Written by Doug Chapman
There is no performance without teaching.
It is not what the teacher teaches; it is what the student learns. If you claim to have all of the skills and all of the knowledge, but maintain an ineffective way of conveying your concepts, then you are a legend in your own mind. Teaching – or instructing, if you will – is an art, and as in any art, in order to create a masterpiece, the artist must be dedicated to his craft and able to be a student of it himself. So many wonder, “How do I know if I am a good instructor?” The answer is simple: Your “students” will produce augmented and repeatable results.
Whether one is conveying concepts in a boardroom, teaching in a classroom, or instructing athletes in a gym or out on the field, in order to get an individual to produce, the teacher must consider the audience to which he/she is working. People are unique snowflakes: their physical makeup, the way they move, the way they think, the way they look at and feel about their environment, and how they best take in and learn new information.
As an instructor, it is as much your responsibility to get your students to understand as it is theirs to learn. People may be unique in their methodologies, but the way they learn can be grouped into three basic categories: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Every person is a combination of all three, which is why one must be adaptable as an instructor, but most individuals fall more heavily into one category over the other two. Some may find that they use different styles in different circumstances. There is no right or wrong mix. Additionally, people can develop ability in a less dominant style, as well as further develop the styles they already use well. It is the teacher’s job to figure out which those are and use that knowledge in moving that individual to excel.
The learning style of an individual influences them in more ways than they may realize.
They guide the way a person takes in information, and it alters the way he/she internally interprets images, recalls back information, and even plays a role in the words they choose when expressing themselves to others. As such, it is essential for an instructor to know where he or she is dominant. It will subconsciously affect how they instruct and demonstrate individually and to a group. Being the teacher, you must learn to utilize all of the learning styles so that you may effectively communicate key skills that reach both the one-on-one client as well as those in a group setting. Much research has proven that we use different parts of our brain when we activate various learning styles. By involving more of the brain during learning, we remember more of what we were taught.
What type of learner are you?
Being a visual learner means you learn spatially, using images, pictures, and video to bring understanding to a new concept. The occipital lobes at the back of the brain manage the visual sense. Both the occipital and parietal lobes manage spatial orientation.¹ It’s your spatial relationship to other people and objects that allow you to grasp the concept. In layman’s terms, you need to see it to believe it. “If you use the visual style, you prefer using images, pictures, colors, and maps to organize information and communicate with others. You can easily visualize objects, plans and outcomes in your mind’s eye.”²
In the gym, this is the athlete that stands and stares or moves very little and hesitantly when giving him/her oral directions and cues for the next movement. He is waiting for you to demonstrate, to see, in order to gain the visual image he needs to then copy and reproduce that same movement with his own body. For this type of learner, you could be saying, “I want you to stand with your feet at hips width apart,” but if you demo this with your feet widened, even well beyond your shoulders, he or she will mimic what you are physically doing over any instruction you give orally.
An auditory learner is a person who learns through listening. They depend on hearing and speaking as their main way of learning. The temporal lobes in the brain are primarily responsible or most actively engaged while taking in new information,1so auditory learners must be able to hear what is being said in order to understand and may have difficulty with instructions that are written, but if the writing is in a logical order, it can make it much easier. They also use their listening and repeating skills to sort through the information that is sent to their brain. So, if you hear your “student” repeating out loud, in a low tone, what you just said, they are committing or at least attempting to commit that knowledge to memory. These types of learners often use music as a way of recalling events from the past. You know you are dominant in the auditory learning style if you are that person that can hear a song, even years later, and remember what movie and even the scene of the movie to which that song played. Simply put, sound creates visual images in the brain that are converted and stored to memory.
If you are teaching to this type of learner, it is crucial to be organized, well-spoken, clear, and orderly in how your present information. You must give focused, step-by-step instruction from beginning to end. Adding sound effects to emphasize main ideas is another way to help this individual keep hold of what is being presented. Don’t just tell him or her to be aggressive with their hips and engage their glute muscles when standing up from a deadlift; make a popping noise with your mouth when you do so, or simply add in the word, “pow” as you demonstrate the movement. For this type of learner, all you have to do later on is look at them and say, “pow!” and they will know exactly what to do, because they already converted that image and instruction to memory using one simple word and sound.
This type of learner is often referred to as the physical learner. They prefer using their body, their hands, and sense of touch when processing new information. The kinesthetic learner uses the cerebellum and motor cortex (at the back of the frontal lobe) of the brain.³ This portion of the brain handles many of the physical movements we use everyday – from the distinct way we pick up a fork to eat to our habitual way of cleaning our bodies when we shower. If you think on this, unless you suffer from some form of dyskinesia, you will most likely realize that every time you bathe, you pick up the soap or loofa in the same hand, wash the exact same body part first, go through a systematic way of cleaning yourself, end with the same final body part, and then rinse. This is kinesthetic learning and muscle memory at its most basic level.
Most kinesthetic learners like playing sports and/or doing exercise movements. They may enjoy or have hobbies in hand-crafts such as pottery, drawing/painting, woodworking, or gardening. If you are dominant in the kinesthetic or physical learning style, when you have something that is weighing heavily on your mind, or you have a problem to sort through, you are the person that says, “I need to go for a run and think!” These types of learners work best and learn best by doing it themselves. If this is you, you may find yourself often thinking, “Stop talking already, and let me try it!”
If you are the teacher instructing this type of learner, it is important to be able to read body language. This person will be squirming in their seat if you talk too long, and at that point, very little to nothing that you say is being processed anymore. If you are explaining an idea, a lesson, or a new movement, it doesn’t matter how important it is, you must find a way to utilize the K.I.S.S. method of teaching… “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Make your point quickly and get your client experiencing and practicing it as soon as possible. For it is only at that point that he or she will fully grasp the concept and movement.
Socrates once said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Anyone can memorize set information and continuously cram those concepts down the throats of others, but if your message is not being reached by the person(s) to which you are teaching, then you have loosened the mooring ball and set a ship to sail with no destination in mind. Teaching is an art. Getting your “students” to produce results is a skill that requires dedication, passion, and a commitment to keep pushing forward. It is the student’s job to be responsible for his or her own learning, but it is the instructor’s job to present, teach, demonstrate, and inspire greatness in those that look to him.
Doug Chapman is the owner of HyperFit USA, home of CrossFit Ann Arbor. CrossFit Ann Arbor is a ten year affiliate and one of the first in the world. Doug leads classes, training camps and online programming. He has coached athletes to nearly 30 appearances at the CrossFit Games including individuals, masters and several teams producing 5 podium finishers. Doug’s interests are in philosophy, history and physics.