Ensuring Adult Students' Success

By Diane Ruth
Published on Aug 31st, 2011

Remember that training in the Martial Arts is a student centered activity. I like to think of "being supportive of your student’s learning" as a larger generalized principle. One of the best ways to ensure your students’ success is to be accommodating of their learning process. There are many ways to accomplish this as long as you keep focused on their education. It’s all about them, not you or your timeline. Adult learners have special requirements which need to be considered when formulating your lesson. Typically, adult students have not been in a classroom setting for a long time and have been teaching themselves everything for a number of years. Here are 6 tips to help you teach the adult learners in your studio.

Tip #1 - Move from simple ideas to more complex concepts gradually. It’s easy to look at things through Black-Belt eyes and forget what it was like to be a beginner. Adults need time to process information; so it’s better to move slowly through the material instead of cramming it all into a “studio belt progression” timeframe. Avoid giving too much information or going too fast. In the short term, throwing around a great deal of information might make you appear intelligent and knowledgeable. However, it limits the student’s ability to progress and creates confusion, in the long term. Worse, it can make them feel stupid or unable to achieve their goal. Students, who are unhappy or feel unable to grasp the subject, may stop coming to class. You’ll get legitimate excuses from them as to why they couldn’t make it to classes, and may not even realize you’ve gone too far too fast.

“Refinement -- too much time and often too little progress” ~ Ed Parker

Tip #2 - Review their most recent lesson or the basics for the lesson you are currently teaching first. Sometimes we forget how important it is to strengthen basic skills or we view this as unnecessary. This is a common mistake, Black-Belt eyes again! Remember when you were learning; wasn’t it helpful to review the lesson before you moved to the next lesson? When you learned multiplication you always reviewed addition first. With the many distractions in every adult life, adult students may have forgotten the previous lesson and need the review. This re-enforces your original lesson and allows you the opportunity to clarify any misconceptions.

Tip #3 - Define the desired result you want to see. An open ended idea may be too much. Many adults plan with the end in mind. They need to know what to strive for. This is not always possible with the material we are teaching. We can define the results we want along the way to help students achieve their next level. Often we give great feedback about our students’ progress, while forgetting to set the next goal or define the desired outcome we are looking for.

Tip #4 - Allow frequent opportunities to practice. Teach the lesson and then allow the adult learner to work on it for a few minutes. This is especially critical for kinesthetic learners. Kinesthetic learners need to “feel” the lesson and “do” the reps to learn. If you do not allow them time to practice immediately, they will lose most of your lesson within 10 minutes. Remember, adult students have many responsibilities and distractions in their life. They want to practice in their spare time. They just don’t have a lot of spare time. They have family obligations, work obligations, chores, and social obligations outside the studio; and then they get spare time.

“Devoted and intensive practice is often the key to pushing you to the very limit of your ability” ~ Ed Parker

Tip #5 - Encourage self-paced learning whenever possible. There is no race in the Martial Arts. We have goals we work toward. Imposing artificial time lines on adult students will not aid in learning. It is a tool you may use for an “eternal brown belt”, one who never quite gets around to testing for black belt; but this is not something you want to do for newer students. If you don’t get through all the material in your lesson plan, that’s okay. Make a note to finish the lesson at another time. It’s more important for the student to understand the first few parts of your lesson, instead of rushing through to cover all 10 parts of your lesson plan. Focus on their learning, not on the student getting their next belt in three months.

Tip #6 - Emphasize internal rather than external rewards. The adult learner is motivated by internal incentives. Figure out what is important to the student and help them get their reward. It could be losing weight, self-defense, flexibility, or self-confidence. Learning what motivates the individual adult learner will help you teach them. If losing weight is their motivator you can encourage them to do more reps to build cardiovascular fitness, allowing them to burn fat more easily. If it’s self-defense you would not worry so much about completing the “required” material and focus more on principles of self-defense, getting off the line of attack, blocking, etc. For the adult learner it’s usually this personal sense of accomplishment that motivates them to move forward in the Martial Arts.

Filed under Instructors and Teaching

Author Bio :: Diane Ruth

Diane started training in the Martial Arts in 1997 and received her Black Belt certification in 2003. For fifteen years Mrs. Ruth has trained in Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate exclusively. She is a professional instructor teaching both children and adults. Mrs. Ruth is a partner in M&D's Modern Martial Arts Club. M&D's Modern Martial Arts Club which is affiliated with The MALC and Kenpo2000. Diane's primary focus is developing a complete teaching strategy which incorporates Principle Based teaching.

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