While reviewing some old articles and such I came across an interesting article from PSIA about demos and practice. Motor skill acquisition and skill development has traditionally involved a perfect modeling of a task (demo) by an instructor. The value of a good demo being in the identification of how a move / maneuver should look and how the skis should respond in a perfect world. The problem is that exact model (demo) tends to encourage mimicking but can actually have a negative influence on the student's learning process. Could it be our striving for perfection makes our teaching demos a bit too good and thus less relatable to the average student? Do they actually learn more from their classmate's struggles than that perfect demo we keep performing? Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I am suggesting this is an either / or choice let me suggest that in my opinion, a good lesson might need to include accurate demos but also include packaging the learning segment in a way that the student can easily grasp and digest. So I see value in the guided discovery segment where trial and error activities of their classmates might offer a valuable learning tool for them. The flip side is sometimes the workarounds might not be the outcome we are guiding them towards.
The question in the article seems to be if skiing is best taught by classical conditioning where the goal is to model perfection and create perfect unconscious reflex like responses? Or should we develop a "level dependent" version of our demos that makes it easier for the student to relate to and thus provide more relatable intermediate goals. Do their classmate's efforts represent the best example we can use to help them learn? And what would all of this look like in practice? Obviously many good instructors and coaches here have a ton of lessons under their belt and by soliciting their opinions we may be able to offer some tangible real world advice for new instructors and help those thinking about lessons develop some real world goals for their upcoming lessons.
To start things off, I want to share some of the feedback I have received over the years. Especially from newbies who can be mystified by how I seem to get the skis to do something without any noticeable movements. To be fair they may not notice subtle moves but in a way I very much want them to take away the idea that in skiing often less is better and more is not. At least when it comes to their world where the magnitude of the forces involved are lower than what a more advanced skier might encounter. The danger in this is that as they speed up they are likely to freeze up in a failed attempt to deal with the higher magnitude of forces they will encounter. Often the walk before trying to run type of analogies explain this but until they actually get a good feel for the discipline needed to balance on a slow moving ski, the trail and error efforts by everyone in the class serves to model some outcomes they may, or more likely not want to emulate. Through communicating well how small these movements can be and how more often than not they represent the most effective solution, I find most students develop a good sense for what I call the Goldilocks' zone way of gauging our efforts against outcomes. Too hot/cold, hard/soft, big/small, all produce unwanted outcomes and when they discover just the right amount of effort, or movement, their skis almost magically respond and they achieve the intended outcome with minimal effort. Usually this is an epiphany for them and that next learning segment is far easier to teach since they now have experienced success and are far more willing to explore more speed, steepness, or variety of turns.
Obviously this approach starts off as classical conditioning but somewhere during the lesson empowering the student by allowing them to arrive at their own conclusions and playing a supportive but not center of attention role is the key to their success. In that way lateral learning activities (or whatever the new manuals will call it) represent the bulk of the learning process as we choose different but related tactics, terrain, tasks, and traffic to introduce to our clients. Don't be surprised if as the instructor you learn a few new teaching tricks from your students as their inner expert slowly blooms.
Edited by justanotherskipro - 8/19/14 at 10:37am