Objective vs. Subjective Teaching…. Are They The Perfect Pair?

By Randy Rowles

The theme of “my instructor taught me this way” is a common flight instruction subject. Flight instructors often have only their own training program experience to impart to their students. In many cases, this is acceptable; after all, it was their flight instructor who facilitated the learning process, thus an inference to an instructor’s methods is normal. However, did their instructor teach from an objective or subjective perspective?

Within education, there are two basic tenets of teaching methodology: objective or subjective perspectives. An objective perspective holds that knowledge is absolute. No individual owns the information because the information itself is fact. An example of an objective fact in aviation is that lift opposes weight (gravity). This is not a debatable topic.

In direct contrast, a subjective perspective maintains that knowledge is part of the individual and their unique experiences. The subjective approach is that knowledge and reality do not have an absolute value. In other words, subjective perspective is a belief that when multiple methods of action will end in the same result, an individual with prior experience may provide the best technique or solution.

When training pilots, maneuvers have been developed to provide a catalyst for the minimum skill sets required to operate an aircraft safely. Handbooks and other related training material developed by the Federal Aviation Administration are available to provide an objective perspective to conduct maneuvers. Additionally, test standards accompany this training material to complete the instructional process, ensuring each level of learning is addressed. The levels are: rote,

Randy Rowles has been an FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds an FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is currently the owner of the Helicopter Institute. He can be reached at

understanding, application, and correlation. Each maneuver is clear regarding: (1) what the maneuver is (2) how or why we’re doing a maneuver (3) an explanation or description of how to do the maneuver, and (4) a predetermined minimum standard on how well the maneuver must be completed.

Subjectively teaching a flight maneuver may skip this learning process entirely. When an instructor initially teaches a pilot-in-training from a subjective perspective, the supporting foundation of the student’s knowledge and experience is compromised. The true objective or desired intent may get lost! When subjectively teaching, the focus is on the process of doing — not working through the individual skill sets to get it done. It’s a big-picture approach that requires the student to primarily mimic the instructor’s actions to an end goal.

An example of this would be teaching autorotations where an instructor simply demonstrates an autorotation beginning at pattern altitude and then expects the student to begin practicing from that same profile. In this scenario, the student never truly gained insight into the objective of an autorotation. Key components of the objective [the autorotation] including the how and why of airspeed and rotor RPM control, the effects of pitch attitude versus airspeed, and other characteristics of an autorotation learned only by a methodical process of breaking down the maneuver piece-by-piece at altitude, may be lost. Traffic pattern altitudes should be attempted only after practicing such a high- profile maneuver at altitude and gaining a keen understanding of the maneuver elements. Otherwise, the outcome may be a pilot behind the aircraft resulting in a high-vertical velocity accident!

Subjectively teaching or skipping instructional steps in the learning process may be the result of instructional boredom and could often be identified as a causal factor within helicopter training accidents.

Teach the lesson objectively; enhance the lesson subjectively. Implement instructional discipline. Stay sharp, stay focused, and stay safe!

If you have any comments or questions, please let me know at

84 Jan/Feb 2019

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