Pilates teacher training has historically been a very hands-on, observational, in-person learning experience. As an industry, the standards around education have been quite high, often rigid, and slow to embrace change until the pandemic, when change needed to happen quickly. As of March 2020, education across the industry pivoted and embraced virtual training. Through virtual education master teachers were able to continue offering Pilates training to aspiring instructors. This kept teacher training accessible, increased studio and master teacher reach (a teacher in NY could now have a student, literally from anywhere in the world, participate in a course), and allowed for studios to continue to meet student needs. Now that we are learning to live with covid, and studios are re-emerging, often with as much or even more business than pre-covid, the need for qualified teachers has in fact grown making education as important as ever. The big question, is virtual the best way to meet this need effectively or do we return to a wholly in-person training paradigm?
The answer is not as simple as you would think. Yes, virtual provided opportunity to fill courses, gave master instructors a global platform and kept Pilates teacher training viable at a time when the world was literally shut in. Yes, virtual platforms provide students opportunity to study without the extras associated with time out of daily life or additional travel associated expenses. While all this is true, the learning objectives and outcomes may be the causality of convenience. Much of the research done on students in higher-education suggests that online students generally “had trouble concentrating on their coursework and felt less connected to both their peers and instructors relative to their in-person peers.” Much of the literature is also finding that “online instruction resulted in lower student performance relative to in-person instruction.”
There are many potential reasons for these findings, and according to universityaffairs.ca community and friendship, presences of social cues, sense of motivation, ability to stay focused, lack of privacy and routine and just being in class with peers all play a role in the why in-person learning is more preferential and potent.
Hybrid teaching, teaching with some students in front of a teacher and some virtually, proves the most problematic. According to chalkbeat.org, “Teachers across the U.S. who are juggling in-person and virtual students simultaneously say their quality of instruction is lower than it normally would be, as they try to keep themselves positioned in front of cameras, keep the in-person students from feeling frustrated, and keep moving through their actual lessons. The result is they are struggling to reach the students who need their attention most.” The hybrid training model is what many studios have embraced as it allows for more students to attend any one course, and may well be the most problematic of virtual options.
As a movement educator, I have been asking myself a very simple question. Is it responsible to teach movement to new instructors without ever observing teaching, listening to cueing, watching the interaction, and seeing the student themselves move, react to cues and corrections, especially when equipment is involved. On the other hand, there have been many virtual success stories and it has provided a lot more opportunity and virtual, by every industry study, is not likely to go anywhere any time soon.
We at Balanced Body Education are actively researching and asking these questions so that we can create an educational model that provides students and master instructors alike successful and inspiring learning opportunities. Globally, I think the following are excellent and well suited for virtual education as an option.
- Continuing education is an excellent use of virtual learning as students who attend these courses are already qualified teachers and understand the foundations of Pilates and Pilates equipment. Virtual continuing education allows instructors to access some of the best educators in the industry, educators they may have revered, wanted to study with and hoped to learn from but may not have had time or access to. I, myself, was truly happy for these virtual opportunities and took advantage of spending time with many I have respected but simply did not have the ability to study with.
- Teaching clients. Research is indicating that many clients thrived during the pandemic through virtual work with an instructor. Furthermore, there is every indication that many clients will want to continue virtually and may even use virtual to augment going into a studio for in-person instruction. This is an excellent outcome.
- Mentorship and other highly focused educational enrichment also seem to work virtually. There is opportunity for master educators to connect with students, mentor students and offer opportunities for additional study via virtual learning. This is an excellent use of virtual as a touch point and manner to keep students engaged and to support individualized learning.
Specifically, around virtual teacher training, one size does not fit all. At Balanced Body Education, as we craft best practices, we will continue to ask ourselves five basic questions.
- Are we meeting our learning objectives effectively and efficiently with virtual education, and if not, how can we do the virtual part better?
- How can we employ the best of virtual while not losing or diffusing the quality of the early educational interactions that are so important when learning movement and Pilates?
- How do we ensure that all master teachers are skilled in the medium of teaching virtually, again, with the idea of ensuring not only student success, but master instructor success and, in the long-term, student/instructor competence?
- What are we willing to change and how do we make the changes necessary to create a robust combination of in-person and virtual options for new students?
- Who are we as an industry of teachers becoming and does virtual meet the vision of Pilates teacher training in the future?
There may be a lot of questions, but where there are questions there are also options and opportunity. We may all have quickly pivoted to virtual to keep the energy around training growing, but as the dust settles and long-range future plans emerge, I believe, educational products which promote, support, enrich and grow the entire Pilates industry will have to be inclusive of both virtual and in-person experiences.