Early in my law enforcement career I was able and blessed to become an in-house instructor. I was hired by a smaller Sheriff’s Office nestled among the Appalachian Mountains in south central Pennsylvania. When I began my career there was a lack of officers who had the drive and passion to learn more about law enforcement and teach their colleagues.
I always found this to be odd. Any training was a day away from my normal duties, so every chance that came along I enrolled in every training class that was offered. It was at these trainings that I came to realize some of the best knowledge I was obtaining was from other officers on breaks and with classmates during the training sessions themselves.
Shortly after I became an instructor, I became the “go to guy” for various types of instructional responsibilities, each training geared at making me the “expert” within my department. I was not only expected to train our deputies, I was being asked to review and help re-write policy and procedure. This is a daunting responsibility for any new trainer. But as an older officer told me, “Training means you have to work harder and get paid less. Now who would want to do that?”
This is a bad attitude to have and one, frankly, I feared was the eventual fate of us all in this career—including me.
A while back I found myself at a four-day train-the-trainer class where I was taught how to properly train and instruct people based upon their learning styles. At first I thought this was a big waste of time. After all, I don’t get to shoot, fight, or learn about anything interesting, right?
Fortunately, I paid attention and started what I hope to be a never ending passion as a student of law enforcement. This is also where I first observed, and continue to observe that during and after every law enforcement training, no matter what the topic, officers congregating together at breaks and lunch, often migrating to the nearest microbrewery, cafe, or restaurant at the end of the day.
It’s not the alcoholic caloric intake that I realized was important, but the conversations. As cops, conversations range from sports, politics, cars, family, technology, or even a good stock tip. I’ve found that no matter what, every one of these conversations always drifts back toward work, which always has a training angle to it. I call this phenomenon “residual learning.”
Residual learning is what continues after training. It can occur on a break, at lunch, or over a cold adult beverage in the evening. Good instructors often encourage this by saying, “Make sure to network with other officers in the room!” Some training events even provide class rosters to everyone with attendee’s names and emails to facilitate future contact.
I know that residual learning is done every day across the law enforcement community. It’s one thing to get the classroom version. But it’s quite another to discuss just what the theory would translate to in the street—particularly your street. This process of talking it through with peers is essential, especially for younger officers.
Following are some benefits of residual learning.
Don’t reinvent the wheel: Work smarter, not harder. More training comes with more responsibility. In-turn responsibility requires the creation, revision, or implementation of policy and procedure.
Why sit down and try to make something out of nothing? Use contacts you obtained at trainings too acquire a wide variety of models. Take these samples and sort them into great, good, and bad. Discard the bad (be nice and send that agency a few pointers that will help them improve) and keep the good and great ones. Once sorted, tailor them to your specific training and instructional/agency needs.
Get stuff funded: For me the biggest battle our department faced was the politicians that controlled our purse strings. This meant I was in trainings that taught the best way or national preference in law enforcement. I would return from the training to purchase X, Y, or Z to keep us current. This all cost money.
Money is something most of our departments have little of, and if your agency is like mine, money is never abundant for in-house training. We as instructors should not allow our training credibility to suffer. Enter the use of your residual learning skills! Put feelers out to other agencies that may be in the same boat, see if they have any tactics or strategies to alleviate financial constraints. One thing I have found is that as a community, we as law enforcement officers can do a lot with a little.
Mutually beneficial relationships: Most of these trainings have a recertification requirement, which ultimately means you will see the same officers again. Use this to your benefit. Keep in touch and exchange contact information with as many people as you can. This allows you to keep tabs on different agencies’ trainings, and their successes or failures. Residual learning can help give your boss a boiled down synopsis of what is working in the training field (this helps justify the training you are doing) and will help you obtain the knowledge base you’re expected to have.
Our profession, as a whole, needs to stop doing things individually and realize that different experiences and perspectives can never be a bad thing. Use your residual learning to apply examples from the law enforcement community in a manner that will create a more realistic training environment.
Remember that old officer I mentioned above? The one who said training meant working harder for less? I’ll never be like him. I’m too inspired by the trainers and students I’ve met along the way.
Just as being an LEO is a calling, being an instructor in the law enforcement field is a greater calling, one that requires passion coupled with the willingness to constantly learn, adapt, and test your own skills and abilities. If it is truly in your heart, it will force you to continue to be a student of your craft in a fluid and polarizing career field.
Everything in this article, I believe, would apply to other professions as well. Residual learning creates networks—in your mind and among your contacts—and I only wish years ago that I started thinking about the conversations I was having during training breaks or over a cold brew as an actual learning experience in and of itself. If I had a better grasp on what residual learning was then, and how it could benefit me, I would have learned that much more.