Training is a critical component to the success of any law enforcement agency. Officers begin their law enforcement career in a very structured academy. Blocks of training are typically divided into several learning domains with instruction delivered by subject matter experts. In California, a recruit must complete a basic academy with a minimum of 664 hours of training. After the completion of this requirement, the officer must successfully complete a field training program.
The training, however, does not end for the new officer. There are several mandated training sections that the officer must complete throughout his/her career. Many states require that a specified number of hours in training are given to officers on an annual or bi-annual basis.
Law enforcement training can be divided into many overarching areas, including physical and knowledge based. The physical skills are the hands-on training. An example of physical skills would be how to fire a pistol. The instruction would include body positioning, drawing, sight acquisition, trigger control and recoil management. The knowledge, or cognitive, skills include the areas where the trainee is required to make a decision based on a stimulus. An example of this type of training would include knowing when to shoot the pistol. Although these areas are somewhat distinct, they are not necessarily exclusive from each other.
Pedagogy versus Andragogy
In pedagogy, the instructor is in charge of the learning experience. The instructor will control the content, delivery methods, and evaluation processes. In a true pedagogical approach, the passing of an instructor designed or approved examination determines how effectively the students have learned.
Pedagogy has a long history and is commonplace in many law enforcement training environments. Some experts have argued that this method of training may be effective when teaching technical or procedural skills. In fact, these strategies are preferred in some training where officers need to learn mechanistic skills but do little towards the promoting of problem solving skills or developing judgment and leadership skills1.
Andragogy can be viewed as the art and science of helping adults learn, or adult learning theory. It builds the students’ abilities in problem-solving and the application of the mechanical skills that are learned in a more pedagogical approach. Andragogy recognizes the students past experiences and places the student in a position to assist in the learning process2. It is in contrast to the pedagogical model as it advocates the self-directed learning concept and the instructor as a facilitator of learning3.
The andragogical model is based on six basic principles:
1.) Adults take interest and invest time and effort in topics they know have applicability for them,
2.) Adults are responsible for their actions and deciding their own direction, and they want to be treated accordingly
3.) Adults have experience bases instructors should tap, and they can contribute to problem solving and aiding peers
4.) Adults are ready to learn knowledge and skills that will help them in the real world
5.) Adults center their learning on life issues and problems, rather than on isolated subject matter
6.) Adults are motivated more effectively by internal factors, such as job satisfaction, self-esteem, and quality of life
Adults need to understand the applicability of the lesson before they will engage in the learning. In law enforcement training, the subject matter must be relevant, realistic and immediately applicable in the life of an officer. In a survey of officers, they indicated that for learning to transfer, they had to be able to apply the skills and knowledge immediately into their practice4. In general, an adult’s ability to retain knowledge will deteriorate with age. Recalling and using the information shortly after the training will reduce the amount of training lost.
It is important that the instructor establish the applicability of the lesson early in the class to build the interest of the student. The human brain searches for meaning while seeking patterns and connections. Authentic learning situations increase the brain’s ability to make those connections, which in turn will aid in the retention of the information5. Officers that are convinced of the applicability will have high expectations for the training and will become more motivated to learn. Both self-motivation and high expectations for learning positively impact the learning transfer4.
Along the same lines of realistic training comes the realism of the trainer. Officers are skeptical by nature and are much attuned to assessing the credibility a training program, or of the instructor. If the training program is outdated and the newer information is greatly known, the students will become frustrated and view the training as a waste of their time. The instructor will lose credibility with the students for the present class and in any future contacts. If the instructor is known not to have the appropriate credentials or experience to teach the topic, the students will not engage in the learning and in fact may become a disruptive force 4.
In-service officers bring a high level of experience with them to the classroom. This experience is drawn from real-world examples, not just the world of academia. This experience should be used by the instructor to enhance the class. A common trait of most officers is their willingness to share experiences with one another. By allowing this to occur, not only is the instructor using the experience but is allowing the students to become more involved. An involved student will take away more from the class. Although instructors have the ultimate responsibility for leading, adult learning principles advocate that when everybody contributes, everybody learns6.
Putting the learning objectives into context is important when teaching officers. In using past experiences as a context for new learning, the instructor will be more effective and learning will occur at a higher level. This also makes the learning more meaningful and can be applied to future events that the learner may experience.
The learning environment for an officer must be psychologically and physically comfortable and contribute towards the learning. Instructors should commend the positive actions of the students and take every opportunity to praise good work6. The officers should be encouraged to participate but not feel as if they are being forced. The instructor needs to be aware that officers, as with any adult, need to feel respected. An officer that is purposely embarrassed will most likely disengage from the training.
Although not a defined principle of andragogy, an instructor should consider the use of various methods when teaching officers. The theory of multiple intelligences recognizes that not everyone learns information the same way and that training must be provided in several different ways to accommodate the various learning styles5. Lecture should be limited to only those areas that are applicable to this style. A portion of the course should involve activities that cause the learner to perform the desired learning objective. In doing this, the learner’s interest level will remain high and they will stay involved.
In one study, officers indicated that the best learning occurred when the instruction included a variety of deliveries including some lecture, small group exercises, case studies, role playing and videos4. Trainers should avoid placing officers in a training setting as passive recipients of facts only. Adult learning activities should include action and involvement6.
In part two of this article, the relationship between “community-oriented policing” and “adult learning” will be explored.
1Birzer, M. (2003). The theory of andragogy applied to police training. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 26(1), 29-42.
2Dwyer, G. & Dwyer, D. (2004). The need for change: A call for action in community police training. Federal Bureau of Investigations Law Enforcement Bulletin 73(11), 18-24.
3McCoy, M. (2006). Teaching style and the application of adult learning principles by police instructors. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 29(1), 77-91.
4Daffron, S., Goulet, G., Gray, J., & Viada, J. (2008). Developing curriculum for police officers and firefighters: Tips to follow and pitfalls to avoid. In Victor C. X. Wang (Ed.), Curriculum Development for Adult Learners in the Global Community Volume I: Strategic Approaches (pp. 171-206). Malabar, FL: Krieger.
5Cleveland, G. (2006). Using problem-based learning in police training. The Police Chief 3(11).
6Kennedy, R. (2003). Applying principles of adult learning: The key to more effective training programs. Federal Bureau of Investigations Law Enforcement Bulletin 72(4). 1-5.