On taking courses and flying an airplane

Online education gained a second wind during the COVID-19 pandemic. With many people confined to their homes for months, some chose to make the most of this time by enrolling in courses. When I take a course or workshop, whether online or offline, I love to remind myself (and my students) of this ‘flying on an airplane’ analogy.

You can be a passenger. Just like a “human-luggage”. You get your food and a drink. The airplane takes you from point A to point B. You’ve reached your destination, but you haven’t learned anything about how to drive an airplane.

You can be a part of the flight crew. You already do some work; you know something about airplanes, but it’s still not the same as flying an aircraft. It’s not the highest level of mastery.

The only way to really learn how to fly an airplane is to become either a pilot, or a co-pilot. If you are learning something, try to become a pro at it.

Enroll in a “formal ground school”. You’re already taking a course; take it seriously. Gain a solid understanding of theory and navigation.

Get your hands to practice as soon as possible. A flight simulator, shadowboxing1, or deliberate practice.

  • If you learn how to code, start doing a little project on the side and experiment with functions.
  • If you learn a new movement, a new technique, try to use it in your next game, or sparring, or solo.

Whatever you learn, try to teach it to someone else—whether it’s a 6-year-old or your granny. If you can explain complex concepts in simple language and basic steps, you’ve truly mastered the subject.

Create your own “flight manual”. Take notes during your course and articulate concepts in your own words instead of merely copying and pasting information. Explaining ideas, even to yourself, in your own language enhances retention.

“The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration, but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.”
– Steven Pressfield

Here are some additional pieces of advice from experienced pilots:

  • Empty your cup and stay humble. No matter how experienced you become, always stay humble. Complacency is a dangerous mindset in aviation. Treat each flight with the respect it deserves, and never stop learning.
  • Seek out mentorship. Learning from experienced pilots can provide invaluable insights. Their guidance can help you navigate both the technical and professional aspects of being a pilot.
  • Enjoy the journey. Remember why you started flying in the first place. Enjoy the journey, appreciate the beauty of flight, and never lose the passion that drew you to aviation. It’s a unique and rewarding profession.


1. “Shadowboxing” refers to the practice of simulating a boxing match or practicing techniques without an actual opponent. In this activity, a person throws punches, moves around, and practices defensive maneuvers as if they were in a real fight.