What do your spin class students see from you?

What do your spin class students see from you?

Guest post from ICI/PRO Member / Contributor Christine Nielsen


There are many models which attempt to explain and categorize the ways in which people learn new material. Most of them are very arcane and debates abound in the academic community about their validity. Through years of teaching and coaching I have found that using Fleming's VAK/VARK model has translated into real world changes in my effectiveness.

In this model learners are categorized into three groups:

  • Auditory in which a person learns through listening...
  • Visual in which ideas, concepts, data and other information are associated with images...
  • Kinesthetic/tactile in which learners absorb information best by doing, experiencing, touching, moving or being active in some way.

We assume that most of our learners are auditory. They must be since we talk to them all the time, right? Wrong. Auditory learners are only approximately 30% of the population. Thus, while we must continue to refine our verbal cueing skills we must also find ways to make information accessible to the other learners in our classes.

Visual learners make up almost 60% of our classes. What changes have you made to your presentation style to accommodate their needs?

Here are a few of the things I do:

A head on view of the instructor is virtually useless to a visual learner for many of the topics we discuss. For that reason I often turn my bike almost sideways - 75 degrees or so - which allows people to see exactly what angles my body is making, where my weight is located, what my pedal stroke looks like. I sometimes then do an exaggerated version of the "wrong" shape/form and then "correct" my form. I started doing this in intro classes but I actually find it more useful and instructive with advanced students because they are more attuned to the nuanced changes I am asking them to make. I don't leave the bike turned for an entire class - usually for less than five minutes during a relevant drill.

I use my hands - a lot. As I talk about HR or the profile of the ride or form/mechanics I illustrate those points with my hands. I show decreases/increases with hand gestures that accompany my words. I form a foot, ankle, shin and knee with my hand, wrist and forearm. I move my hands apart and together again to show changes of effort/resistance. I rarely give an instruction without some kind of accompanying gesture.

I keep a white board in the room where I teach. I often make diagrams before I start to complement points I will make during a ride. But more often I hop off my bike when I see confusion in someone”™s eyes and draw something simple to make my point. Believe me - I”™m no Leonardo da Vinci. But I can draw stick figures and graphs and I am willing to try and try again until I see that a learner has got the point.

I teach in a lighted room most of the time. While I enjoy the benefits of a few darkened rides, I think too many of them shortchange the visual learners.

I make sure that many of my verbal cues incorporate visual imagery that can become mental pictures for some of the students.

I think my visual presentations add value for everyone in the class. Auditory learners get an opportunity to match my words to the images I present while visual learners start to make a better association between my standardized language and the “pictures” I have drawn. In addition, I need to be slightly less concerned about the effect of voice and music volume on the people at the back of the class. They are receiving two streams of information from me at any time.

Kinesthetic learners make up 5 - 10% of the population. In my experience, they are often the first to frustrate (their educational experience has always been challenging) and I suspect we lose many of them. If you can help them settle and learn the material they will become your most enthusiastic advocates.

Here are a couple of my tricks for dealing with this learning style.

I physically move a rider”™s limbs and torso to the correct position and remain at the bike for some time with a very light touch on whatever body part I am adjusting. You can communicate an enormous amount by increasing/decreasing the pressure. When the position is correct the rider should not be able to feel your hand. Note: I always ask for permission before I put my hands on a rider”™s body even if they have given me permission on previous occasions.

I let riders put their hands on my body - feet, ankles, knees, lower back, shoulder blades, shoulders, elbows and hands. I don”™t put them in the awkward position of touching my hips. The advantage of having them lay hands on my body is that I can exaggerate “right” from “wrong” and they can actually feel bones and muscles move.

I have developed a couple of techniques to help people feel the concept of resistance. They involve them pushing back against me. When all else fails, I get on their bike and set it to a resistance that I think is right for them at that time.

If you have not given this topic any thought, I encourage you to start waving your hands in your next class. You may see some light bulbs go on. That will help you identify the visual learners and you can make sure that you direct your visual teaching to them in the future. If you have someone who just doesn”™t seem to “get it”, consider the possibility that they are a kinesthetic learner and brainstorm with them to develop ways to help them feel the points you are trying to make.

Christine Nielsen
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