How First-Person Videos Can Supplement Real-Life Learning
If you’re like most people, there’s only one reason you’re not, like, the best tunnel flyer in the world. It’s the annoying digital thing that barks out at you from the driving room window. 00:00! 00:00! 00:00!
The cruel little clock leaves you with a knuckle-biting question that lingers in the air: Is there training that you can do that optimizes the time you spend in the airflow while the damn thing isn’t ticking down?
Apparently, there is. But let’s dig into a bit of theory, first.
Embodied theories of learning and instruction are having something of a moment in airsports. When we talk about “embodied learning,” we’re talking about the ways our physical actions lay the neural groundwork for new information to take root in meaningful ways. That neural groundwork is a physical, real-world thing that’s being manufactured in your head right now. The material is called myelin, and its part in the process is called myelination. Without myelin, you’ll never nail that layout.
Myelination is the method by which your brain paves the pathways you tell it are most important. Like wrapping a copper wire in rubber, it wraps the axons of those prioritized neurons, protecting the neuron and helping it conduct signals more efficiently. Repeatedly, deeply practicing a move--getting it a little wrong, making adjustments and trying again--is the most efficient way to build up that myelin and, by extension, get better at what you’re working on. (For more of this in a super-readable pop-sci format, check out Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code.)
When you only have a few minutes in the tunnel--or a few seconds, hopefully very occasionally, to mess with a malfunction--you need all the help you can get to get the myelination process wrapping neurons. If you’re not actually doing the activity you’re trying to myelinate, the trick is to make your brain believe that it is the actor that’s practicing the action.
Learning physical skills has always begged for embodied learning methods, but modern technologies are hopping the fence in places between the things you absolutely have to be physically present to learn and the things you can reinforce--or even learn--on your own couch.
Take, for example, the virtual reality malfunction videos released as a collaborative project between Sig.ma and the USPA. These are, in this author’s opinion, set to exponentially improve the way new skydiving students learn malfunction response. (Heck--they might even be instructive for you if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing one or two of these babies overhead.)
Visualization has proven useful for this kind of thing, but you have to keep in mind its limits: Visualization works, but only if you’re able to very realistically, very precisely visualize the task at hand. You already have to know what you’re doing first. Visualization is a very useful tool for competitors training for a world competition; it’s not terribly helpful for someone at the first stages of working on an outface snake. First-person/VR environments are for learning new stuff, and they do it very well.
The results are in: first-person video works. Check out this 2017 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, which tested whether first-person videos were better task-teaching tools than third-person videos. (Sure, the study participants were assembling components on a circuit board, but doesn’t putting together a complicated line kinda feel all fussy-fiddly, too?) Across two experiments conducted in different labs, the first-person group performed the task more accurately, hands-down, and more time-efficiently to boot.
There’s a problem, of course: It has not, historically speaking, been an easy task to find first-person video of tunnel flying. And that’s where Johannes Bergfors, a Swedish tunnel instructor and coach, comes in.
Johannes has produced a fine set of these, available for free on YouTube, called First Perspective. Simply put, it’s a series of online videos filmed from the flyer’s POV. They show repetitive flying of dynamic flying motions on several speeds, both solo and duo. Filmed over a few days in the Flystation wind tunnel in Munich, local instructor Nick Poland flew the lead as Bergfors filmed following. (As a bonus, there are also some first-person videos posted there of non-single-move exchanges between Bergfors and Poland and also freestyles by the legendary Leonid Volkov.)
"Your visual experience is a muscle memory,” Johannes explains. “For example, if you’re trained as a gymnast and have made a thousand front flips from the trapeze, then you will be more prepared to do a front layout, because you have already seen your world spin in front of you on the vertical axis so many times and will be able to navigate at the same time. If you don’t have that experience, you can expect everything to be a blur in front of you. Without that basis reference, you’ll have to perform a new type of body motion at the same time as your visual is dramatically changing."
The idea for First Perspective has been on Bergfors’ to-do list for quite some time. Before he took his first tunnel gig in 2014, he had about 20 hours of tunnel time, which he’d paid for with a less-than-princely chef’s salary that made every second count.
“Also, I was not a very good student,” Bergfors laughingly adds. “I was always complaining. My expectations were too high, and I spent a lot of time stressed out. I also had really lousy body control since I never really did any sports before that except for skydiving. If I had videos like these when I began, I think they could have helped me, and I think that’s probably true for a lot of people out there. I don’t claim it’s perfect, and it’s not a series of instructional videos about how to fly--it’s about what could be presented visually in front of you when you fly certain lines, and about teaching your body to embody this information in kind-of a sneaky way.”
Johannes plans to expand and improve the collection in time. That said: It’s a damn good start. For those of us who’ve been looking for a way to invest in their progression without the clock ticking down the dollars, it’s a sweet discovery--and, hopefully, one of many emerging innovations for inspired airsports instruction.
First Perspective on YouTube: https://tinyurl.com/fallrates2018