Sensory Learning at the Climbing Wall Article

© Mihaela Bodlovic

We recently came across some workshops organised by the University of Edinburgh as part of their Festival of Creative Learning at the University's Sport & Exercise Pleasance Sports Complex, named 'Sensory Learning at the Climbing Wall'. The sessions were well received by participants and focused on using the climbing wall as a tool for exploring different learning and teaching methods.

Sensory learning at the climbing wall: Gerry Crabbe and Stephen Barnes  © Mihaela Bodlovic
Sensory learning at the climbing wall: Gerry Crabbe and Stephen Barnes
© Mihaela Bodlovic

I got in touch with the climbing wall team leader, Gerry Crabbe, to find out more...

How did the sensory learning sessions at the wall come about?

We were asked if we would like to take part in an event at the University called the Festival of Creative Learning (You may know this as Innovative Learning Week. It is reading week at University). The Festival of Creative Learning is a year-long festival focusing on creative learning and innovation at The University of Edinburgh. Both staff and students are invited to apply to run events within the festival. The main festival week this year took place 20-24th of February 2017.

I came up with the idea to run a session that would be designed around how we learn and teach, using the climbing wall to demonstrate some concepts.

Coaching in the climbing wall  © Mihaela Bodlovic
Coaching in the climbing wall
© Mihaela Bodlovic
What was the goal of the sessions?

The goal of the sessions for the Climbing Wall staff was to devise an appropriate session plan to run for allthat was different to our usual courses (Tasters, Beginners, Improvers, and Leaders courses).We would use the medium of climbing to demonstrate different learning styles and introduce some coaching methods/models/techniques in order to demonstrate that people learn in different ways and that when we coach, we aim to treat each person as an individual and tailor our coaching to match the participants' learning styles - for people of all abilities.

For the participants, the goal was to be exposed to these different learning styles, together and in isolation, in order to better understand their own preferred style but also the other styles that they may not use so much. When struggling with a skill or concept, these tools can help them in future when asking for clarity. The sessions also increased awareness that others may not learn in the same way that they do, and that they may need to adapt if coaching others. A further reason for wanting to run this was to introduce people to a safe and inclusive environment at the climbing wall and to encourage future participation in the sport.

Describe some of the activities that were carried out.

It's basically taking the standard V.A.K. learning styles theory - Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic - and focusing on the individual aspects by limiting senses. For example, blindfolded hold finding - in pairs, the blindfolded person spins round and is then takento a wall to pick out a hold and are told to try to remember where it is. Then they are brought away from the wall, spun round again and they eventually take off the blindfold and tryto find their hold. Did they find it? What did they do to try to help themselves find it?

We did a very visual warm up where no words were said and participants had to copy what I did. Then they were told exercises and given a number which would correspond with it that they had to remember, then I would shout out the numbers in different orders and make them remember which one to do.

Blindfolded climbing: where are the holds?  © Mihaela Bodlovic
Blindfolded climbing: where are the holds?
© Mihaela Bodlovic

We also taught people routes by visually showing them one, describing how one should be done, then taping holds and getting them to have a go. This provided very interesting results and hit home which methods worked for them and which were less useful. At the end of the session we asked people to design a route andteach it to another group, but only using visuals, or by explanation only.

We discussed how we coach and our considerations and referred this back to the IDEAS model (Introduction, Demonstrating (Visual), Explanation (Auditory), Activity (Kinaesthetic), and Summary. This was to show that we aim to coach in a way that should touch on people's preferred learning styles.

How did the activities go down with participants?

The participants were really engaged in it - some asking loads of follow on questions around learning and coaching to better understand it, some staying for a climb after, and some even booked onto beginner courses!

Using all of the senses in the workshops  © Mihaela Bodlovic
Using all of the senses in the workshops
© Mihaela Bodlovic

How can these sessions help people to coach and work with disabilities or learning difficulties?

These sessions demonstrate that people have different needs and requirements in terms of learning. Some need very different approaches than others when coaching. Overall, it encourages and empowers people to take ownership and of how they can adapt their style to suit the individual, which translates very well when dealing with people with varying levels of physical and mental abilities.

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