Kris Allshouse, Sergeant (ret.), City of Long Beach, California, and Executive Director, Los Angeles County Regional Training Center, California
Congratulations to the many educators who have begun the shift from the traditional instructor-centered teaching style to a proven practice that acknowledges the experiential and cognitive worth of students, individually and collectively. For instructors and leaders to effect change, they must begin with the outcome-based goal of teaching—to transfer knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs)—which is best accomplished by utilizing the science of how people learn. The instructional concept of the “85 Percent Rule” offers one method for achieving that goal. Simply put, the 85 Percent Rule suggests that an effective facilitator is able to extract 85 percent of the course content directly from the students by asking questions that stimulate deep critical thinking and foster dynamic discussion and reasoning.
Well-known self-help author Stephen Covey argued that highly effective people “begin with an end in mind.”2 The importance of applying this principle multiplies exponentially as teachers endeavor to shape the masses through their instruction. Therefore, to achieve the true goal of teaching, the transfer of KSAs to the students, instructors would be wise to start at the “end” by first identifying which specific KSAs are to be learned and then applying objectively proven techniques to teach them.
Inexperienced instructors are often caught in the trap of first trying to be entertaining or “covering” a great deal of material in a short time. While both of these goals are valid, and, in fact, desired, the effective teacher focuses primarily on a long-term behavioral shift stemming from the transfer of the KSAs. All other priorities must then be subordinate to this ultimate goal of instruction. This focus on a “mission” is an epiphany for many instructors who may be very entertaining or likable, but are failing to effectively transfer KSAs in a way that allows for the sought-after long-term behavioral shift.
Outcome-Focused Delivery Strategies
It is imperative during the lesson design process to include delivery strategies that are proven to transfer the KSAs through objective testing, even when they may not always be the most entertaining or enjoyable method. Consider the contrast of two search warrant writing instructors: one teaches by telling interesting war stories, reading from his PowerPoint slides, and showing occasional comical video clips. He provides longer breaks and ends class early “to beat traffic.” The second instructor provides students with the tools to “figure it out.” He directs students to write a search warrant and allows student collaboration. The warrants are then evaluated by an attorney who provides feedback. Using this new knowledge, the students complete a second search warrant to engrain the desired behavior. The first instructor is clearly more fun and accommodates passive learners. The second instructor makes the class feel a lot like work, but he was true to the goal—KSAs were transferred and verified.
The mission-centered teaching concept is strictly results oriented, requiring an understanding of how the human brain stores and accesses information. Simply put, the brain stores information away like a file in a cabinet, but each file can be cross-referenced under multiple headings so it can be accessed for diverse reasons. Neural pathways are used to access the memory file. The more pathways there are, and the more they are used (the more often information is accessed), the stronger the memory. These pathways are made even stronger when cognitive reasoning is used to create the new memory file (i.e., self-creating the memory as opposed to hearing someone dictate the information).3 Educators often help students build these stronger pathways via problem-based learning or critical thinking woven into the course curriculum. In the search warrant example, the second class will have created memory files from their behavioral application lesson, so their KSAs will be better retained and can be used with confidence.
The key is to use varied delivery strategies focused on student-created memories to strengthen neural pathways, which allows for higher cognitive functioning. This can be achieved by having the students figure out the course content instead of spoon-feeding them the information. The idea of the “85 Percent Rule” is offered as a guideline to help instructors successfully design a course and teach by facilitation. [Read more at Police Chief Magazine]