immersive learning

Immersive Learning

There is a wealth of information out there that you can consume while you go about your day-to-day tasks. We spend hours a day performing tasks that don't require 100% of our attention but prevent us from sitting down to read a book or engage in some other means of study. On any regular day, this may include tasks like commuting, laundry, cooking, or work. These are the perfect times to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or any other type of media that doesn't require our undivided attention. In many ways, this idea is similar to an immersive learning strategy when learning a foreign language.

Immersive Learning: Maximizing Exposure For Expedient Learning

By: Tyler Austin 

In the last fifteen years, we have seen unprecedented growth in our access to knowledge and information. If you live in the western world, you have the entirety of human knowledge in your pocket. Yet, most people don’t take advantage of this amazing gift that would have been science fiction just a few generations ago. Never before has it been easier to obtain knowledge on any subject that may interest you. Best yet, the majority of the information on any given topic is accessible free of charge. 

There has never been a better time in human history to educate yourself. Furthermore, at the time of this writing, COVID-19 is a global pandemic and has subsequently caused an economic shutdown in the US. As a result, many of us are working from home, are no longer participating in social activities, and are generally stuck at home. The side effects of being quarantined or on lockdown are anxiety and boredom, neither of which is helped by endlessly watching television or scrolling through social media. Instead, consuming new information and challenging yourself in small ways can help stave off cabin fever; and it doesn’t have to be too complicated. Learning is a productive distraction. So if this is you, unplug your TV, stop feeding into the media-fueled panic, and use this golden opportunity to take up a new educational pursuit! 

If you are reading this, you are probably interested in better educating yourself on the field of strength & conditioning so you can become a better coach or have a better understanding of your own training. In this article, I will give you a basic guide to taking full advantage of your downtime to expedite your learning. This will be used in the context of strength training and coaching, but these same principles can be used to learn virtually any subject or topic.

Always Listening, Always Learning

There is a wealth of information out there that you can consume while you go about your day-to-day tasks. We spend hours a day performing tasks that don’t require 100% of our attention but prevent us from sitting down to read a book or engage in some other means of study. On any regular day, this may include tasks like commuting, laundry, cooking, or work. These are the perfect times to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or any other type of media that doesn’t require our undivided attention. Imagine how much you can learn in a short period of time just by adding podcasts and audiobooks to your menial daily tasks? By doing this, you expose yourself to the material for potentially several hours a day, and maximizing exposure to the material is key to learning. 

In many ways, this idea is similar to an immersive learning strategy when learning a foreign language. The traditional process of learning a language tends not to be very successful because there simply is not enough exposure and need to learn the language. However, if we went to the extreme and teleported you into St. Petersburg, Russia, you would learn to speak Russian quickly because you would be immersed in a culture and by a people who only speak Russian. It would also become a dire necessity. You can apply aspects of immersive learning to most subjects, including barbell training and coaching. 

Obviously, studying to become a barbell coach is not as dire of a necessity as learning the language of the country in which you live, but the principle is still the same. The more you expose yourself to the material, principles, and concepts of a particular area of study, the faster you will learn. The goal is straightforward; look for any opportunity to fill your ears with knowledge pertaining to barbell training or any subject you are trying to educate yourself on.      One of the best parts about this is that the vast majority of this information is either free or obtainable at little cost. Podcasts are free, and there are hundreds of episodes out there from not only Barbell Logic, but from other great sources as well. Audiobooks are relatively inexpensive and are also incredibly valuable, even if you have already read the physical book. Reading and listening are both distinctly different and very effective means of learning. Take advantage of both. Although reading requires a large amount of attention, there are times in the day in which you can easily slip in some time to read. Probably the best example of this is using the bathroom. Most people scroll through social media while sitting on the pot, but this is a perfect opportunity to read an article or a few pages of a book. Your smartphone can either be one of your greatest tools or your greatest distraction. 

It is important to note that immersive learning is not passive. If it degrades to nothing more than “background noise,” you will get nothing out of it. Although you may be technically multitasking (i.e., doing the laundry while listening to a podcast), it is critical that you stay engaged with the material. In the next section, I will discuss a great method for staying engaged with what you are listening to. 

Listen & Repeat

It is important to not just listen to the material but also to take the time to think about what you are learning. When you hear an important concept, pause whatever you are listening to and repeat that concept to yourself in your own words. Explain the concept to yourself like you are trying to explain it to another individual. You can do this either in your mind or whisper out loud. To my embarrassment, if you were to have a camera follow my every move throughout the day unbeknownst to me, you would probably think I need to be institutionalized because I murmur and babble to myself constantly. “Talking to yourself,” if you will, is an incredibly powerful tool for cementing concepts in your head. Certainly, discussing with another individual equally as devoted to learning this material as you are is even better. Still, not all of us have a friend like that, nor would they be available to take a call at a moment’s notice. It is equally as important to do this when you hear something you disagree with. For example, you are listening to the BBL podcast, and Matt Reynolds proposes a concept that you disagree with. Pause the podcast and explain to yourself why you disagree with the said concept. Better yet, explain why you disagree in the same manner as if you were explaining it to Reynolds directly.

You may think it is odd for me to tell you to talk to yourself like a crazy old man, but believe me, this will supercharge your comprehension and retention of the material you are trying to learn. It will also aid your ability to explain these concepts to people and clients because you have already had this conversation 100x in your own head. 

Put It On Paper

This method will be more beneficial for some than it will for others, but everyone should, at the very least, give it a try. Writing essays on a subject can be a potent means of learning. In many ways, it is similar to explaining a concept to yourself orally as described above, but because oral and written dictation are different, putting your thoughts on paper will force you to explain the material you have learned differently. Some people will be naturally better at explaining things orally than they will be in the written word and vise versa. Some lucky fellows will be good at both. Whatever the case, explaining what you have learned on paper can prove to be useful. Personally, I found writing incredibly helpful in learning more in-depth topics like the anatomy of a particular joint, the physics of barbell training, or the sliding filament model. Coming from a person who is somewhat of a perfectionist, avoid falling into the abyss of perfectionism when writing. It does not have to be perfect, especially if you are just writing for your own study.

Writing can be useful in a multitude of ways. First off, as mentioned above, it is another way of helping you digest this material. Secondly, writing essays will allow you to go back to your own content in the future to refresh yourself on a given topic. And finally, in the event you do find yourself writing in a more professional context, such as writing for a newspaper or website, you will already have some experience in doing so.

The primary downside to writing is that, unlike the two methods listed above, it generally requires your complete attention and is somewhat time-consuming. Naturally gifted writers may find this more helpful than others, but no matter the case, I recommend everybody should at least give it a try. I am not a naturally gifted writer, but I have found this helpful in my own studies.

Expand Your Circle Of Influence

The strength and fitness industry is full of tribalism and groupthink. It is easy to get assimilated like the Borg into one collective “tribe.” This is dangerous for your development as a coach because you will likely develop a tendency to reject any information that is external to your group. There are many highly experienced coaches out there who have valuable knowledge, experience, and insight on the subject of strength & conditioning. It is not in your best interest to blatantly ignore them. Even if you have strong disagreements, there is always something you can learn from an experienced coach. As a general rule, if you find yourself agreeing 100% with a particular coach, company, group, etc. you more than likely have not expanded your circle of influence far enough. There is a wealth of knowledge out there on strength training, and no one company, organization, or person is the bearer of all that knowledge.

Expand your circle of influence. Keep an open mind when hearing differing methodologies. Allow and actively seek for your current preconceived notions and beliefs to be challenged. And always view yourself as a student of the craft and never stop the search to learn something new. 

Immersive learning is an incredibly valuable tool for the aspiring strength coach, and one can consume an immense amount of information from that alone. But in the context of barbell coaching, nothing beats actual time on the platform coaching real people. The “how” is just as important as the “why” when it comes to coaching people. The platform is where you put what you have learned into practice. Also, don’t neglect more “traditional” means of education, such as classes. Although classes require both a time and financial investment, they can be incredibly valuable for those serious about coaching. If you can afford the time and financial investment, programs such as the Barbell Logic Coaching Academy (which I have been through and can recommend) can be very beneficial not only because of the actual course material but because you’ll be part of a group of like-minded people that are hopefully just as committed to learning the trade as you are. In the end, all learning is good learning, and the more opportunity you can find to learn, the better.

Tyler Austin is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and Owner of Midgard Strength & Conditioning located in Milford, New Hampshire. Tyler Austin was introduced to Starting Strength 3-½ years ago by firearms instructor James Yeager. After reading Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, Tyler hired BLOC coach Jayson Ball and began training. Tyler began coaching 2-½ years ago and has since completed Barbell Logic’s Coaching Academy and has attended two Starting Strength Seminars. Tyler has a passion for getting normal people in their 30s – 60s strong, so they can live healthier, more fulfilling lives. When not training or coaching, you can find him on the shooting range, hanging out with his dog Tucker, or out socializing. 




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