Essential Skills: The Learning Curve – It’s Harder to Traverse Than You Might Think

Qulafication 5

Originally posted March 13, 2015.  Reposted by reader request.

All over the blogosphere, including here, you will find various posts on the ‘how to’ of performing a particular task or a certain skill from basic to advanced levels of performance and knowledge.  A great majority of the posts are not only well-written, but provide pure gold, so to speak, when it comes to essential information.  What is typically not found, however, is, “the other shoe,”, that is, clear information on how long it takes to master those same tasks or skills.  And truly, it’s not by attending one or two or even five 3 day courses at one school or another, no matter who’s running the course. It’s great that there are schools available to get the training; it really is, and we here at DTG are very happy that training is being sought after and attended by people who want to really know how to take care of their own, whether it’s our courses or someone else’s.  Our mantra has always been, “If you can’t or prefer not to come here, go somewhere else that offers good training, but get the training!”  No complaints here, because the more skills increase, the better chance we all have should SHTF.

You’ll read or hear from time to time that one should only go to a school that’s conducted full-time and that schools that hold classes occasionally don’t offer ‘top quality’ training.  Don’t fall for that.  Full-time schools may or may not offer ‘top quality’ training.  It all depends on not only the skill of the staff in performing what the school purports to teach, but the ability of the staff to impart the information and skill in a manner that the student can learn and retain.  In other words, having well-skilled instructors.

Something else to consider is that a full-time school is most likely dependent upon a heavy student load to pay or otherwise compensate it’s staff.  Because of this, quantity requirements may overtake quality delivery in importance.  Not always, but the concern is there, nevertheless.  Part-time schools do not have that to worry about.  That’s one reason our school (and others as well) is a part-time endeavor; DTG does not depend on training funds for a living.  We have day jobs to take care of our personal financial needs.  Everything we do for the school is done on our own time.  From lesson planning to teaching practicums, we are responding to a calling, not ‘doing a job.’  We provide quality training because we believe in not only what we teach, we believe students who train with us do so because we teach the, “why” of the moves as well as provide pre and post requisite study recommendations to participants.  We also endorse those schools, like Mason Dixon Tactical and Guerrillamerica,   among others, that do the same.

As a potential student, here’s a learning curve truth you need to accept: No matter where you go, no matter who the instructor is, unless you’re attending a course that’s between 160 and 220 contact hours in length (that’s 20 to just over 27 eight hour days), you will not reach a basic mastery level in skill performance.   Notice, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to perform at a ‘consciously skilled’ (I can do this if I think about it or follow my checklist) level, you means you won’t have basic skill mastery, which is necessary to achieve ‘muscle memory performance (a good example of this level of learning and how the author achieved it, is described  in this article, linked from Mosby’s site, here).

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My perspective comes from long experience teaching and evaluating trainees in infantry skill and leadership based courses and employing ‘school graduates’ from professionally taught military schools over a career.   This is not be taken that mastery cannot be achieved in a relatively short time, rather, it means that  the ‘average’ person learning these skills for the first time (or refreshing skills that were learned and used long ago, but rarely since) is, at best, at an apprentice level upon completion still requiring further study (yes, book work) and practical application (practice, practice, practice) in variable environments for a good while.

This is why when the .mil types graduate their basic courses and report in to their units they’re put under the watchful eye of an experienced team leader.  Until such time as the ‘noob’ demonstrates skill mastery, life resembles a more intense version of school, with much of the practice (or at least a good portion of it, done on personal time).  Then, finally, after an extended period of time calculated from months to years, depending on the skill set performance requirements involved, the ‘noob’ enters the ‘reliable’ category.  Hours wise, not counting formal training, the amount of time spent can be from 1k to 4k, or anywhere in between to achieve skill mastery on a particular skill set.  Once achieved, though, the trainee will continue to practice, because skills are perishable.  If you don’t use them, you will lose them.


Since opening our doors, and when training with various NPT type associations (before and since),  we’ve observed from various student descriptions that at the end of the 2 or 3 day period, the student many times mistakenly believes they are ‘good to go.’  “OK, I’ve been through so and so’s ‘Super Condensed Elite Multicam Manipulation Course’, and I’ve got it down. Next subject.”  The student most likely has also received a token of having completed the training, such as a certificate of completion (much different than a certification of competency) or a patch, ball cap, whatever, which cements his mistaken belief. Here’s the reality:

To achieve skill mastery, it comes down to repetition of each sub-task, task, skill, and skill set until ‘muscle memory’ or ‘2nd Nature’ performance is achieved. 

As JC at MDT has been known to say, “Practicing until you can’t get it wrong.”  That cannot be accomplished in one, or even several classes.  It takes hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours of study and practice to achieve the desired end state of competency, and then, when not actively performing, hitting the books and studying the concepts and principles involved.

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Whether the skill in question is building fires with no accelerants, conducting land navigation, operating as a staff member, ‘running your gun’, or setting up and participating, let alone ‘running’ a security or recon patrol, until it’s practiced until it can’t be done other than correctly, the apprentice (student) never achieves more than being ‘Consciously Skilled (Competent),’ when attending various courses (even as a repeat attendee) which is a concise way of saying, “he can do the task, but must think his way through, and may make one or more errors.”

qualifcation 3

The bottom line is that when you complete a course of instruction, no matter what or where it is, you’ve only just begun, in most cases.  Concentrated study and practice is in your future if skill mastery is your goal.  You’ll get there, but don’t fall for the mistaken notion that you’re a ‘journeyman.’

1 thought on “Essential Skills: The Learning Curve – It’s Harder to Traverse Than You Might Think

  1. Pingback: Essential Skills: The Learning Curve – It’s Harder to Traverse Than You Might Think | From the Trenches World Report

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