Thursday, June 5, 2008

What Makes A Good Course?

I teach a number of courses in all aspects of climbing. skiing and mountaineering. I have also taken my fare share of courses to gain specific certifications or to update my training in safety and/or continuing mountain related education.

I have been fortunate to take part in some great courses as an instructor and participant. But, there have also been some duds, and one experience as a participant in which my intuition was screaming, "wtf!" throughout, and after the training concluded I left with feelings of anger and spite.

I have hopefully learned from all of this.

So, what makes a good course? I am talking about the type of experience where participants leave with a feeling of , "wow, that was really cool!", "I can't wait to do more", and are totally motivated to improve and learn.

Here's a list in random order with a few thoughts:

  • A course is about the participants - their needs, wants, level, etc. It is not an opportunity for the guide or instructor to demonstrate how technically advanced, fit, cool, superior, etc., that they are.
  • An course leader has to transmit the feeling consciously and subconsciously that they want the participants to be successful.
  • As a course participant it is your responsibility to have the right equipment, know how it works and have it properly fitted and adjusted. Do not waste valuable course time fiddling with your stuff (or having the guide mess with it) when it should have all been taken care of at home.
  • Please, modern ice screws.
  • The general concept and overview of the course comes from the life-long experience of the guide or instructor. At every level there are some basic things that participants need. These concepts need to be presented in a flexible manner that takes into account weather, conditions and daily time constraints.
  • Participants learn by doing things for themselves. They need to internalize the information from the guide or instructor and then find their own methods and systems for correctly setting up crevasse rescues, building anchors, searching with a transceiver, etc.
  • A verbal explanation from the course leader is just that. It does not mean that anything close to learning has occurred.
  • Patience is essential for any instructor or guide.
  • Participants are usually nervous about their abilities during a course. It is reassuring for them to get an explanation that is an overview of the course, daily modifications to the schedule and activities and the rational behind why tasks and exercises are being done.
  • The quality of how something is done is much more important than simply reaching the perceived goal. For example, the perceived goal when climbing a two-pitch 5b route is getting to the top. However, what is the actual aim is that participants should climb in complete balance and control, rope management should be safe and clean, the change over at the middle belay point should be organized and efficient, and lastly the climbers should execute everything in a calm, unhurried, confident state of mind.

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