Analysis of Shivworks Experiential Learning Lab

by Kjell Rosenberg MD, Rangemaster, NRA, USCCA instructor

I had the privilege of observing the Craig Douglas/Shivworks module entitled Experiential Learning lab at Tac-Con in 2021. I had signed up to take the course as a student, but it filled so quickly that I was not able to get in. Fortunately, they allowed observers and I took full advantage of that opportunity. In the end, I may have learned more by watching all of the students go through the scenario than by doing it myself.

First it is important to create the proper frame of reference to understand the numbers and concepts I will be discussing. The “study” is significantly underpowered and will not have “statistical significance.” This is a known shortcoming of the analysis. Indeed, there are other shortcomings as well including the observer effect and training artifact.

As Craig would say, (paraphrased) experience is not a great way to learn; it’s better to learn in training where the consequences are not severe for being wrong. That being said, some students do deliberately “game” the scenario or subconsciously behave differently because they expect to need their training weapons in the scenario. People behave differently than they would in real life, it’s just the way it is. This phenomenon is displayed clearly in force on force training on a regular basis and was noted in the ELL as well.

For example, two students specifically performed unnatural checks of their environment to ensure the lack of an ambush before the scenario started. In fact, these two students were back to back in the line-up so it would seem likely that the tactic was not only planned ahead of time but discussed in the staging area. Craig had clearly stated that there would be no “gotcha” moments, but these students were unwilling to be surprised and behaved abnormally to “win” the scenario rather than learn.

The tendency of students to over perform may be a result of previous detrimental force on force training in which they were “gotcha’d” by other programs which is a problem that contributes to increasing training artifact and deters from the true learning value of FoF training in general. The purpose of FoF training to remove novelty and help the student recognize that multiple options exist in conflicts.
Experts such as John Hearne, Craig Douglas, and others agree that repeated participation in good force on force training is hugely beneficial to preparedness. Repeated participation in bad force on force training is just as damaging.

The training artifact was also noted by the number of students who repeatedly telegraphed their firearm by touching it multiple times before the conflict had started. At least 6 students touched their gun, staged a draw, or began to draw when there was no active threat. One of these students went so far as to draw a gun because he noted a role player with open carry. I doubt if that gentleman would willing commit a felony by pointing a gun at another person in real life over open carry.

Next, I want to define a few terms for further use. I am attempting to give a meaningful discussion of decision points within the scenario without giving the scenario away to those who have not yet participated. That being the case, I will be unfortunately vague.
The scenario presented with a role player in crisis. The first decision the student must make is how to address the crisis. For simplicity, I have created the following descriptions:
1. Actively became an equal partner in the crisis
2. Equal partnership in the crisis was forced upon them
3. Partially avoided the crisis but sought to engage authorities
4. Partially avoided the crisis but stayed on scene
5. Avoided the crisis altogether.

After the crisis began, a conflict was initiated.
1. Actively became part of the conflict
2. Partially avoided the conflict
3. Completely avoided the conflict

My arbitrary outcome assessment:
1. Complete success: no one was killed as a result of the participant’s behavior
2. Partial success: probably legally justifiable use of force with an additional injury that could result in a civil suit but probably not charges
3. Partial failure: Injury to any role player’s character or an accidental death of an innocent bystander which could result in prison time
4. Complete failure: death of participant or if the participant is certain to face murder charges

In all honesty, the difference between 2 and 3 is somewhat equivocal as are the differences between 3 and 4. I used my best judgement as a potential juror to make the decision relative to how I would rule on the case if I had to. We all know that when the gunfight is over, the legal battle has just begun. There are entire bodies of work on this topic, and I don’t intend to rehash them here.

Next, I think it is important to point out that we are not attempting to criticize or Monday morning quarterback any of the participants. As was pointed out, good FoF scenarios will have multiple right answers. The students who put themselves out there to learn and be observed by others deserve nothing but praise for doing what they did. If they made mistakes, great! Training is the place we try things out as long as it is done safely. Mistakes in training give us some of the best learning opportunities available. No one should take my analysis as a criticism but rather as an attempt to understand human behavior so that we can all continue to learn.

Out of the 15 men, 10 of them attempted to avoid the crisis altogether. However only 4 of them attempted to avoid the situation completely by simply leaving the scene. The largest portion of men attempted to stay out of it, but since they did not leave the scene; they were dragged back into the scenario as it played out.

A large number of participants suggested at some point that 911 be called, but only 4 of them actually pantomimed a phone call. Most of the participants that suggested calling the authorities did so in the crisis phase but all the phone calls were started in the conflict phase. In all fairness, the role player made it difficult to do so during the crisis; similarly, she made it difficult to walk away. However, those that were determined to do it found a way to escape. A point which demands consideration.

Craig’s advice that “Waiting to see what happens next is a bad place to be in” became apparent to the audience as we watched the participants. Do or do not. About 1/2 of the men trying not to be involved at the beginning of the crisis ended up being fully involved in the conflict. A full 5 of them fired shots.

Of the men who used their gun, all 5 shot at the role player in possession the gun. It should be noted at this time that the role player with the gun was deliberately staged as an indirect threat rather than a direct threat and that while shooting this role player was not strictly illegal, it was not necessary for survival in this scenario. While this was readily apparent to observers, I cannot say that the participants had the same understanding. So again, no criticism. Simply observation. It should also be noted that none of the women made this choice, and I believe there is a reason for that which I cannot discuss without giving away the scenario.

Unfortunately, there were only 2 women participants, so their statistics are even more underpowered than the total, however, it is important to note that they both acted nearly identical in terms of the decision points. Neither one of them chose to shoot any role player. Both of them allowed themselves to be made equal partners with the initial role player in her crisis which resulted in both of them being dragged into the conflict. Neither woman solved the conflict with violence, but one did draw her gun in self-defense. In fact, she holstered the gun at the request of the armed combatant once she realized she was not in danger.

I assigned them both to the “complete success” category though I couldn’t say for sure that having her gun out of the holster wouldn’t result in charges in places that are less accepting of self-defense rights. Interestingly, I had predicted those decisions from the women participants based on the context of the scenario. I wish that there were more female results to determine if my bias has merit or it was simple an issue of selection bias and a small ‘n.’

As previously noted, 4 men avoided the crisis altogether by leaving the scene. I called this a complete success. These men had an interesting commonality. They all appeared to be at least middle aged or older. Whether this decision was made based in maturity, previous training or life experience, it is difficult to say. But none of the younger men chose this resolution possibility.
2 of the men became active participants in the crisis. It is important to note that both of these men had expertise related to solving this crisis while most others did not. 1 additional man had partnership in the crisis forced upon him, but he did not have the expertise to resolve it.

4 of the male participants who originally sought to avoid the crisis, but found themselves dragged in solved the problem with “violence” or the threat of violence although no additional shots were fired. Two of the mean drew firearms but did not shoot. 3 of the 4 disarmed or attempted a disarm of the armed combatant. One man drew a firearm and pointed it at one role player simply because the other man was displaying open carry and was acting aggressively. One of the participants who drew a gun and ultimately performed a disarm without shots being fired is a career Law enforcement officer. He was also the only participant to engage in open hand techniques vs. the male role player.

All of these I consider a partial success since we can not be sure how a prosecutor or jury will view the situation. Of those 2 of them shot a non-combatant due to missing the primary target. These are the only outcomes that I assigned a possible complete failure to. Since they did not deliberately shoot that person, I would probably count it as manslaughter and not murder and that’s why I pushed them to a partial failure category. The end punishment might not be any different in the legal system, but the slaying of the innocent party was unintentional.

All of the participants who drew their guns could potentially face charges. In the chart at the end of the discussion, you will note the range of people I felt fell into either category depending on how the totality of the circumstance and other biases shook out.

In terms of the men who chose to use violence the decision: the act appeared to be made decisively and those that shot one or more role players were heavily weighted toward the younger demographic of participants. One of the students who shot the combatant was middle aged or older, the rest were young men. They were also weighted toward the first of the participants to do the scenario. Whereas, as the lab went on, more people chose non-violent resolutions. This phenomenon suggests (but does not prove) that the more likely the participant was to go to guns, the more likely they were to want to go first or ASAP. Those who were more patient in general, went later. Or there is possibility that the participants were “learning” to do the scenario before their turn despite being sequestered. Other possibilities exist and I think follow up research on this topic is warranted.

As a side note, I predicted more men would choose to go to guns than they ended up doing. As the lab started, I was having my expectations met and then it suddenly changed. My confirmation bias was being fed up front but not as the afternoon progressed which is partially what led me to question if the students later in the day were being taught to play the scenario differently. In retrospect, I think that my alternate theory that the more patient people waited for the later turns is also a viable explanation.
Breakdown of the numbers in a chart:

In conclusion, the activity was a complete success. Those that participated and observed were treated to a masterful performance of carefully scripted scenarios and outstanding role players. Minds were opened to the myriad of potential solutions as well as some of the direct consequences of those actions.
As I reflect on what I would have done in this scenario had I been an active participant, I hope that I would have had my wits about me and avoided any major mistakes. In this case we will never know, but I know that removing novelty and rehearsing productive solutions ahead of time can help me if I find myself in a similar circumstance down the road. That is the purpose of training, the purpose of repetitions and the purpose of recency. I hope that all of continue down that path so that if fate calls our number we too can finish with a “complete success.” See you on the range!

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