Lockdown learning and why digital is here to stay – by James Clack, Head of Digital Learning at Active IQ

As we face an unprecedented global situation, particularly for our industry, we need to take a step back and look for alternative ways to adapt as fitness professionals. Despite the extraordinary social and workplace challenges, we must harness all we know about motivation to make the most of this situation and not let it dampen our enthusiasm.

I’ve been impressed by the extraordinary efforts among fitness professionals who have pivoted their business models and updated their skills to maximise their time. We have seen many adapting new ways to train clients online and through video streaming services keeping them engaged and on track. Throughout the first lockdown and now with the second lockdown there has also of course been an opportunity to enhance our knowledge and develop our skills.

If Covid-19 has taught us one thing – and it’s taught us a lot of things – it’s that digital learning can be informative, effective and productive. For so long, the ‘poor relation’ to face-to-face learning, digital delivery of lessons, sessions and even examinations during lockdown has shown its true potential. Digital learning is far from the ‘stop gap’ people thought it would be during lockdown and is, in fact, an opportunity for everyone to look at it afresh.

The value of digital learning

Learning technology is huge business, now estimated to be worth upwards of $18billion globally and projected to be $350billion by 2025. Whether we like it or not, digital learning is here to stay. I for one am extremely excited about this but I don’t always feel the same enthusiasm from the wider sector! In fact, throughout the two decades I’ve been involved in education, I’ve seen much resistance and reluctance to embracing digital delivery options, with many regarding it as a substandard vehicle for education that simply doesn’t match up to ‘bricks and mortar’ classroom teaching.

Not just for ‘top-up’ learning

Prior to lockdown, we knew from industry reports that 92% of employers needed to provide some additional training to fitness staff to ensure they were work ready. That in itself should bring into question how effective face-to-face learning actually is. Furthermore, and ironically, much of the ‘top up’ learning and CPD is delivered digitally to fit around people’s work. So it’s not as if digital learning hasn’t already justified its place in our industry’s education system.

Tailoring the tutoring

We all learn for different reasons, in different ways at different paces. When everyone is in a classroom learning in the same order at a pre-ordained pace to hit simultaneous targets, some people will be pushed on too fast while others are held back.  Digital learning allows for individual pacing, enabling people to take longer over more tricky aspects and make swift progress in areas that come more easily.   This all assumes – and requires – personalised input from teachers and trainers to identify where support is needed for learners.  Also, setting strict parameters on an arbitrary length of study – as group classroom learning requires – lacks understanding around the concepts of differentiation, prior knowledge and experience, learner motivation and engagement.

Best of both worlds

Of course, digital learning on its own is not the answer – any more than face-to-face learning alone is.  The best solution to my mind is a hybrid approach which combines an effective and high-quality online programme utilising flipped classrooms with time face-to-face in a classroom and on the fitness facility floor. I accept that to train to work with people you need to train with people.  But I have no doubt that the bulk of the theory work can be covered online allowing people to learn at their own pace with remote 1-to-1 teacher support where necessary.

A little still to learn

We’re not there yet and have a few barriers to overcome in order to enable true roll-out of digital delivery that meets the needs of learners, employers and the sector at large. But we are hearing some great stories of individuals whose learning has come along quicker and better as a result of switching to digital learning. This, backed with phone or Zoom support, has widened opportunities for many by removing barriers of fixed deadlines, physical locations and ‘group parameters’.  I believe a greater understanding within our sector of the potential for digital delivery and assessment could actually prove valuable in tackling a number of learning and development challenges that we face.

The bottom line is that we must not dismiss digital learning: it’s here to stay and the smart instructor and PT will use the continued restrictions to upskill and be ready for the opportunities that lie ahead.

Posted in Expert Opinion, James Clack.