Advanced Sea Kayak Skill Development

During my recent Level 5 instructor certification exam, three words really stuck with me.  Managed Learning Experience.

As most L-4 and L-5 instructors know, as you begin teaching skill development (and leadership, risk assessment and mitigation, etc.) in open water, the learning environment becomes more challenging.  It’s often impractical to get everyone together, describe/demonstrate a technique, and then have them practice the new skill.  If you have an area of protection from waves and wind, you can retreat to that area for the on-water classroom, and then venture back out into conditions for the skills.

But at some point, that is no longer practical (think dynamic surf zone) and the approach needs to change.  Otherwise you lose important skill-development time just launching and landing through the surf, for example.  Or students are simply too distracted by the conditions to absorb what you are showing/demonstrating.  Instead, at the upper levels of instruction, we strive to create managed learning experiences.  There may actually be several “lessons” that are going on at the same time, taking advantage of the conditions offered.  We identify clear goals before getting on the water, have a plan to execute against those goals (reviewed with all students), have 2-3 backup plans, and share feedback with each student during the evolution.  A post-evolution debrief further cements the key points, and identifies any areas where there are questions or missed opportunities.  But at all points, it should be clear to the students what the goal is, and what’s coming next.

In many ways, this is a transition from instruction to coaching. The on-water time is ideally spent working with the paddlers on a student-by-student basis; observing their progress, offering tips or suggestions, letting them experience the results, and then repeating.  Of course the individual attention may be less possible while in advanced conditions, but a skilled coach is still managing the experience, and helping solidify the learning off the water.

While I’m always a fan of private and small-group instruction, expect to see more managed learning experiences in my future open and rough-water classes.