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How brain science can improve your tactical training

Present information the way the brain learns for better retention and performance

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Restructuring training programs to deliver information the same way the human brain learns will bring about better retention and better outcomes, says Dustin Salomon, a certified law enforcement firearms instructor and author of “Building Shooters.”

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The following is paid content sponsored by Innovative Services and Solutions.

By Police1 BrandFocus Staff

Limited resources are a significant challenge for law enforcement, especially when it comes to training. How can police agencies improve the results of training programs without added funding, equipment or time?

Restructuring training programs to deliver information the same way the human brain learns will bring about better retention and better outcomes, says Dustin Salomon, owner of Innovative Services and Solutions, a certified law enforcement firearms instructor and author of “Building Shooters,” a book that describes how to approach firearms and other tactical training using brain science principles.

By using this method, Salomon says, agencies can improve results without adding to the overall training time and resources – and may even facilitate a long-term reduction in training budgets.

“Improving training effectiveness by applying brain science research literally allows us do more with less,” he said. “When you teach somebody in the same way that their brain learns, you maximize the efficiency of both training time and resource use.”

Redefine the objective

Most tactical training is based on an outcome defined by a qualification, such as successful completion of an exercise or meeting a performance standard. These standards are important for liability and administrative purposes and a useful tool to provide feedback and quality control, but they should not be the primary objective, says Salomon.

“Trainers, officers and agencies will always need a quantifiable, documented standard of qualification to use as an administrative tool and to help instructors provide feedback,” he said. “However, they are not a true indicator of skill retention or necessarily predictive of operational performance.”

In “Building Shooters,” Salomon argues that the primary objective of training should be creating long-term memories that will enable officers to act quickly and appropriately in the field despite unknown variables and the psychological effects of stress. This means training should focus on neural network development – allowing the brain to transfer new skills and information necessary for operational performance from short-term memory into the desired long-term memory system.

5 strategies to restructure training systems

Much of the training time dedicated to developing tactical skill sets is unproductive, says Salomon, because existing programs largely ignore the limitations of the brain and the biological processes required to assure long-term storage. He recommends the following five strategies, based on how the human brain learns, to improve retention and performance:

1. Prioritize effective learning over efficient delivery. Consider how students absorb information and design your training program accordingly so they effectively learn everything as it is presented. For most applications, particularly during in-service training, 20 to 30 minutes of new material is pushing the limits.

2. Limit the quantity of information. Consider the limitations of the brain’s capacity to learn. When too much information is presented in too short a time, the glut of new information interferes with long-term retention and can decrease the quality of the information and skills retained. This equates to non-productive use of training time and poor operational performance.

“Specific periods of instruction should be designed to only present the amount of new information that can be coded into the short-term memory system,” writes Salomon.

3. Provide resting time for the brain within 12 hours. Research indicates that some of the processes necessary for long-term retention of skills and information can happen only when the information is not being accessed or used while awake; others can only happen during sleep.

For best results, students should have both waking intellectual downtime and sleep within 12 hours of training, advises Salomon.

4. Provide at least 24 hours between instructional periods. New information is susceptible to being overwritten or corrupted by additional new information (interference) for 24 hours. Schedule at least 24 hours between instructional periods for optimal long term-retention and operational performance.

5. Apply instructional techniques to enhance students’ procedural memory. Instructors should make intentional, informed use of the factors that influence procedural memory development – including repetition, observation, emotional connection and stress – to assist the learning process so that students retain the skills and information necessary for operational performance during critical incidents.

Use interleaved training methods to link and enhance skills

Once skills and information have been consolidated to long-term memory, interleaved training can be a powerful training tool. Sometimes described as “chaotic training,” this means alternating the study of related skills and concepts.

Build on successful learning and skill development with increasingly complex training environments that replicate the use of brain functions required in the field, such as decision-making, said Salomon. This practice further links the neural networks required for operational performance within procedural memory.


Training methods that deliver information the same way the human brain learns have the potential to provide significant benefits to law enforcement. Not only can officers improve their clinical tactical skills and decision-making abilities in the field, agencies can also benefit through better resource management and reduced operational liability.

“It’s difficult for leadership to effectively manage the risk associated with employing armed professionals when the only tool they have available is a pass/fail qualification course run by a training staff,” Salomon said.

He suggests that making a change to brain-based training systems can not only improve individual outcomes but also provide agency leadership with better evaluative tools to identify and correct potential performance deficiencies before an incident occurs.