My family and I went to the Naples Zoo earlier this month, and watching the zookeepers feed the alligators was endlessly fascinating.
As you may know, alligators are not indigenous to either western Canada or central Arizona, so living so close to these throwbacks from the Creatous Era is a new experience for me. As I type this, our local ‘gator,whom we’ve nicknamed “Greg”, is no doubt lurking around in the pond in our backyard, waiting for a errant turtle or fish to swim by.
This did not happen on the mean streets of Gilbert, Arizona.
The keepers at the zoo trained the gators to behave not with negative reinforcement, like poking them with a stick when they misbehaved, but with positive reinforcement, giving them raw meat when they did they did something right.
My wife, who teaches middle school, decided to try something similar with her students. She kept up the negative reinforcements (detention, etc.) but added in handing out unannounced rewards when her students where doing well.
And it worked. Her kids are quieter in class now, as they can now see an immediate, tangible benefit when they do the right thing.
Which got me thinking: What would a firearms training version of a positive reinforcement loop look like? Sure, you can say, “We have adults in our classes, they are smarter than alligators”, but on the other hand, they don’t call it the “reptilian brain stem” for nuthin’.
An alligator doesn’t know how to act like anything other than an alligator. Positive reinforcement is needed to get the alligator to act in a manner other than how an alligator would naturally act. Human beings, with the exception of Rob Leatham, do not naturally know how to operate a firearm in a stressful situation. Therefore, positive reinforcement will probably work with us as well.
The best I could come up with when it came to an existing positive feedback loop is shooting steel or other reactive targets, as they let you know right away that you did your job right and the hit was on-target. Other than that, the cupboard is pretty bare.
Maybe one of the reasons why we track draw speed and split times is because they’re one of the few places in firearms training where we can see a positive feedback loop happen in our training. The goal then should be not to poo-poo the existing feedback loops, but rather create more feedback loops that drive the skills we want to teach.