Two and a half years ago, leaders at the Arapahoe Community College Law Enforcement Academy (ACCLEA) near Denver decided to take law enforcement officer training to the next level.
Using the confidence-based learning (CBL) approach from Knowledge Factor, the roughly 17-week course underwent changes to ensure potential law enforcement officers would not only learn the curriculum but also apply it and retain it, said Christine Swenson, program chair for Arapahoe Community College’s criminal justice program.
Before implementing CBL, Swenson said the course format and delivery weren’t as effective or as flexible as the organization wanted. The course (which Colorado requires for anyone looking to become a law enforcement officer) also had to be accessible to those outside the metropolitan-Denver area, and a refresher course was needed for officers whose certifications had lapsed.
“Confidence-based learning helps people who complete our program — whether it’s basic law enforcement academy or the refresher academy — have a solid knowledge base,” Swenson explained. “As a law enforcement officer, you have the opportunity to face a variety of different topics at any point in time during your shift, and you have to have a good set of information, not just in terms of concept, but you have to be able to evaluate and apply that knowledge to the situation in which you’re involved. Using confidence-based learning, our goal was to enhance not only what they know but how well they can apply it out in the field.”
The ACCLEA training affects between 100 and 120 students each year, all of whom are working to become law enforcement officers trained to protect the public. This entails making sure laws are properly enforced, which means officers must know those laws well.
Swenson said that aspect —laws and statutes — is the most difficult portion of the training to master, Swenson said.
“The laws are based in Colorado-revised statutes, and those statutes run from traffic infractions and parking violations up through and including first-degree murder, which could constitute a death-penalty case,” Swenson said. “We’re dealing with an extremely wide range of knowledge that doesn’t necessarily mesh, in the sense that one day, you may be dealing with traffic, and you may be dealing with domestic violence-related assault the next.”
CBL has increased the state-administered certification assessment pass rate from 72 percent to 100 percent.
“Would you want to make sure that a new officer you employ understands what the purpose is behind the law and what the law means, or someone who’s just kind of guessing and isn’t too sure?” Swenson said. “If I was hiring someone as a new officer, I would want to make sure that person has the best training possible, and by having confidence-based learning built in and tied into our academy curriculum, this enables us to bring learning to a higher level.
“We won’t be starting with basics in our law course, saying, ‘OK everybody — let’s review the reading we’ve done from last night.’ Instead, it’s, ‘Let’s take the reading that you’ve done and the work you’ve done to really internalize the material and apply it to scenarios.’ They can see the next step. Seeing that next step will better enable them to retain and apply that information on down the line.”
Swenson said having scenario-based learning has raised the stakes and made them tougher, requiring students to focus on finer aspects of the law to which they might not otherwise have been exposed.
“What confidence-based learning does for us give students more practice with and exposure to the questions,” said Dennis Goodwin, ACCLEA director and Arapahoe Community College chief of police. “It’s self-paced and saves us significant time in extending our academy because we’re limited in the hours that we can teach. This gives students a chance to apply the law, to practice, to answer scenario-type questions.
“The law is the most challenging part of our academy for all the students, and our scores have increased significantly because of this practice. It’s prepared our students to hit the streets. Our students are getting jobs, they’re ready to go. Departments look to our program for their officers because they know they’re prepared.”
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