Volume 2: Learners and Learning in Physical Education

The previous blog returned to a paper published in 1992 and asked if PE had changed in the intervening period. Both the blog and the paper asked if PE was relevant to young people in a postmodern world. Importantly, whilst the paper was two decades old, it seemed that many of the messages around the need to create relevant and meaningful learning experiences were the same now as they were then. The discussions on the blog focused around the need to change practice but in a way that would be tangible in twenty years time.

This week’s blog explores the differing forms of instruction that support students’ performance of motor skills. The paper suggests that, as teachers, we should acknowledge the differing ways in which students learn and consider how we, as teachers, plan for and facilitate students learning in physical education.


Paper 45:

Vincent-Morin, M., & Lafont, L. (2005/2012). Learning-method choices and personal characteristics in solving a physical education problem. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume II. (pp. 399-417) London: Routledge.


My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

I remember that one of the first seminars I taught as a new teacher-educator was about learning styles – particularly about VAK  (visual, audible and kinaesthetic learners). Now regardless of what you feel about this as a theory, how often do we listen that this sort of advice and help our students to learn by teaching in different ways. We often plan for learning for the whole class – for example a group discussion – but do we acknowledge the different types of learners in any one given group? Indeed, whilst we know that learners learn in different ways, the tasks we provide are often the same for everyone e.g. time for a group discussion.

This paper suggests that one way we could enhance learning would be to understand how our students learn. However, my concern is that if we asked some children what they would like to do in lessons and how they learn best, many would suggest a ‘Roll out the Ball’ approach. In others words, they would suggest that the autonomy and choice in a lesson that offers limited structure would enhance their learning. For other students, ‘Roll out the Ball’ would be so far outside of their preferred choice that they would back away – and in the words of last week’s blog ‘not put in’. These students that ‘back away’  might seek structure in their lessons, or returning to VAK, they would suggest that they learn best when they have a form of input from the teacher. Unstructured game play is simply not what they would need or want.

In my journey as a teacher I shifted my position in the learning process and moved from being a ‘teller’ to being a facilitator of learning. This allowed for more autonomy and yet I had to foster this in a controlled environment. In other words, I put a lot of prior planning into my lessons, preparing resources and lesson structures that would allow my students to work together to learn and without direct instruction from me. The role of the facilitator learning could be similar to a story David Kirk tells about a man’s meticulous planning for spontaneity at his parties. When this man was asked by his friends why the position of an individual seat or lamp was so important, the man answered that you needed to plan for the spontaneous. Through this lens, in order for students’ to learn I would suggest that we need to acknowledge their differing learning styles and we need to provide opportunities for students to have autonomy, but in an environment that has a clear structure.

So this paper brings me to a number of questions to be asked. What happens when students are catered for individually? When they don’t understand the key messages that we are trying to put across, whose fault is that? Should they be more compliant and do more to understand? Or should we work harder to make our messages clearer and more accessible to those we hope to teach?


The Paper

Vincent-Morin and Lafont examined the relationship between learning and teaching, with specific reference to the area of complex motor skills. They provided students with a specific role in determining their own learning experiences by giving them a choice as to the type of instruction they would receive – be it verbal instruction, verbal demonstration, silent demonstration, tutoring, or problem solving. The idea was to ascertain if autonomous or teacher-led learning would be most appealing to learners.

What they found was that the choice of instructional method related specifically to the initial ability of the students. Those who had the higher initial ability would choose verbal or autonomous instruction while those who either had – or perceived themselves to have – lower ability made choices that allowed them to gain more direct input from the teacher. Therefore a student’s self-assessment of their ability to perform a task had an effect on the amount of help they asked for.

In this paper Vincent-Morin and Lafont show that there is a connection between the learning styles that students want to receive and their own characteristics and beliefs as learners. Fundamentally Vincent-Morin and Lafont show that there is a complex relationship between pupils, task and teacher that impact on learning. As such teachers need to consider the learner in an “ecological context” – in other words as a complex organism in an environment in which they may or may not feel confident - in order to reach a clearer understanding of how learning occurs and what support learners might need. 

These finding seem significant when they are considered alongside the increased call for student-centred approaches to teaching. It is not simply a case of allow students to have unadulterated choice in their learning and it continues to position the teacher as a vital agent in the learning process. While students will choose autonomous instruction the teacher needs to be around to guide and help students – to different and personally relevant degrees – to trust themselves as learners and to find alternatives to direct instruction in their learning. This process therefore is a co-constructed one and not one that can be left to chance.


What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.?

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear whose work behind the scene as copy editor is a vital part of getting this blog out on time and in a semblance of coherence.