Teaching Everybody: Incorporating Different Learning Styles in Class

teaching Pilates
This is my teacher, Shauna, teaching in her studio, The BodySmith.

I’ve been teaching Pilates for 15 years. Teaching has taught me many things, not the least of which is that people learn differently. Truthfully, learning style was not something I ever thought about until I started needing to get a group of diverse people doing the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Initially, my words were clunky, but as I continued to teach, I picked up some ideas of this works, that doesn’t. My advice in teaching a diverse group of people is that you should do your best to give a cue that will work for each learning style.

This may sound like a daunting task but, in Pilates especially, we do many repetitions. For the first repetition, I would demonstrate (visual learners) and explain (auditory learners) and see who gets it. Next, I would use imagery. This typically will appeal to more visual learners.

In my opinion, teaching a fitness class for read-write learners is the most challenging because there is not any reading or writing as we’re working. My suggestion is that you mention specific books you read or websites you visit, places they can go to read more about what they have just done.

Finally, I will quit talking and start walking around the room to give tactile feedback to kinesthetic learners. As you approach someone to give feedback, ask if it’s okay for you to touch them. When you do touch them, use a firm, confident pressure. It’s really creepy if you’re touched by someone who isn’t confident in their touch.

Teach the second exercise in a similar manner. As you look around the room, you will start to notice which students respond best to which cues. Let’s say it looks like everyone understands the exercise when you demonstrate and explain. That’s fine, but that doesn’t mean you should stop giving the other cues.

If you keep cueing, you could help someone have an A-ha! moment about an exercise. Plus, it establishes a nice pattern so if you teach something new, people will be able to hang in there and keep trying until you say things in a way that they understand.

To know how to teach, you first have to know how people learn. I got the information below from How to Teach Effectively. Here is a link to buy the book from Amazon. If you buy from this link, I get a small commission.

Visual Learners

Visual learners:

  • tend to talk quickly.
  • can be impatient or interrupt in conversation.
  • use imagery.
  • learn by seeing and visualizing.

It makes sense that demonstration is an appropriate tool to help visual learners. However, make sure to use colorful words to help them paint a mental picture as well.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners:

  • speak slowly and tend to listen well.
  • think in a linear manner.
  • prefer verbal explanation.
  • learn by listening and verbalizing.

When teaching for auditory learners, many sure your thoughts and words are well organized before you speak. Also, if they speak slowly, so should you. Slow down specifically when you’re trying to teach this group.

Read-Write Learners

Read-write learners:

  • prefer to read information.
  • emphasize text-based input and output.
  • enjoy reading and writing in all forms.

As I said before, it’s difficult to teach read-write learners fitness. There isn’t much opportunity for reading or writing while you’re working out. One way to connect with them would be to bring a book that you reference. If they’re not connecting with your teaching, perhaps seeing a visual in a book would be beneficial.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners:

  • tend to be the slowest talkers of all.
  • can be slow to make decisions.
  • use all their senses to engage in learning.
  • learn by doing and solving real-life problems.

For kinesthetic learners, tactile feedback is important. However, it’s not going to be particularly helpful if you just say Do this, don’t do that. What will help the most is if you teach them how to notice if they’re doing the exercise correctly.

Learning

Anyone can be a combination of the four learning styles, however, one is normally predominant. What’s important to remember when teaching a large group is that everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds. That’s why, whenever you’re teaching, bring your full arsenal of words and tricks. You never know if something you say might bring a moment of clarity for someone.

What is the best way for you to learn? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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