Track Coach

TC248 Editorial Column

From the Editor – RUSS EBBETS

In the Doing…

Twenty-five years ago, I started a master’s degree in Communication and Learning Design. It was a night school program; I took one course a semester for seven years. And just like Johnny Cash stole his Cadillac in the song One Piece at a Time, I completed the degree. One of the great things I got from the program was that it allowed me to study the intricacies of a motor learning course I was teaching. I was able to fine tune the students’ experience all the while addressing the different learning styles each student possessed.

Back then there were three recognized learning styles – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. The explanation was that the different students favored a different learning style in order to perceive and digest information presented to them. Everyone, to a degree, has all three means to learn, but one style (visual, auditory or kinesthetic) dominates.

This all made total sense to me. What I was able to do with my term projects was design a multi-station teaching format that cycled through the three learning styles playing to a strength of a student, shifting gears and allowing that student the opportunity to strengthen a weak area that might be the strong suit for a fellow student. This offered each student a chance to “help” or demonstrate to a classmate and made for a dynamic learning experience within the class that benefited all. This set-up offered me many different teaching options (guided discovery, learn-by-doing, see one-do one-teach one, etc.) and proved to be highly effective with the students loving the whole process.

My original intent for this editorial was to discuss the Learning Pyramid (Figure 1) which, as you can see, incorporates the three different learning styles. The Learning Pyramid was crafted in the 1950s by psychologist Kurt Lewin at Maine’s National Training Laboratory (NTL). Lewin’s research into group dynamics was even referenced in Ken Doherty’s Omnibook. The NTL is a thinktank that strives for broadening education through more effective presentation methods. This pyramid model has been used internationally with applications to the classroom, business settings and sports teams.

The learn-by-doing technique is a kinesthetic (touch and feel) learner focused on means to teach or coach. Various maxims have been employed over the years like “see one, do one, teach one” or “in the doing comes the knowing” that concisely get the points across. In fact, I have no doubt, anyone who has coached with any degree of success has successfully utilized these techniques.

But we live in a time where the fashion of the day is to question everything. The problem I have with this is that the “questioning” may not be really for clarification or further explanation but rather to nit-pick an endeavor or to discredit something while at the same time allowing the critic to achieve some secondary gain from all this.

The Learning Pyramid has been under fire over the last decade because the various steps of the Learning Pyramid cannot be substantiated. The NTL somehow lost or had all their research destroyed. The NTL claims that research would validate the efficacy of their methods. The fact that countless coaches and teachers have studied, implemented and succeeded with this method doesn’t seem to count for anything. While the concept of learning styles has been expanded over the last two decades it turns out there has been little scientific scrutiny to validate these coaching and educational strategies either. With no reproducible research, the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater.

One essay that discredits these coaching and teaching strategies (“Excavating the Origins of the Learning Pyramid Myths” by Letrud, 2018) is well written and the author’s conclusion categorically denies any need for further use of this teaching method. You would think that this eureka moment would be quickly followed by the recent discovery of a “new and improved” method that is a short cut to enlightenment or skill acquisition backed by enough statistical data to satisfy any bean counter. This would force a skeptical editor to admit that, yes, there is a better way. But you don’t get any of that.

You scratch your head and wonder how this could be. Much of the Learning Pyramid is time tested, like from ancient time tested. In Track Coach #235, we reprinted an article by several of the heavyweights within the sport science world (Guy Hornsby, Andrew Fry, Mike Stone, Greg Haff) defending the concept of periodization. I was dismayed that anyone would question the value of periodization or even bring into question the efficacy of the coaching organizational method. But Mike Stone and others put that dismay to rest.

One of the points the sport scientists made was that tenure track academics, endeavoring to solidify an academic career path, create “paper tigers” with a misinterpretation or misrepresentation of concepts, in this case periodization, and then proceed to poke holes in the theory of periodization to “prove” that it does not work.

But again, we are left with no workable alternatives. The well written article gets reviewed by fellow scholars and becomes part of the “canon of doubt.” The article checks all the necessary boxes of statistical significance, p-values and confidence levels that are inversely proportional to the author’s ability to distinguish between a split time and a half-time.

And what have we done to improve this? On-line learning, death by PowerPoint and Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. Who could have ever thought high school detention would have prepared you for something? It would be interesting to see if someone re-did the Learning Pyramid, new research with new surveys to see where these innovations (on-line learning, Zoom, etc.) would be placed on the Learning Pyramid. Of course, I’d also like to see who funded the research, was it AI generated with the understood threat if R2-D2 didn’t say something nice somebody would pull his plug?

I still use learning styles, reference the Learning Pyramid and would still recommend their use. You can find simple 10-minute tests on the Internet to identify your own learning style, if you are interested. I refer to the Learning Pyramid to continually challenge myself to present learn-by-doing learning or a coaching experience that challenges the athlete which over time offers the opportunity at mastery.

Motor skill development and coaching are interactive activities. You can talk as much as you want, present articles, show videos or tear down a concept with a pen, a pickaxe or possibly an excavator. But at the end of the day the simple fact remains that, “in the doing comes the knowing.”