The Experience of Experiential Learning

In our society of infinite conveniences, one-on-one connections are increasingly lost as we become more reliant on technology. Of course it is easier to jump in front of a computer and quickly look for the information we seek, all without leaving the comfort of our home, or our pyjamas. Over the years a vast amount of online workshops have become available to Pilates teachers anywhere in the world. This is of great benefit to those teachers that do not have access to workshops in close proximity, or the funds to travel to study and expand their skills. However, it begs the question, is it possible to maximize your learning potential through online workshops?

We work every day with live bodies right in front of us. We make personal connections with our clients, and we make positive changes because of this physical contact. Experiential in-person learning is directly applicable to this type of environment as the student has direct access to other students and the course instructor to observe the concept being discussed in a live moving body. Lesley Call, a Pilates Instructor at Core4 Pilates in Monterey, CA says: “What is present in a live course and lacking in online courses is “aliveness”. The live interaction of teacher to students, and student-to-student is the essential difference and that makes all the difference”. Online workshops forfeit some of this applicability as the student is exposed only to a 2-dimensional form as the teacher demonstrates the concept on-screen, or through pictures illustrating the example.

There are many different forms of learning, and each of us learns differently. One source indicates 7 different styles of learning, and each may indicate a preference toward participation in in-person experiential or online workshops. Below is a summary of these learning styles, and whether the needs are met for each style with online or in-person workshops.

Learning Styles Chart

It has been proven that experiential learning in fact accelerates learning and mastery of a skill. As stated in The Benefits of Experiential Learning, “The act of practicing a skill strengthens the neural connections in our brain, making us, in effect “smarter.” Hands-on activities require practice, problem-solving and decision-making. As student engagement increases through these processes, learning accelerates and retention improves.” Learning in-person requires and encourages significantly more engagement than when learning from a computer. In online workshops, often times, we observe but don’t participate (sometimes we may not even observe due to distractions pulling us from the task at hand), and we do not have the additional stimuli of other human bodies with which to practice.

I polled the Pilates industry on social media about their preferences of online versus in-person workshops. Of the 84 respondents, 92% found greater value in in-person experiential workshops over online workshops. When asked why they prefer one over the other, some of the benefits they stated for live experiential learning include:

  • Comradery and a sense of community among fellow teachers – this allows you to expand your network, resources, and support within the Pilates industry
  • Connection to the teacher trainer and the ability to tap into their knowledge through questions
  • Discussion and sharing of applicable experiences – we learn more from the examples of others, and from the reasoning that accompanies discussion than from the workshop content alone.
  • Honing of kinesthetic skills through touch and observation practice.

In regard to online workshops, here are some of the benefits noted:

  • Convenience if travel and monetary outlay are not possible
  • Useful for theory-only workshops where the student is seeking information versus hands-on learning

When it comes to teacher training and keeping your skills up-to-date, finding time to attend workshops can be difficult especially when it involves travel. However, there is great value in being with people, seeing them move in 3 dimensions, and touching bodies to readily feel the effects of the concepts you are learning. Often, this physical contact will generate discussion, inspire questions, and allow students to share their own first-hand experience with their clients. Lesley further shared about her experience with both formats: “The opportunity to work with other instructors brings all of our clients’ bodies as well as our own (with injuries, aches and pains) into the room to “round table” ways to move better”.

When looking for training opportunities, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How do I best learn concepts (learning style)?
  2. What is the structure of the workshop (theory, practical)?
  3. What is my goal for attending this workshop (information, strategies to use with clients)?
  4. What is the value of the online workshop content versus what will be gained from an in-person experience?
  5. Will I get the answers I need if I am not able to ask questions?
  6. Are there opportunities for me to make in-person attendance possible (auditing rates, scholarship, accommodations)?

In the end, some training is better than none, and regardless of the method there is something that will be learned. For the greatest return on your investment, although more expensive, in-person training is always more beneficial for a teacher of movement who works with live bodies every day. Seek ways to offset the expense to maximize your learning potential. Some schools are open to providing more affordable options for students, so it is worthwhile to inquire.

Good luck with your future learning!

Written by
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

© 2018. All rights reserved.

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