Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Police Recruit Training: Facilitating Learning Between the Academy & Field Training

This article, coming from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, discusses how new police recruits learn in two very different environments. "Police recruit training occurs across multiple learning activities; it begins in the classroom and ends with hands-on field experience." According to the author there is plenty of literature that focuses on each individual activity assuming that knowledge will transfer between settings, however this is not necessarily the case. There is a growing realization within the law enforcement (LE) community that organizations need to hone in on how learning extends across activities (i.e. - from the classroom to the field).

This study was conducted at a regional police academy in Michigan that is the training headquarters for a medium-sized department with over 200 sworn officers. The author selected 10 cadets quasi-randomly and gathered data through observation and structured interviews. Furthermore, in the field the author rode along with the new recruit and his/her mentor in order to record, transcribe and code the ensuing dialog to see what the recruit had learned in the academy.

The Academy
In this study, the academy work consisted of primarily classroom lecture (a traditional lecture format), however there were other portions of the programs such as firearms proficiency, defensive tactics, first aid, driving strategies and police scenarios. The author notes that the traditional lecture format is the norm across the police academy world and that it follows a behaviorist line of teaching. Furthermore, "learning in the academy depends on lecture and less than 3% of basic training is spent on alternative forms of instruction".

Many leading scholars note that this pen and paper form of learning is outdated and that perhaps a "problem-based approach" would be a better method. This method focuses on using critical thinking skills to remedy real-world problems. According to the author this method stresses an "andragogical approach" which assumes learners are self-directed. Many of the recruits studied, drew upon previous experience in police work to supplement their learning.

Another possible method of teaching that is similar to the andragogical approach is the "constructivist approach". This approach is learner centered, involves reciprocal learning and peer collaboration to teach in an effective manner. In the constructivist approach, the teacher acts as a facilitator who guides individuals/groups in problem-solving and critical-thinking exercises using real-world scenarios.

Field Training
The author notes that learning in the field is much different than in the classroom. In most programs, probationary officers train for 16 weeks, rotating through 3 phases with many different field training officers. This form of learning closely resembles an apprenticeship where the new officer gradually transitions into the role of a full-time officer. This allows the new officer to bridge the knowledge gap between the academy and what actually happens on the streets. The author notes that one finding of his is that the training officers generally take the new officer's knowledge for granted and some training officers even dismissed the significance of the academy as a training tool.

The author stresses the need for LE to overcome the divide between the academy and the field. One way to do that is to use a learner-centered, constructivist approach which will "ensure that recruits engage in learning with which they identify".

For any further information on the study, please see "Police Recruit Training: Facilitating Learning Between the Academy & Field Training" in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, written by Steven Hundersmarck accessed through Academic Search Complete.


  1. I think LE would a great area that utilizing the gaming idea that Professor Wheaton always talks about might help a lot. The field training is a form of this but to find a way to teach some of the materials through games might engage the trainees more and lead to a better retention since they aren't sitting in a traditional lecture format because if they are anything like most of the people their average attention span is about seven minutes.

    However using games instead would keep them more actively involved and might extend the time they are actively involved in the learning process.

  2. I agree with Matt. Using games or some other method of actively engaging rather than lecturing at the students might improve the learning process. I think this is especially true in law enforcement because of the nature of the job. Some fields lend themselves better to learning via lecture than others. And in this case, it appears that you can only learn so much from the classroom. Putting something into practice will give you a memory of the event, associating an emotion with it. And from what I've heard, when you associate an emotion with something, it is much more likely you will remember/learn it.