstrated to earn the certificate or rating. The bigger and even more important picture is the level of professionalism a student exhibits when representing himself (and the instructor) during the practical examination. To motivate a student, the instructor should set standards that are specific, measureable, realistic, attainable, and tailored for each maneuver. The student level of expected performance, as viewed by the instructor, helps develop recognized professional aviator qualities. Remember, on-altitude and on-airspeed means exactly that; all pilots should be motivated to master the art of flying.

The student will learn to set personal goals as the training process continues. A student-centered instructor should gradually make the student more and more dependent on his own decisions and less on those of the instructor. The mentoring instructor should provide guidance and boundaries, but give freedom as well. The student who is taught what is expected of him can learn to develop a successful path toward goal accomplishment.

If an instructor has the capability, he or she should add various training aids to the process of teaching students. Simulators of any persuasion can be used to increase confidence, competence, and skill. Incorporating any technology that takes advantage of additional senses have shown that the greater the learning achieved and the longer the effects of that learning. Periodically, an instructor should also do something a little different. He should not be completely predicable in his approach to teaching. Of course, he must pay attention to see if it is effective and stop if not. Who knows, it could add some fun to the training process.

Sometimes an instructor will find himself trying to “perfect” student performance; unfortunately this can look like criticism after a while. While it is important to correct student performance in a timely manner, the instructor must remember to compliment and praise tasks done well. Praise motivates!

Sometimes it is appropriate, even encouraged, to tell “war stories” about aviation related experiences applicable to either a phase of training or specific tasks, so students don’t feel as if they are the only ones performing in specific ways. If an instructor can discover the student’s aviation hero, he may be able to relate student performance to that of his hero; a positive result is possible if done well.

The instructor should challenge the student to come prepared to each lesson. The student should know what is expected of him and the instructor should hold him to that standard. If the student arrives unprepared, then he doesn’t fly that day. Instead, a ground lesson, focusing on the subject matter of the day, will be done instead. An instructor can use this experience to help the student understand that preparation for a lesson is part of being a professional pilot; it doesn’t matter if he is only going to be a Sport Pilot, all pilots should be professionals. This may seem like a harsh approach to training, but any student who arrives unprepared will only waste his time and money getting into an airplane in an attempt to conduct the lesson. An experience of this type can be a good motivator if presented properly by the instructor. One additional thought the instructor should keep in mind is that there may be a competing motivator that resulted in the student’s unpreparedness; perhaps the instructor should attempt to discover the underlying issue before moving on to the lesson of the day.

The bottom line is that a student becomes what the instructor makes him. He reflects the level of professionalism exhibited by the instructor. The instructor must serve as the role model in every area of aviation. Every instructor must know the rules and abide by them; corners can’t be cut. The instructor can’t expect something from the student that he is either unwilling to do, or is incapable of doing. It’s okay if the student knows that the instructor is human. This helps the student understand that it’s normal to make mistakes. The instructor should emphasize that an analysis of self is necessary before every flight, and that a good pilot will operate within those boundaries. It’s necessary for each instructor to be real with the student and encourage him to do the same. Instructor realism and honesty can prove to be an effective motivator. A student can see that his goal of becoming a professional pilot is indeed attainable. Motivation is key to effective training. The instructor who can keep the student motivated will ensure the success of that student during the training process and will also instill the love and thrill of the flying experience.


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