Learning how to learn demands self-knowledge

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt Michael Smythe
  • 333rd Training Squadron
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." - Sun Tzu

To know yourself, you cannot simply take a fleeting look into your beliefs and actions. On the contrary, to know oneself requires dedication and reflection over long periods of time to develop a deeper, more meaningful personal understanding.

There are pockets of society that understate the difficulty and importance of such a task. Individuals like to believe that they understand themselves completely and they know exactly what makes them "tick." While this may be true, this knowledge is usually shallow.  Upon reflection, individuals realize they only know themselves in regards to situations that they have encountered in their lives thus far. They do not know themselves in relation to rapidly-changing environments. 

"A rapidly changing environment" is the epitome of the environment in which our Air Force operates. It is imperative for our warriors to truly know themselves and their capabilities inside this environment. It is paramount to our success and future, not only as an Air Force, but for our Airman as individuals, to recognize there is always more to understand about ourselves. While this task is daunting and continuous, it is not impossible. The beginning is completely understanding our preferred learning style.

The 81st Training Group's mission is to "Generate and sustain combat capability of the Air Force ... Airmen technically trained and operationally relevant!"  In order to continue to produce the world's greatest Airmen, the 81st Training Group is deliberately investing in developing our Airman's ability to learn better. 

"There is no greater mission than that of the training mission," said Col. George Tombe, 81st TRG commander. "We absolutely have to make sure that our Airmen 'get it.'  With the speed at with the world is changing, and the way the Air Force is changing, we have zero room for error on this. That means we have to make the investment and commitment to give our Airmen the best training possible.  That means breaking down barriers and doing new things."

To that end, the 333rd Training Squadron has developed a suite of tools for all of its students to discover their learning style. These tools are designed to provide agile, accurate and actionable insight into how individuals learn, emphasizing the importance of honest reflection and introspection. 

The tools also provide valuable insight for the instructors. By knowing the learning styles of individuals in their classes, the instructors are able to more effectually relay course material to both the individual and class as a whole. 

"This information is truly invaluable to the entire team," explains Lt. Col. Vincent Sullivan III, 333rd TRS commander. "We are able to use the knowledge gained from the individuals' learning styles as a significant mentoring tool to not only maximize our ability to teach, but to maximize our Airmen's ability to learn.  We advance the way we look at the educational environment and take it to the next level, a tailored learning environment for our Airmen." 

During the first week of classes in the 333rd TRS, all students take an Excel-based learning style survey. Each question is answered on a scale from one to five based on how applicable the statement or question is to their own preferences.  The results are automatically recorded and saved.
The students also are given an electronic packet of information describing in detail the attributes and qualities of each learning style. This lets each student know the different types of learning environments they may struggle in.  Students are then able to talk to their instructors about common struggles or pitfalls of their dominant learning style and ways to internalize the information.

The program does not stop there. 

Jack Dupree, instructor supervisor for 333d TRS information technology fundamentals course, has helped push the use of this tool even further. All of his instructors have taken the learning styles program to understand their own individual preferences as instructors.

"The better I know the learning styles of my instructors, the more effective I can be in conducting specialized individual assistance or tutoring sessions" Dupree pointed out. "I can now match instructors that learn in the same style the Airmen learn, thus helping the individual to get more out what we are teaching." 

The Air Force is an expansive network of people, all with their own individual skill sets. One challenge the Air Force faces is capturing information about this network quickly in a way that allows us to properly orient ourselves to make positive decisions and actions.  The 81st TRG and the 333rd TRS are helping to tackle a foundational piece of this challenge by helping Airmen to truly know themselves so they can truly generate overwhelming combat power.