Skill Hibernation: A dilemma for both Golf Student and Instructor?

By Dr. Matthew M. Rosman, GSEE
Director of Biomechanics and Sports Science, The Golfing Machine, LLC

Recently, an article was published in Newsday (11/20/2013 edition) entitled, Report: Pilots losing flying skills to automation (sourced to Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal). The following is an excerpt from that article:

“Airline pilots have lost flying skills as automation takes over mundane tasks and may be startled when systems don’t behave as expected, which have contributed to crashes, a government and industry report concluded.”

The referral to this excerpt is by no means intended to convey any negative impressions regarding airline pilots.  Airline pilots are exemplary professionals who provide an invaluable service to the public with great expertise, care, consideration, dedication, and a high level of proficiency. Rather, the article reference excerpt above provides an opportunity to examine the evolving relationship between human beings and technology as we trek through the modern age.  

The advances in technology have been so astonishingly powerful and dramatic.  The almost “routine” presence of technological services and devices is such a mainstream part of nearly every activity of life that we participate in, every day of our lives.  Whether it is our watches, appliances, GPS devices, smart phones, recreational and entertainment devices, or a part of the safety devices of automobiles, the technological advancements in the manner by which function, communication, interaction, and automation features have been incorporated has been growing in leaps and bounds.  

Thus, the relationship between human beings and technology is continuing to evolve.  At present, many features of technology provide information and function with a “speech based” communication capability that is very “human-like.” Our expectations for interactive “conversation” with technological devices would have been unheard of just a short number of years ago.  Our faith in the reliability, validity, and accuracy in the “relationship” has also grown dramatically over the past several years.

In fact, there is, at present, such a greater “casual”, informal, relationship with various technological devices that there exists, at times, periods in which we humans are “passively” waiting for, or responding to, the authority based “dialog of conversation”  originating from the technological device being utilized.  
It is this “transition” in expectation and “role” participation provided through the near human-like automation based services provided by technological devices that are of interest for exploration and study that serves as the subject of this article as it relates to golf instruction and education.

While each professional industry is different, there is the trend of an ever-increasing reliance upon technological devices as being utilized with an everyday common place use.  This common place utilization of technological devices is seen in the golf industry ranging from on course GPS data, to golf club and “golf ball” fitting, lesson instruction, etc.  

In the golf education field, all teachers must consider (when working with students during a lesson) how, when, in what proportion, and with what intent of reliance, such a technological based activity occurs.

•    Hence, do certain selected technological devices utilized by golf instructors during a lesson produce a process of automation such that over time there is a danger that the clinical diagnostic proficiency of the instructor undergoes a form of skill hibernation?

•    Does the technological device, through a passive default process, become the center of attention, the instructional supervisor, the point of authoritative focus for both instructor and aspiring student golfer?    

In this instance, skill hibernation would imply a period during the lesson when circumstances unintentionally change the dynamics by which the instructor participates and functions. The transformation from active analytical practitioner and diagnostician of specific “golf instructor based” cognitive and motor functions alters to a more passive reception and response based participation to the command and control of the technological device.  

             One definition of hibernation is: “to be in an inactive or dormant state or period”                         
Consider the health care field for a moment:

•    The technician operates and conducts an MRI, CT scan, or X-ray study.  

•    The images are recorded and preserved.  

•    The physician (clinician) surveys the images, performing a comprehensive diagnostic inspection, analysis, and evaluation of the images for various findings which include normality vs. abnormality, artifacts, clinically defined key features, anatomical findings, pathology, etc.  

•    The physician (clinician) creates a comprehensive objective narrative of a report of findings, recommendations, and relevant protocols in relationship to any and all referral chief-complaint concerns based upon the diagnostic findings from the imaging studies.   

Here the roles are clearly defined:

•    The technician performs the service.

•    The physician clinically evaluates or “interprets” the images creating a “report of findings”.

•    Neither, the technician or the technological device performs the clinical diagnostic function.  

•    The technology provides a distinct data collection gathering function as per its design and programming.  

•    Technology and automation do not “tell” the physician what the images reveal or draw any diagnostic based professional conclusions pertaining to such protocols as a plan of action, etc.  

•    The physician must actively use education, training, experience, and clinically based diagnostic expertise to ultimately derive a report of findings for the patient.

Thus, if both active analytical and application based skills were no longer utilized, diagnostic proficiency would be subject to a form of dormancy or “hibernation”.  Skill hibernation decreases the dynamic, vibrant, analytical employment of active, probing, and clinical based “problem solving” functions to a greater reliance on “waiting for” the data stream reporting conclusions of the associated technological device.

 A key question to ponder is: Should a golf educator relinquish their role in the instructional setting to be relegated to a more ancillary or peripheral form of “technical support” service as a 21st century “model” for the instructional format for the student?

Obviously, the technology itself is not the issue.  It provides tremendous service to the modern golf instructor. How does the instructor “balance” the active participation of the mind and body, remaining sharp and in command of key professional analytical and application skill-sets by which academic based information is provided to aspiring student golfers while still taking advantage of the positive attributes available through technological devices and instruments?
It is important to also acknowledge that the aspiring student golfer must also be mindful of skill hibernation as it relates their specific lesson participation as well as personal practice periods as well.

Aspiring student golfers should receive instructions or “lessons” in how to participate in a lesson! This tutelage should be provided by the service provider who will be conducting the lessons.

The technological contributions provided by specific devices during the lesson should be a “part of” the entire spectrum of the total Competency Appraisal Review (C.A.R.™ -  Please review the article, Act vs. Apprehension, Part 2, for further information) conducted by both the instructor during the lesson and the aspiring student golfer during periods of private practice in between lessons.  

When, in what context, and for what specified goal(s) should technology be utilized in the lesson period with an aspiring student golfer, is a key question that all educators should ask when designing instruction for each and every specific aspiring student golfer.

If a specific type of technology is always used, with every student, in each and every lesson conducted, throughout the entire lesson time period, without a pre-determined reason or objective, in the "exact" same manner of participation, it may be time for introspection to ascertain the underlying reasons “why” this default type of redundant, instructional “approach” is being utilized. Often, through periods of thought and introspection, the etiology of the “automated” lesson dilemma will be uncovered.  

By taking a fresh look at lesson design, materials used, and technology employed, each and every educator may find ways to maximize the benefits of technology without losing the “captaincy” so important to the lesson experience provided to aspiring student golfers.  And, neither the educator nor the student will be susceptible to any forms of skill hibernation.

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Thank you.