Different people learn in different ways. It is important to understand your own way of learning, as well as understanding others' if you wish to be a good teacher.
Generally speaking, the three primary learning styles are:
• Visual – People who learn best by seeing; this can include demonstration, charts, pictures, etc.
• Auditory – people who learn best by hearing; this can include verbal explanations, lectures, etc.
• Tactile or Kinaesthetic – people who learn best by doing; this includes things like drills, sparring, etc.
While everyone uses all three when they learn, most people will have one dominant learning style.
As a teacher (instructor, sensei or whatever you call yourself…), it is extremely important to be able to teach in a way that will suit each student, and this is in fact much easier than many instructors believe, and generally speaking can be combined.
The next time you teach or train, pay attention to the following:
1. You can recognised ‘Visual’ learners as they will often want to see what the technique looks like when it is performed, what the opponent’s body looks like when the technique is working, etc. You will often find that they ask questions like ‘can you show me again’, and may walk around while you are demonstrating to try and see the technique from different angles. They may also want to watch someone spar before having a go.
When you show a technique, do you pay attention to the fine details and how the technique ‘looks’? Can you mimic what others do to show them where they have made a mistake, and then demonstrate the correct way for their attributes (i.e. size, weight, strength, fitness level, reaction time, etc.)?
2. You can recognise ‘Auditory’ learners as they often like to hear explanations as a series of steps – first you do this, then you do that, etc. They will ask questions like ‘can you explain it again’, and will often talk themselves through a technique when performing drills. They may also like to have a coach tell them how to pick apart their opponent during sparring, and are generally good at ‘listening to the corner’.
Can you explain the different elements of the technique? I think this can be broken down into two elements – the physical components (the ‘what’, ‘when’ and where’) and the intellectual components (the ‘why’ and ‘how’). I believe that this is often a line that separates average instructors from good ones. In order to understand techniques and applications, we must always be able to explain the physical components, i.e. how the technique is performed. For example, step there, punch here, rotate this, kick that. But in order to enable students to have a deep understanding of a technique, the intellectual aspects must be taught as well. In order words, we want to also explain why and how the technique works; what are the underlying physiological principles of the technique, how it affects the body, etc.
3. You can recognise kinaesthetic learners, as they will offer volunteer to be the first to have the technique performed on them in partner drills and will usually be the first to run and try it after and explanation, or maybe even quietly rehearse or shadow the movements while you are showing the technique. They will ask questions like ‘can you do it on me’ or ‘can I do it on you’. They will often prefer technique drills and sparring to anything else.
The old saying ‘feeling is believing’. Can you perform the technique with different students, or do you always select your best student? While in traditional martial arts it is customary and respectful to select the highest-ranking student, it can be good for all students to experience the technique. While this is difficult to do due to time constraints, especially in big classes, it is not a bad idea to walk around and get everyone to ‘experience’ the technique at some point in the class, and important to change partners regularly to try it with different people.
With a bit of practice, it is in fact quite easy to incorporate all of this into every demonstration and drill, and contrary to what some say, it is not time consuming at all. Furthermore, you will find that you are richly rewarded when you identify your student’s learning style, as you will notice great improvements in their ability to learn and retain techniques and knowledge.
As a student (which we all are!), I highly recommend that you start identifying the ways that you learn best, as you will see great rewards.
We have all been in the situation (either as a teacher of a student) where an explanation does not make sense, and the person who is teaching simply repeats the same explanation as if saying it louder will make it clearer.
Often, explaining it using a different learning style will give you that ‘Eureka!’ moment.
Stay tuned, stay safe.