Big Classes, Small Groups or Personal Training...what's the best way to train?
We have been brought up to believe that bigger is always better. Whether it's a house, a car, number of Instagram followers or a even pizza we are constantly bombarded with reinforcement that success is supersized. The thing is though that this may be true for material things, but when it comes to personal development and learning, bigger may actually be a drawback...
The issue of class sizes (or rather optimal ratio of students to teachers) is a hot issue for most educational systems. Generally it's accepted that in this context, bigger groups can lead to challenges in individual student engagement, understanding and development. One fundamental yet unavoidable flaw here is that teaching large groups requires a broad brush, generalist delivery. By it's very nature, large group education requires the teacher/coach/instructor to adopt a one size fits all approach, which can never truly account for differences in individual learning styles.
Whilst in the context of a group exercise class or Tony Robins development presentation, mass participation may provide a fantastic atmosphere and energy, away from the elation of that shared experience, the real take home individual development may actually be very limited.
This is broadly true within the martial arts also. Big classes do indeed provide a great energy and the opportunity to train with a variety of different students. The opportunity to obtain rounded experience, training with and sparring students of different sizes, weights and technical proficiency cannot be overlooked. However what is comprised in this arena is the specific identification and feedback of developmental needs. Whilst inevitably there will be peer coaching (students helping other students) the direct input from the coach/teacher/instructor will be limited at best.
Conversely personal training offers the polar opposite to this. Focusing on one singular participant, individual needs, learning styles and goals are more readily addressed. Through a personal training approach, the sessions and subject matter can be tailored to ensure that students are engaged, skill gaps are met and competencies are reinforced for long term retention.
A personal training approach gives opportunity for unitary focus. In a martial arts context this is ideal for the development of specific technical attributes and capabilities. However, personal training does not allow for testing that capability with regards to any type of diversity. The benefits of training in a large group wholly disappear when training individually, there is simply no opportunity to investigate how the techniques being learnt are applied to different types and sizes of opponent. This can then lead to an reasonably one sided acquisition of technique, understanding the movement but lacking in regards to the specific application.
Small group training exists in the middle ground between these polar opposites. Small group (typically 6 to 8 participants) training allows for the individual contact and coaching, to be adequately supported by opportunity to train with a variety of individuals. Although a little diluted when compared to the individual focus in a personal training session, the make up and delivery of the small group training sessions can be easily adapted to the learning styles and outcomes of the participants. Small group training further provides an opportunity for shared experiences and peer support which is somewhat limited in a personal training environment. Critically from a martial arts perspective, small group training provides an environment where participants can train with and test application of technique with a variety of individuals.
We strongly advocate a small group training approach. Whilst we do offer private sessions, our class formats are all based a small group delivery. We aim to ensure we maintain the highest level of individual service possible, whilst providing a supportive environment where all participants can learn, develop and enjoy their activities.