Everyone is different and your learning style really dictates how you learn. I am a kinesthetic learner and I generally learn best by doing. Based on my experiences, I know that the best option for me to learn to work on my own firearms is to take a traditional class, at least to start off. This is not always the best option for different types of adult learners. Thankfully for me I have opportunities where I can take classroom training, but that’s because I am law enforcement. This is far harder for civilians, as class availability is almost non-existent. The following link to the NRA offers some options to classroom training http://www.nrahq.org/education/gunsmithing.asp. (Please feel free to link any other resources below.)
Taking a traditional class has benefits and drawbacks. Anyone who conducts any type of training recognizes the fact that what you get out of a class is wholly dependant on the qualifications and teaching abilities of the instructor, the makeup of the class, and a myriad of other forces that can directly or indirectly impact the quality of the training session. If I could give you one single piece of advice, the teaching ability (not necessarily the knowledge), of the instructor is one of the most important qualities to research before taking a course.
For me, the main benefit of taking a class with an instructor is that you are performing physical tasks with the oversight of an “expert.” (Let’s hope they’re experts.) Referring back to my previous blog, had I taken a class I would have had the oversight of an instructor to explain how to remove the thumb safety and how to orient the main spring, thus saving me hundreds of dollars in replacement parts and shipping costs. Additionally, my gun would not have been out of service while I awaited parts and repairs. I hope an instructor would have predicted for me the problems I was certain to experience based on the mistakes I made (like my slam fire).
Taking classes allows me the opportunity to ask questions of the instructor. I get instant feedback when I need clarification. By the way, I don’t just ask questions to hear the sound of my own voice. That can be a potential problem that can detract from learning. I have found that students get to a point where they won’t ask questions because they fear the class is running out of time. This boils down to an instructor taking control of his class. A good instructor directs the class toward a proper balance of allowing for appropriate questions and providing instruction.
Class participation can be one of the main benefits of traditional classroom training because students will share their stories of success and failure. This is only if the instructor creates a climate within the classroom that encourages sharing. This familiarity with other students can lead to networking outside of the class. You never know, the person sitting next to may be the person you contact at 3 o’clock in the morning to walk you through fixing whatever mess you have made.
Traditional classes are not the only or best way to learn, they are just a start. It took me a while to realize their value. The first armorer course I took was for semiautomatic handgun, I won’t name the manufacturer. What’s important is that I was extremely lost. The class size was too large, about 35 people. The main instructor used an overhead projector and I couldn’t differentiate between the parts because of my diminished visual acuity and small, detail-less, black and white schematics. I had one of the three instructors stand over my shoulder the entire course correcting me out loud and stopping the class to wait for me. I was one of 2 females in the course and this constant correction embarrassed me. If I really focus and think about it hard enough I can still feel the anxiety. I remember my hands were sweating and I couldn’t grasp the parts, which made me fall further behind. It was a horrible experience. I realize that this experience was stressful in part because of the instructor’s lack of teaching abilities to handle this situation, which required more finesse than he possessed. On the same note, I’m sure that created my own stress. I needed to swallow my pride and recognize my shortcomings. It took me a while, but I finally realized that the benefit of the class outweighed the embarrassment and anxiety. I had help that I wouldn’t have gotten outside of a classroom. This course met my needs, which was a basic familiarization with that handgun. After taking this class I soon realized that taking a class is really just the start of the learning process, because trust me, my emotions prevented me from learning anything more than how to take apart the gun and put it back together.
One additional benefit worthy of noting, is that if you qualify to take a class from a manufacturer, you will be on their mailing lists. Some manufacturers will send you information and updates about catastrophic failures and recalls.
Since taking my first armorer’s class, I have networked with other more experienced armorers and gained knowledge from them. I have used other forms of media to expand my knowledge such as blogs, videos and tech support lines. To learn as much as possible, you have to find and locate any and all resources available to you and take advantage of those opportunities.
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