Jennifer Birdsong & Steve Smith

Continuum of Learning: Making Better Aviators by Teaching the Brain, Not the Pilot

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Jennifer Birdsong, Director, Advanced Learning Technology and Development, FlightSafety International

Jennifer Birdsong is FlightSafety’s Director, Advanced Learning Technology and Development. She is looking for innovative ideas and products to feature in FlightSafety’s training programs. The position was established to be collaborative, creative, inventive, and forward thinking. Working closely with all facets of FlightSafety to receive input and recommendations the position will research, develop, and implement innovative new products and services aimed at setting the industry standard for Pilot, Maintenance, Cabin Crew and Dispatch Client training delivery.Jennifer joined FlightSafety in 2000 at the San Antonio Learning Center as the Center Instructional Technologist. Jennifer subsequently served in the same capacity at FlightSafety’s Learning Center in Orlando, and Wichita East Learning Center.In 2007, Jennifer was promoted to Director of Programs for Hawker Beechcraft training. She assisted with the implementation of Matrix, FlightSafety’s Integrated Training System, courseware development for mobile and web delivery, and implementation of Operational Day Flow training.In 2015, Jennifer was promoted to Director of Courseware. Jennifer’s interest in paperless training, interactive training products, and virtual training let to the development of many innovative courseware products in use today and yet to come. The focus on web and mobile delivery aided the momentum of FlightSafety’s Instructor iPad initiative, and the move to device agnostic courseware allows for full use of FlightSafety’s FlightBag application. Jennifer and the Courseware team initiated numerous process improvements within Courseware, measurable accountability of progress, improved training and promotional opportunities for Courseware Teammates, and a renewed enthusiasm for innovation and teamwork.Prior to joining FlightSafety, Jennifer taught young students and adults with special needs. She also taught professional development courses designed to help teachers implement technology, and community college level Math courses. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas where she attended on a full tennis scholarship and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. 

Steve Smith, Product Director, MissionFIT™, FlightSafety International, Simulation

As Director of FlightSafety’s new state-of-the-art product line, MissionFIT™, and the head of FlightSafety’s Simulation Innovation Lab (SIL), Steve Smith is a visionary innovator obsessed with knocking down persistent barriers to safe and effective pilot training.Starting as an engineer at FlightSafety in 1995, Steve quickly became the industry leader in helicopter simulator technology. By working closely with customers and regulators, Steve led innovative efforts for first of a kind, ground breaking solutions used to introduce numerous commercial and military helicopter pilots to never-before-available lifesaving training. Now, as Director of SIL, Steve leads an R&D team focused on disruptive technologies and introducing MissionFIT, a byproduct of SIL, to the market. Steve is a patent holder, the recipient of multiple company and industry awards, and a past member of the working committee for setting international ICAO 9625 helicopter simulator regulatory policy. Steve holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Kansas and is an MBA candidate at MIT Sloan School of Management (2019).

Continuum of Learning: Making Better Aviators by Teaching the Brain, Not the Pilot

Scenario-based instruction plays a pivotal role in aviation workforces being prepared for anything but only if it aids in identification of risk, and impacts behavior and response. In our model, the brain is partitioned into distinct thought-centers. Our subconscious is responsible for quick, muscle memory, pattern based responses. This thought center learns by doing not by being told what to do. Riding a bike is a great example of the subconscious brain in action. While it is harder to simply tell someone how to ride a bike, showing and doing almost always equates to success. Our conscious brain is our highly intellectual brain. This thought center learns from formal instruction, but is slow to respond to real-world urgencies and prone to freezing in critical or overwhelming circumstances. Fortunately, for us, when the conscious brain freezes, the subconscious brain automatically takes over. However, if not properly trained for the emergency scenario, this subconscious brain may add to the chaos by causing us to take the wrong action, even though the conscious brain, watching in “frozen horror”, knows better. A continuum of learning suggests that education, training, and experience through ongoing instruction and active practice are the primary methods to stimulating intelligence from both thought centers to overcome aviation risks. Instruction rich in facilitated scenarios, risky but simulated maneuvers and procedures, and open dialog about risk mitigation allows both subconscious and conscious brains to thrive in the challenging and ever changing aviation landscape.