Instructional theory

An instructional aid is any device that assists an instructor in the student's learning process. They may be sight or sound devices, or a combination of both. Instructors use them to improve communication between themselves and their students, but the aids do not substitute for instruction50; they are used to support, supplement or reinforce teaching.

Reasons for using them

Gaining and holding student attention is essential to learning. Visual aids which support the topic with some degree of novelty draw attention to the information and cause both the seeing and hearing channels of the mind to process the same or similar information51.

An important goal of all instruction is for the student to retain as much of the instruction as possible and a significant improvement in student retention occurs when instruction is supported with meaningful aids52.

It is difficult for instructors to use words that have the same meaning for the student as they do for you. For example, try describing level attitude, using words only, to a student that has not flown before. The good instructor makes learning easier and more accurate for the student by providing visual images53.

It is often difficult for a student to understand relationships, for example, CL to Angle of Attack. If the relationships are presented visually, they are much easier to deal with. Symbols, graphs and diagrams can show relationships of location, size, time, frequency or value54.

Instructors are frequently asked to teach more and more in less and less time. Instructional aids can help them do this.

Guidelines for their use

The decision to use any instructional aid should be based on its ability to support a specific point in a lesson55.

Aids should be simple and compatible with the learning outcomes to be achieved. Since aids are used in conjunction with a verbal presentation, words on the aid should be kept to a minimum and distracting artwork avoided56. You should avoid the temptation of using the aid as a crutch. For example, the introduction of PowerPoint saw many instructors fall into this trap, believing that a slide or series of slides, with everything on them, could substitute for the lesson or briefing. A six-by-six rule of thumb can be applied to the preparation of slides – 6 words across and 6 lines down, maximum.

Aids have no value in the learning process if they cannot be heard or seen. Recordings of sounds and speeches should be tested for adequate volume and quality. Visual aids must be visible to the entire class, with lettering large enough to be seen by the students farthest from the aid. Colours, when used, should contrast and be easily visible. The surest and most successful rule is, before the student arrives, test visual and aural aids in the environment in which they will be used.

The effectiveness of aids can be improved by proper sequencing57. Sequencing can be emphasised and made clearer by the use of contrasting colours.

The effectiveness of aids and the ease of preparation can be increased by planning them in rough draft form. The rough draft should be carefully checked for accuracy, clarity and simplicity. Revisions and alterations to a draft are easier to make than changes to a final product.

The purpose of all instructional aids is to improve the student's understanding so care must be taken to present information from the student's perspective. For example, when using an attitude window, point out what the attitude looks like from the student's (left-seat) perspective.


Some of the most common aids are whiteboards, models, illustrations, handouts, projected materials and computers.

Whiteboard or blackboard

The whiteboard is one of the most widely used aids to learning. Its versatility and effectiveness make it a valuable aid to most types of instruction. The following practices are fundamental in the use of a whiteboard or blackboard:

  • Keep the board clean.
  • Erase all irrelevant material.
  • Keep chalk or pens, erasers, rulers and other equipment readily available to avoid interruption of the presentation.
  • Organise the board and practise the presentation in advance.
  • Write or draw large enough for everyone in the group to see.
  • Do not overcrowd. Leave a margin around the material and space between lines.
  • Present material simply and briefly.
  • Use lower case for presentation of material to be learned as the easier interpretation facilitates learning and leave upper case for titles.
  • If necessary, use the ruler or other devices in making drawings.
  • Use colour for emphasis.
  • Stand to the side of the material being presented, so that the entire class will have an unobstructed view.
  • Do not talk to the board – when speaking, face the student or group; when writing, write!


A model is a realistic copy or simulation of a real piece of equipment. Models are not necessarily the same size as the equipment they represent, nor are they necessarily workable. However, a model is generally more effective if it works like the original. With the display of an operating model, the students can observe how each part works in relation to the other parts, ailerons for example. As instructional aids, models are usually more practical than originals because they are lightweight and easily moved.

The most commonly used model in flight instruction is that of an aircraft. In accordance with the above general principles the model aircraft should at least bear some resemblance to the aircraft being used for training, high- or low-wing for example.

You should always hold the model aircraft by the nose, so that the tail of the aircraft points toward the student. This gives the student the perspective of sitting in the pilot's seat. For example, which aileron goes down and which goes up in the turn is your problem to solve not the student's.


Material should be displayed in a clear, easily understood format. Safety posters are a good example. A large photograph of the aircraft instrument panel is particularly useful. However, as with any other model representation, it is of little value – even detrimental – if it does not represent the aircraft in use. An extreme example would be using a photograph of an A320 instrument layout for a pilot training in a Cessna.


Handouts comprise any written material distributed in relation to the lesson. They can include copies of your notes, illustrations, articles or overhead projection material. They may be distributed during, or at the completion of the lesson, depending on your preference.

For the pre-flight briefing, handouts are best utilised in a systematic manner, linking the exercises being taught.

For example, at the completion of the straight-and-level lesson the student is given a handout on climbing. This first asks relevant questions in regard to the practical aspects of straight-and-level. Revision questions relating to earlier instruction could also be included. Then the handout covers the theory and considerations of climbing in depth. This is in more detail than would be covered in the pre-flight brief including, for example, any relevant checklists or radio procedures. The handout ends with relevant questions on the climbing text.

You now present the pre-flight briefing on climbing, and the exercise is flown and de-briefed. Then a handout on descending is given to the student, on the first page of which are questions relating to climbing air exercise – and the cycle is repeated.

The use of handouts in this manner provides a continuous cycle of repetition, recency and arousal.

Projected material

Projected material includes motion pictures, video, slides, and PowerPoint. The essential factor governing their use, as with all instructional aids, is that the content supports the lesson.

Video appeals to students, while packaged lessons appeal to instructors; care should be exercised to ensure that the lesson is being supported – not supplanted.

Video should be previewed and summarised by you before use.

Films and video are good for gaining and maintaining attention, but they do not lend themselves well to the interactive learning process. Slides combined with your presentation provide greater opportunity for interaction.

Use of projected materials requires careful planning and rehearsal by you to adjust equipment, lighting and timing.

Computer-based instruction

At this time, the computer is by far the most versatile kind of aid available to instruction58.

Computers combine the features of film or audio in gaining and maintaining attention and can provide simulation and interactive feedback. With the development of touch-screen technology, exciting possibilities for interactive instruction and feedback have become possible59.

At first glance, the computer appears to incorporate all the considerations of effective instruction. However, the computer still lacks the ability to provide for an individual's social and egoistic needs. For example, belonging, appreciation and recognition. For this reason it is worth stating again that instructional aids are used in support of your delivery; they should not substitute for instruction itself.

Future developments

Recent years have seen an explosion of new materials and techniques in the field of instructional aids. The effective instructor strives to keep abreast of new devices, new materials, and their potential uses. In choosing an appropriate instructional aid, you must be receptive to new possibilities and keep in mind the learning goal to be achieved, as well as the role of the instructor in human relations60.

Role modelling