Friday, August 22, 2014

Commentary–Changes are coming to NRA Training


. . . . and I have some concerns.

There has been a running discussion going on in the NRA Instructor and Training Counselor communities about the move of the NRA to a “blended” training model of training for new shooters. The NRA has consistently and adamantly rejected online training. Only a few short years ago Charlie Mitchell released a training update to trainers and Training Counselors stating their position in no uncertain terms. Now, seemingly without warning, the training department released news that over time virtually all programs were moving to a “blend” of online training and face to face range work. Needless to say this has generated a number of concerns that currently feel like a jumble of thoughts. The purpose of this letter is to create some focus to the discussion from the trainer side and to express the concerns I have heard in a single summary.

The concerns fit into a number of different categories – concerns for the student, concerns from a trainer’s point of view, concerns from a training counselor’s point of view, concerns from a state recognized training point of view and finally from a business point of view. Let’s address each in turn.

Concerns for the Student

Student training.

I’ve been a trainer for over 40 years . . . from the NRA programs to complex software products to a broad range of topics during my 21 years in the military. In all situations the need to insure a student learns the “knowledge, skill and attitude” to successfully learn the product or skillset was paramount. And the NRA coursework is certainly no exception.

The NRA’s own Basic Instructor Training leads the way in teaching new instructors how to be successful as an instructor. And, when teaching a skill of any kind they refer to TPI – total participant involvement. There is a need and an expectation that trainers will immerse, fully involve their student in the learning process. In fact there is a specific lesson where the loading and unloading of a handgun is taught using four different methods.

First, a candidate, using demonstration only – no verbal interaction, loads and unloads a firearm.

Second, the process is repeated by a second candidate only this candidate uses only words, a firearm is not used at all.

The third candidate uses a combination of the first and second – demonstrating the loading and unloading of a firearm while fully describing it.

Finally, the fourth candidate uses method three and then brings a student forward and walks them through the process as well – in full view of the class.

The purpose of this type of training – TPI – is to increase retention and learning. A physical demonstration and walking a student through it as well insures the absolute maximum retention.

Another premise of this demonstration is that different people learn in different ways. Some will learn and retain by simply hearing the words – others are tactile learners and actually need to touch what they are learning about.

Finally, depth of experience can add to the learning mix. Most trainers have specific “stories” that they use to emphasize individual parts of the coursework – all have value in that they provide specific examples to strengthen individual areas that are being taught – be it the safety rules, parts of a firearm and the components of a cartridge and how it all works together.

By conducting face to face training, we as Instructors and Training Counselors, can watch, evaluate, correct, reinforce and adjust the words and techniques to fit a specific class, a specific student to insure they are truly learning the “knowledge, skills and attitude” of what is being taught.

A further question arises out of the NRA unwillingness to trust us to be consistent in the classroom and find it necessary to convert that portion to online training. Yet there is no resistance to taking these same instructors and placing them in charge of finishing the live fire portion of the course on a range. How does this make sense? If we are untrustworthy in the classroom, why then are we deemed trustworthy on a live fire range?

Student evaluation

Our evaluation of how well a student or candidate is doing is an ongoing process throughout a face-to-face class. With the change to “blended” training, training updates so far say words like “the instructor will evaluate the student to insure they have learned the material”. We are further told we must have processes in place to accomplish this. What? After all the emphasis placed on adhering to a “gold standard” we now are expected to come up with our own individual set of training standards to make sure a student has learned the material – and then we’re supposed to fix what they haven’t learned. On a student by student basis? This seems like an area fraught with danger and I suspect the two extremes will be reached quickly. “Got your paper from the NRA saying you passed the on-line course? Great, you’re good to go – let’s hit the range!” to the instructor that says “You know, I simply don’t trust the on-line course. Come to this pre-range class, we’ll go over things and then we’ll go to the range.” Neither option is good for the student. As has been proven over and over, face to face is the best teaching model. It might not be the easiest or least complicated – but it is the best. And isn’t that what the NRA has always been about – providing the absolute BEST training available?

Concerns from the Trainer’s Point of View

As a trainer, an experienced trainer – I expect to actually train students. One of the things that drew me to the NRA was the depth of the training offered – both as a student and as a trainer. A broad range of skill sets – including how to actually train students – presented by well vetted and trained trainers. As I said earlier, I’ve been a trainer for over 40 ears and found the NRA program to be excellent.

I’ve been expected to turn out an exceptional “product” – a well-trained new shooter. Someone who is safe, skillful and truly understands the significance of the tool they have in their hand.

To learn these skills I’ve taken a broad range of instructor training from the NRA including Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, PPITH and PPOTH. Add to that the additional requirement to become a Training Counselor and the time and expense to complete this process and been significant . . . and very worthwhile.

Now however, we are being assured that by removing the student from the classroom, sitting them in front of a computer and letting them go through an online course they will perform the final keystroke and have every bit the same amount of knowledge as they would have gained by sitting through one or two days of face to face training.

Frankly, this is insulting beyond words, profoundly wrong-headed and a disservice to both existing instructors and future students.

Evaluation of the student is ongoing throughout a face to face course, fine adjustments in how an individual student hears or learns something, more of an emphasis here and there – all combine to make sure a student “gets it”. And all of this is lost when going to an on-line course.

Concerns from a Training Counselor’s Point of View

One of the primary reasons a student takes training is “desire”. As a Training Counselor what I look for in a candidate is their desire to teach folks about the safe use of firearms. And what I find is that most do not take the step to becoming instructors without that root desire to share knowledge, to make new shooters safer and more skillful.

There is so much more to that part of the formula than just standing in a lane on a range with a student and watching them send rounds down range. It’s about building trust, building relationships, about bring the candidate into a cadre of skilled trainers. Making them part of something bigger and unique.

What are they to be part of now? Why should they learn all the skills and skills sets they need to know today to become an instructor if their only function will be to essentially do a “range check” to make sure they can safely send rounds downrange? And if they are still supposed to invest the time and money to actually learn the basics, are they going to learn the basics well enough by simply watching videos – and then be able to verify the next generation of shooters have also learned what they should have learned by watching the same videos?

I believe this switch to blended learning will greatly degrade the base knowledge of new shooters. By casting off the knowledge and skills passed on by training provided face to face by skilled and experienced trainer – “corporate knowledge” will be lost with each successive class of shooters. I do not believe this will be in keeping with the “gold standard” that is provided by the NRA as it is structured today.

Concerns for a business Point of View

This seems to be one of those items that is continually set aside with a phrase like “we want to keep our focus on the student”. I understand that – but, there is always a business component.

The instructor that simply wants to teach a few friends from time to time must still earn enough money to cover expenses. And while that may actually be the majority of instructors – the “first tier” instructors who have made significant investment in training material, firearms, teaching aids like projectors and computers need to have enough “meat on the training bone” to make the continued teaching of the NRA Basic courses worthwhile. The courses must, at the very least, cover expenses. These are the instructors that have built the “gold standard” the NRA talks about. These are the instructors that have built training teams, integrated the NRA coursework into their businesses and present the most visible examples of a NRA training professional.

And these very instructors are the ones that are going to be discarded by the blended training approach.

I also have to ask . . . why weren’t we – Instructors and Training Counselors – consulted, given a heads up, asked to wring out the new program, to participate at some minimal level? There is literally 100s of THOUSANDS of years of experience in the training community. I simply do not understand being left out of the process. One of the key elements in any sales job – and believe me, the introduction of this program needs a sales job – is “enrollment”. The “customer” needs to feel like they are part of the decision, that they were part of the group that decided on what the solution to the problem was. Frankly most instructors and Training Counselors I chatted with feel more like a victim than a partner. That is not a good situation for either the NRA or the training cadre. I have yet to speak with a single Instructor or Training Counselor who was asked to comment on or evaluate this new approach before it was announced at the April meeting. Within days I had commented to the Facebook Training Counselor group with a review and a request to the training department that Instructors and Training Counselors be brought into the process and allowed to review the online course. To date, I’ve received no response. While there may be a select few who have been granted a look at the new material, I believe that the training cadre is more than a little angry. These are the people who provide the “gold standard” and I am simply perplexed as to why they are being handled in such an off-handed manner. It seems obvious our investment, our time, the money we’ve invested to become NRA trainers and Training Counselors means little.

One other element playing here is that while the NRA in no way shape or form presents the Basic Pistol course as a concealed carry course – many states accept it as part of the face to face training time. Those NRA instructors that make the BP a component of their training curriculum will now have to move on to other training material. This may well lead to NRA instructors no longer being considered as a viable trainer for many states. Again, this is the NRA’s training core. I would hope the NRA takes into consideration what the loss of a state’s certification would mean to an instructor.

Final Thoughts

I attended the April presentation by John Howard. I understand the concerns. I’ve read the stories of rogue trainers cutting corners, selling certificates, promoting their own courses under the guise of the NRA. And I heard him when he mentioned the number of law suits the NRA has had to defend against. While I certainly have no personal experience of that level or risk or exposure, I can certainly understand the need to insure a consistent core of knowledge.

With that said, I simply do not understand the “throw the baby out with the bath water” approach that the move to blended learning seems to represent. If there are bad trainers – weed them out. If there is a need to insure a common core of knowledge, offer on-line training for continuing education of current trainers and Training Counselors. Require a certain number of online or face to face CE each and every year to keep your trainer’s certification. I’ve posed the question of holding annual trainer only seminars in different parts of the country similar to what Tom Givens from Rangemaster does. Again, no response.

If the desire is to simply transfer responsibly for training from the hands of the instructor corps to corporate and the online coursework – little I have said will have any effect on your decision.

But, if your core desire is to still be the “gold standard” for firearms training in the US . . . please, please reconsider this path.



William Keller

President, Eastern Iowa Firearms Training

1 comment:

  1. Agree with all your points Bill, this is NOT a good situation. Online just doesn't work for the skill sets we are 'supposed' to be teaching.