As law enforcement instructors, we take a great amount of pride in what we do. We spend countless hours researching our topics, practicing our techniques and making sure we are giving the latest and best advice available. People’s lives and careers count on us teaching as best we can. But, is everyone learning what we are teaching? Just because you’ve created an amazing PowerPoint and demonstrated the techniques to perfection doesn’t mean that your students are actually retaining what you’re trying to teach.

As adults, we don’t learn the same way as we did when we were younger. Not only do we choose additional learning (unlike a child who must be told they have to go to school), but we are able to see how what’s being taught can apply to our lives. We also don’t just “magically absorb” knowledge as we hear it from our instructors. It has to be presented in a way that our brains can attach it to how we might apply the knowledge at work or at home.

Here are a number of things you should consider when instructing your adult students:

Get Them Out of Their Seats

Sitting around in a classroom for hours on end will result in tired and distracted students not retaining much of anything. Presenting with short bursts of information, followed up with some hands-on practicing is a great way for them to absorb the material. For example, you could teach a proper draw, and then move the students into a VirTra training simulator to practice the draw on a virtual range. Not only does this help embed the training, it also motivates the student to learn more, as well as make the learning fun!

Show Why It’s Important

When you were a child, adults would tell you something and you would (usually) just accept it. Occasionally, you might ask “why?”, and I’m sure that was countered immediately with a “Because I said so.” That doesn’t really work with adults.

Your students will want to know how the information you’re presenting will directly affect them in their everyday lives. In law enforcement training, we generally show ways to make them safer and more effective while performing their duties. Explain to them how what you are teaching will accomplish that. It’s even better when you explain it, and then combine it with getting them out of their seats.

Don’t Grade Them

Instead of traditional school-style grading, there are other ways to determine understanding of a new subject.

Class discussions and group activities are a great way to show that learning has occurred. It also removes the fear from students of being singled out for a lack of understanding.

A fun an interactive way to show learning is through skill demonstrations. This can be accomplished through hands-on activities showing proper techniques. It can also be done within a simulator such as going through a scenario that’s related to the topic.

Teaching adults doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to make sure you’re using the right tools for the job. Trainers really do want to train, and students really want to learn. Adjusting our presentation style can mean all the difference.

Stay safe!




ProEdit. (2013, June 5). 5 Adult Learning Techniques to Improve Your Training Programs. Retrieved from ProEdit:


This article was written by TJ Alioto, VirTra’s Subject Matter Expert. TJ spent 20 years in law enforcement with the Wauwatosa Police Department, having reached the rank of Lieutenant prior to retiring in 2017. Now, as an SME, TJ uses his experience in designing and presenting coursework and curriculum for police officers to continue to pass along essential skills to new officers.

Being a training officer is no easy job.

After all, it is your responsibility to meet the legal mandates of the law, as well as the mandates of constitutional policing. Making sure your officers are trained to this level, and held accountable, is no easy feat. As you outline your training plan, here are some tips to help keep training up-to-par while maximizing training time:

Legal Standards for Training

Before you begin creating a plan, you must understand the goals. It is your job to protect the department against liability, and as such, you must look for any training gaps. Start by answering these self-reflective questions:

• Are policies updated and accurate to current police practices and legal standards?
• Are officers receiving the most effective and efficient training?
• Are supervisors effectively supervising and holding officers accountable?
• Are internal affairs investigators effectively investigating allegations of policy and training?

Constantly asking these questions keeps your training ahead of the times. This is especially necessary with the constant evolution of societal hot topics: crowd control, mental illness and race relations, especially. Since these core topics are addressed on a daily basis, and are developing with time, it is crucial to change how you train and where to keep the focus of your operations.

Rather than focusing solely on state requirements, focus on the bigger picture: the law. After all, it is the law that guides policies, which guides training, which guides operations. Though it is your responsibility to train officers on policies, the best place to start training is clearly established law, before narrowing in on policies and operations.

Conduct Effective Police Training Assessments

Simply put, officer training is teaching officers department policies and procedures. While overly simplified, it is ensuring officers are prepared for the field, armed with information and knowledge about department and state procedures. But in order to know what an officer truly needs to understand, a trainer must conduct an effective training assessment.

In order for this to be the most beneficial, trainers are encouraged to perform this at least once a year. This can be broken up into five simple steps:

• Survey Department Members—What types of incidents are they dealing with? Is this something they need more training on?
• Collect and Review Data—What types of crime are most common in your area?
• Discuss Trends with Prosecuting Authorities, Civil and Employment Counsels—Ask around to see what trends they have discovered in the last year of cases.
• Legal Cases—Review all community legal cases weekly, if possible
• Current Trends in the Industry—Perform research and ask other trainers what current hot topics they are training on.

Prepare Yearly Law Enforcement Training Plans

After completing the assessment, compile the data and decide on certain topics your training will cover. Once you have outlined certain objectives, the next step is to develop a plan.

Keep in mind this will be an ongoing, developing process. The point of training is not to meet a need, necessarily, but instead to increase knowledge and professionalism in the field. Think about it as training because you want to, not because you have to.

Take your objectives and determine aggressive, yet realistic goals, for accomplishing these objectives. By recognizing the desired outcome, you can work backwards by filling the goals with learning methods and activities to train your officers and keep them meeting these goals.

As you do so, create some form of documentation or evidence of learning. The best way to do this is through testing, ensuring officers are paying attention and retaining the taught materials. Training after this manner teaches officer, but also protects your department legally, eliminating “failure to train”.

Ensure Effective Integration of Policy and Law Enforcement Training

Now that you have determined your objectives, created goals and developed a form of documentation, review the policy and training together. Keep in mind that policies are only as effective as the training and requirements. If the training is weak, unfocused or nonexistent, your policy will not be followed.

After issuing the policy, begin implementing training. Depending on available software and resources, check to see if everyone has reviewed, read, understood and is following the policy. For the benefit of your officers and the department, mandated testing is recommended.

Organization and Professionalism Leads to Success

Learning never stops in law enforcement. From the first day in the academy to the day before retirement, officers will constantly be learning new policies, implementing new procedures and developing new skills.

For the maximum result, training should be based around adult-learning methods, such as role-playing scenarios and interactive exercises, in addition to the traditional lecture format. As you design your training plan, consider this:
People learn:
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach others

There is a reason “death by PowerPoint” is a phrase. Teaching solely with PowerPoints and lectures will result in officers learning 20-30% of what was taught—a dangerously low amount.

Instead, keep your officers engaged. Have them discuss the policy, practice it and teach others. Research other forms of adult-learning models to see how to maximize training time and transferring this information to long-term memory. As always, ensure officers understand the material taught by issuing tests throughout the learning process.

Most of this information was found in Daigle Learning Center’s webinar: Training Officer Liability. The entire recording can be found here.

If you are an instructor, how would you create a scenario filled with the most stimuli? For example, consider a home environment where there is a couple fighting, in addition to other objects vying for attention: a phone ringing in the background, a pot of boiling water on the stove, a child crying in the next room over, and so forth.

Depending on how well trained a trainee is, a loud, complicated environment such as this can be incredibly beneficial or do more damage than good.

For trainees with more experience and understanding, training in this manner is an excellent way to prepare them for the field. However, for newer trainees who have never practiced the learned skill or are still new to the concept, the extra stimuli is too much.

A general rule of thumb is the more a trainee practices a given skill, the more stimuli and commands can be added to the training environment. One must learn to crawl, then walk, before running.

Teaching a Concept

Training time must be completely dedicated to training—focusing on understanding, implementing and acting on the taught skill or principle. Having too much unnecessary stimuli in the training environment can take away an individual’s ability and mental capacity to function. While this successfully tests older trainee’s abilities to perform, for newer trainees, this can create a training scar.

In creating the proper environment, instructors need to keep in mind that stimuli can be auditory, visual, physical or olfactory. Even though different stimuli trigger different responses, each can command one’s attention and should be balanced.

Consider this example: if you are driving to a new address, you may turn down the music to concentrate on finding your destination. Even though driving is a visual and physical skill, the auditory component is taking too much attention away. Yet, with time and practice, once you know how to reach that location, turning down the auditory component no longer becomes an issue.

While the example is simple, the same principle applies to police training. When a trainee engages in a new skill, the first few times should be in a location devoid of extra stimulus, thus freeing their working memory and increasing their ability to concentrate. After these skills are understood and practiced, only then is it time to test the trainee in a realistic, over-stimulated environment.

Perfecting a Concept

VirTra’s V-300® is the best simulated environment to practice in this manner. Its five screens and 300-degrees successfully immerse trainees in the chosen scenario, with stimuli coming in from all sides. The high-quality graphics, professional actors and extensive realistic branching options aid in creating the most realistic environment for skill transfer.

Training this way immerses trainees in various auditory and visual stimuli as they concentrate on completing the scenario. However, this does not apply strictly to academies—departments can also benefit by this form of training. Police officers can brush up on perishable, critical or new skills in an environment that mimics situations they may come across in the field.

Instructors can utilize a multi-screen simulator to practice scenarios with the most realistic environments. Teach trainees critical skills that transfer to the field with VirTra. Learn how your academy or department can implement this technology by contacting a VirTra specialist.