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By Sarah Edmonds, Active IQ, Director of Quality and Standards

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” is attributed to Albert Einstein, Henry Ford and Mark Twain. Whoever said it, theirpoint is if you want to change an outcome you need to change the way you go about doing things.

In a world of driverless cars, Artificial Intelligence, 3D printers, Google Classroom and – closer to home – gyms everywhere embracing technological alternatives for fitness and exercise, isn’t it time this sector started the long road to catch up in the way it trains and educates its future professionals?

In my line of work, I have visited schools, colleges, prisons, universities, employers and private training providers, most of whom would contend their particular model is the preferred one to deliver the prescribed and desired outcomes. This is curious when you consider the same qualification therefore is being delivered, for example, over two academic years (occasionally longer, when at Her Majesty’s pleasure) or over some weeks/weekends or fully online. Can they all be right in their assertions?

In the context of my own education I have been a student at an FE college, private provider, three universities, and a global business school, and experienced all of the above models across my various educational achievements. We all have tales of that favourite teacher, but that is also true of the establishments that we engage with – the learning experience as a whole: how we were nurtured, inspired, supported and guided to success – this is the reality that successful providers understand, regardless of pedagogical approach.

Online or classroom?

Stepping away from the active leisure sector for a moment, consider the first foray into free mass online learning (often referred to as MOOCs), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who states “…is dedicated to providing its students with an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community.”

How can they achieve this fully online? They realised the power of peer to peer engagement as the tutors “observed” via VPN discussion forums how students compared and contrasted ideas to gain a better understanding of their subject knowledge,

People will make claims about “quality” – this is the most personal of concepts and it is only helpful here to talk of measuring quality within an educational process, for example relating to structure, context, output or impact.

California State University e-learning Institute (CSUN) has a rubrik of principles for high quality online learning ( To establish the most basic of performance and quality benchmarks should be everyone’s aspiration who undertakes such an important role as teacher, mentor, coach and assessor, and adherence to a framework such as this ensures an experience at least as robust as that of a traditional classroom.

Skills for 2018 and beyond

Closer to home, Generation Z-ers have an unconscious expectation to learn digitally, as it weaves through every aspect of their lives it cannot be avoided simply because previous generations are being dragged away from their comfortable and familiar memory of how they were taught. Nostalgia does not make for sound evidence-based claims.

As Robert Halfon (Chair, Education Select Committee) has recently said “Our skills strategy not only needs to address the skills shortages in our economy, but to create our most resilient and adaptable generation of young people.”

Step in ukactive and their tech start-up competition for digital innovation “Activelab”; step in all the new virtual instructors on big screens; step in Flair and yoga apps etc… the list goes on.

The clinchers for a successful teaching and learning experience should be measured by the outcome. How they got there will vary, but should have some common themes – was the student fully immersed in their experience? Were they given substantial guidance, scaffolding to climb up towards their agreed goals? Were they given access to additional support and resources, plus an opportunity to share ideas and problems with peers?


Good technology plus good teaching regardless of the complexities of practical equipment may negate the argument for tutors needing to be in the same room (or gym) as their students. Furthermore, this industry’s recent focused feedback from employers is driven largely around the much-needed softer skills of engagement, behaviour-change and tangible communication methods, rather than new ever-changing equipment, all of which can and should be taught and practised in a multitude of different creative ways – not necessarily standing next to a treadmill.