The Three Stages of Learning

Last week, I wrote about the three types of cuing and how to use cues to connect with your class. But have you ever noticed that in your group fitness classes that there are people who can immediately correct themselves based on one cue while others take months of correction to understand? While there are three styles of cues and three types of learners, there are also three stages of learning. In today’s blog, I will introduce you to the three stages of learning, as well as provide a solution for how to speak to people at each level.

Before continuing, let’s sidetrack. A goal in my life is to always be a student. I want to constantly learn and experience new ideas. I learn from teachers from many different worlds, but the lessons of today’s blog comes from Linda Shelton and Keli Roberts. These two ladies have taught me great lessons in dealing with my students and I thank them greatly.

The Three Stages of Learning

Cognitive learners are beginners. These people are new to the style of movement in the class. They can be HIIT junkies taking a restorative yoga class, barre-tender learning to cycle, or a brand new exercise student. These participants tend to have little body awareness in the movement you are asking them to execute. Since they are new to the movement, they don’t always understand that they are not doing the move properly and they don’t understand how to correct it.

When a participant is categorized in this stage, they have a fundamental understanding of the baseline movements. They can execute the moves correctly and are prepared to try a progression of this base move. Perhaps this student has been in your class many times before, or are just more cognizant of their body.

Your rockstar students fit into this stage of learning. These participants have a very good understanding of the movement, their body, and the proper bio-mechanics of the exercise. They have great alignment, and feel confident in multiple variations and progressions of the base movement.

How to Speak to Each Stage

If a participant is in the cognitive stage, they will need simple and very specific instructions. These participants will also respond well to tactile corrections, but always ask permission before touching your students. At this stage, students need all three forms of cuing, but will benefit from kinesthetic practice.

Once the participant is in the associative stage, they can respond to visual cues, which we spoke about in last week’s blog. These students typically learn well from seeing you demonstrate the correct and the incorrect postures for the exercise.

When the student graduates in the autonomous stage, they need to continue to maintain their skills by practicing the baseline movements, but need to be challenged with fine-tuning their motions. You can also introduce them to new movement patterns that allow them to practice more of their coordination, balance, agility, and reactivity skills. Offer them auditory cues while you help the other students with tactile corrections and visual demonstrations.

It is very important to understand where a student is in the stages of learning. You cannot expect a new group exercise participant to react to a new move as an autonomous student would. To connect with all of our students, we need to understand what our students need from us as instructors.