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Train to Standard, Not to Time (Even When Time is Limited)

 

As more explicit police-training mandates are being passed nation-wide, legislators are desperate to set minimum training guidelines while remaining mindful that time for police training is limited and dwindling. As Mark Logan, PhD, and Assistant Director (Ret.), Office of Training and Professional Development, U.S. Department of Justice points out in Police Chief (July 2020, pg. 58),“The continuous evolution of desired performance combined with the precious commodity of time also influences the training methodology for law enforcement officers.” The availability of time can be an influencer, but should never be a factor in the determination of effectiveness—that comes from defining what quality training is, or is not.

Quality training involves more than meeting mandatory contact or awareness hours. It needs to include strategies for differentiation based on expertise and performance, from novice to expert. It needs to be learner-centric, not instructor-centric; it needs to be standards-based, on clearly-defined results. 

Standards-based training isn’t a novel concept to the military. According to Army training materials, “A standard is the minimum proficiency required to accomplish a task under a specified set of conditions. The goal in training is achieving task mastery, not just proficiency. Task mastery means Soldiers and units can perform a task to standard repeatedly under increasingly challenging, stressful, and varying conditions. Soldiers and units rarely achieve task standards on the first attempt or even after a few initial attempts. Leaders continually vary task conditions and conduct multiple iterations of task execution to make achieving standards more challenging.”

Mastery, not just proficiency, should be the goal of all training.”

In education, too, there is a current national movement towards standards-based grading. According to Chalk.com, “Standards set the criteria for the successful demonstration of the understanding of a concept or skill. They provide a concise description of everything that a student should be able to do before moving on to the next level of education. They provide a benchmark for the minimum level of proficiency…”

In an era of increasing requirements and expectations for excellence, and in an industry simultaneously experiencing decreasing funding and support, standards-based training offers a targeted approach to do more with less.

“The end goal in the cognitive development of a professional learner is that the learner is able to determine if their own results are acceptable—this is the model of a creative, empowered, and master-level thinker,” explains Dr. Joy VerPlanck, Director of Research for MILO Range. “The future of police training is to use educational technology to get novices and experts closer to that level of mastery, which requires a well-defined standard of quality and expectations.”

Understanding what quality policing looks like is a critical component for law enforcement training—it doesn’t just vary by community, it varies by the officer’s role within the agency. “An officer may be a master in traffic enforcement, but as soon as they transition to a crisis response team, their level of training and experience specific to that role puts them in a new position on that novice-expert scale,” offers Joseph Smarro, Master Police Instructor and CEO of SolutionPoint+. “Mastery is a subjective destination based on current position, so the route to get there is different for everyone.”

Simulation-based training technology like MILO Range allows leaders to differentiate training based on agency needs as well as on the skill levels of the individual officers. By providing iterative, interactive simulations, increasing difficulty levels from small-stakes to high-stakes situations, and tailoring training experiences to individual officer’s needs, MILO simulation training can provide opportunities for officers to achieve not only proficiency, but mastery in many facets of tactical decision making. These skills can then be directly transferred from the training room to their work in the field.

Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, it makes permanent. It only makes perfect if it’s done to standard.