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Experience or Knowledge? Creating the Perfect Fitness Industry Educator

Posted on 23 Apr 18


Who should teach? What qualifications should a teacher have? What experience should a teacher have? These are some of the questions commonly debated both inside the Active IQ team and in the wider industry.

Ultimately we all want to raise and maintain standards, but what is the answer to the questions above? Running an Active IQ centre myself, who we recruit and how we train them are always being discussed so I hope to share my own opinions with you.

To help us discuss this topic, I am joined by Sarah Edmonds, Director of Quality and Standards and James Clack, Business Development Manager, former EV and experienced tutor.

Q1. So let us start at the beginning, what are Active IQ’s requirements for a tutor, and how does this compare to the industry average?

Sarah – Whether it is qualifications or end-point assessment for apprentices, Active IQ has always required tutors and assessors to not only be qualified for that role, but also have the appropriate experience and qualifications to work within the context of the industry role. Teaching and assessing qualifications have had several evolutions and name changes over time, so we always take a rounded view on what each individual brings to the table, rather than take a narrow focus, which could potentially prohibit a talented individual from becoming involved in our qualifications.
Dane – With the range of actual teaching qualifications that exist, Active IQ’s stance is definitely sensible to not be too prescriptive. A case by case assessment is important. In the medical school I teach at, we have a requirement of at least five years of clinical practice post graduation before you can teach. The tutor must also be working at least one day a week in medicine. Fitness industry training is more fluid, so drawing a line is definitely a challenge and a case by case is key. Ensuring we stick to our high standards is important but we must take into account many the factors of qualifications, skills and experience to make that decision.

Q2. In a perfect world what would the ideal tutor have?

Sarah – To want to teach, share and impart your passion and knowledge for any subject is a noble aspiration. I also think energy and drive for yourself and to motivate others is really important. The best teachers in our industry are those who “live” the ideals we all look for: lifelong learning, interest in the industry, particularly within an educational context; keen to learn from others and open to change, progress and importantly, an acceptance of ideas from others that may challenge your own thinking.

James – I’m sure this question has been proposed to many aspiring tutors at the start of tutor courses over the years. Whilst there are many qualities and qualifications I could list here, based on my teaching experience there are a few that really stand out for me. These are (in no particular order):

  • Passion – we find those that really engage and inspire us the easiest to learn from. We’ve all been in the class where the teacher just ‘chalks and talks’ right…?
  • Creativity – being open to try new teaching and learning methods, activities and assessments. Read books and blogs on the subject, watch YouTube (or similar) clips and attend CPD that is of interest or you think could help develop your practice. Then don’t wait around to implement this. One issue I noticed during my years of teaching was that teachers try something new but because it didn’t work out first time, they never use the method or activity again. Sometimes you just need to be relentless in reflecting, tweaking and refining.
  • Consistency – having a structured approach to delivery regardless of the mode / method. This could be as simple as having a consistent approach to the start, middle and end of each lesson, or outlining the expectations of learners with regards to everything from behaviour to homework.
  • A love of taxonomy – Okay, sounds a bit weird! Not a ‘love’ but at least a sound understanding! I learnt pretty quickly that in order to plan and construct the best lessons I could which would having meaningful impact, you have to get to grips with taxonomy. Your choice of learning verb sets up the whole lesson from start to finish and the types of learning activities and assessments used.
  • Recognition to not just teach to the test! – of course, assessment is important and ultimately ‘qualifies’ learners. That said, I would challenge you to reflect on the things you remember or use the most in the day-to-day of your job / career. I would be willing to bet that these are often the handy hints, tips, tricks and ‘golden nuggets’ that someone taught you which sit outside of a syllabus.

Dane – For me the ideal tutor before all else has a passion for teaching and a passion for their subject. Ideally they have lived and breathed the topic and worked in the industry. If they are passionate and keen to learn then the teaching is likely to be good. Having a good solid understanding of educational theory and completing a teaching course is important. However as with all theory, it needs to be applied well. Good tutors are great communicators, they make the subject entertaining and they constantly reflect on their teaching in order to improve.

When I started teaching in the industry, I started out by team teaching. I had a mentor to guide me and support me, which was invaluable, as well as receiving useful feedback. For the tutors I mentor, I like them to justify their lesson plans to me and I also video sections of their teaching to then review with them post course. I find this helpful, as it allows the tutor to see how the sesson looks more objectively than just my feedback.

I would summarise a tutor as someone who must have passion first, experience second and most importantly a willingness to contually keep learning as the fitness industry is constantly changing. It is important all tutors take pride in the students they help produce, and ensure their students are prepared to go out and be successful in our fitness world.

Q3. What would your recommendations be to training providers trying to raise their tutor standards and teaching quality beyond the minimum requirements?

Sarah – “minimum requirements” suggests being constrained by the requirements of an assessment specification. Tutors must always read widely, stay up to date with current research and ideas, and remember they are empowering the next generation of industry experts, so an enriching learning experience is the most valuable. Share best practice, and always ask for feedback from those whose opinions you value BUT not always those who you know will give you a guaranteed flying pass, no questions asked! Tutors teach their students to learn from “failure” – so tutors should also constantly self-evaluate as a reflective practitioner. And go and be a student to remind yourself of the other side of the classroom!

James – For me this is relatively straightforward.

  • Regular formal and informal observations of teaching and learning practice. Peer observations alone provide great, cost effective CPD opportunities, and I would suggest that these become part of staff CPD and appraisal requirements. I’m a huge fan of modelling behaviour, and a huge believer that observing others who you look up to or those who inspire you is invaluable.
  • Share best practice via regular team training events. These could be very short five minute presentations about an activity, approach, method or research that has been found to be effective or game-changing in the approach to teaching and learning. Real life examples work best!
  • Actively search out external CPD activities / opportunities covering teaching and learning topics that are of interest or focus on an area of teaching and learning that requires development. There are lots of workshops / events out there to choose from.
  • Identify your most skilled tutors, use them as role models and mentors to support new team members. They don’t have to be the perfect all round tutor, but instead may have some great ideas for a specific area of teaching and learning that can be shared with novice and well established teachers alike.

Dane – Great points by Sarah and James here, so no disagreements at all! In medicine, as a doctor, I have an annual appraisal with a clinician. We sit down and discuss what I have learned this year, as well as plan my goals and targets for the next. My recommendation to a training provider would be to have regular appraisals and set targets with your tutors. This should be a shared action plan. Use the results of the appraisal to help facilitate and support your tutor’s journey. Not all training has to be provided: signpost tutors to free CPD and paid CPD. Also remember to facilitate other opportunities. For tutors I mentor, I pair them with tutors whose strengths are their weaknesses. I expect them to shadow and team teach a full course together at least once a year, in this way both tutors learn from each other, which is extremely valuable.

Q4. How much experience should someone have to teach qualifications beyond the qualification?

Sarah – People often making the mistake of treating the qualification as an end in itself, with no other apparent measure of quality allowed the same value. Another metric people frequently use (and misuse) is that of time spent as a sole quality metric. Neither of these stand alone as a valid measure. Credibility to teach (beyond the qualifications mentioned earlier) is pretty subjective: what one professional considers sufficient, another may scoff at. Also, people tend to come at it from their own position (qualifications held, time spent etc) and measure others against themselves – this is human nature. Active IQ therefore needs to take a more pragmatic and fair approach, and not limit entry into this field of human endeavour. You may find many of the best lecturers in sports science university faculties are neither “qualified” teachers nor practising PTs, but they certainly deliver high quality outcomes…knowledge, skills, competence, a good communicator of ideas, inspiring others – all measurable in some way, but not always formally via standard qualifications at a specified level, but always valuable as a tutor.

James – One of the most frequent gripes or grumbles I hear on my travels is typically in relation to people transitioning into the role of tutors and assessors too quickly, with limited ‘time / experience on the shop floor’ so to speak. I totally understand where this point comes from but on the flip side, it would be really difficult to put a definitive requirement on the duration of experience given ‘quantity’ of experience doesn’t necessarily reflect quality or ability. We have to remember that so long as someone meets the required entry criteria for a recognised tutor or assessor qualification, and then successfully completes all the required assessments to the required standard, they can be certificated and hence ‘qualified’.

With regard to technical competency though, I would love to say that tutors should indeed be qualified beyond the level of the qualification they intend to teach but again, this just isn’t realistic. A classic example of this can be seen through how innovative and responsive Active IQ has been in designing our new Level 4 qualifications. These were the first of their kind to market and as such, it was pretty much impossible for anyone to have a ‘higher’ level qualification with similar subject / vocational experience given that these were the ‘new’ highest level for the subject material.

Yes, we could debate that someone may have a degree or Masters in the subject but, from my experience, this does not always translate into vocational competency. In fact, I’ve seen the opposite where I’ve taught students who simply want to be a part time instructor as a hobby, yet you can see from day one of their course that they have a raw, natural talent for instructing. They have a really engaging style of teaching and a flair for sharing their knowledge with others, meaning they have potential to be a really talented tutor. In a nutshell, does experience count – yes, of course. Is it the overarching thing to look for? Not in my opinion.

Dane – Ultimately our qualifications are vocational, so in my opinion the tutor should have vocational experience. The more rounded a tutor’s vocational experience the better. If tutors have worked in more than one setting and worked in multiple roles, then they bring that wealth of experience with them to the classroom which is important.

Knowledge is however important too, but a provider just like any school should be checking they are also happy with the standards of their chosen tutor’s knowledge and teaching. The accountability should not just be with the awarding organisation, but also the provider who has ‘chosen’ that tutor to deliver their course. Therefore, designing an appropriate interview to assess and measure the skills that you are looking for in your prospective tutor is key before recruiting. For example, I currently ask for a CV submission first, followed by a telephone interview, followed by a practical interview, which includes the tutor delivering a theoretical topic and a practical topic, which they design. For our recruitment process, we have generally chosen five years’ experience as an apporpriate length of time, however this is arbitary and experience is sometimes hard to measure in time as Sarah mentions. As someone could have been in the industry for ten years but have only trained one client per week for example, so the quality of the experience and not just the duration should be considered.

Q5. Does it matter if a tutor is not actively working in the industry? Would the amount of previous experience influence this for you?

Sarah – As stated earlier, a thirst for continually learning and sharing (even if not formally practising), plus relevant CPD associated with the role or wider industry must be allowed to count for something. A working tutor or assessor would also be accessing Active IQ’s regular communications and publications which are always relevant and up to date. As we have seen here, a good teacher will teach their subject matter well to an engaged and motivated student. Job done.

James – This is a tricky one and would need looking at on a case by case basis. For me personally, if a tutor was not currently practising but has extensive experience that is relevant to the subject they teach, well documented / recorded and can demonstrate evidence of regular industry CPD, I think I’d be hard pressed to challenge their ability to teach. So long as they are still ‘mixing’ and engaged with the industry, I wouldn’t see this as a barrier.

Dane – Our qualifications are largely vocational and therefore I am always inclined to say the tutor should be involved in the industry in some way, shape or form. However if someone has considerable experience and knowledge that can be proved, and they can show that they are keeping up to date with the current research, theories and trends, then I do not think it is unreasonable for them to teach. It goes back to Sarah’s point: does this person have a thirst for knowledge and a passion? If they do they will ensure they keep up to date. As part of a training provider’s quality assurance they should be aware of their tutor’s strengths and weaknesses, and try to mitigate the weaknesses via training, experience, mentorship and other means.

Q6. Finally any advice for tutors, on “upping” their game and driving their teaching skills higher?

Sarah – if they have a passion for the subject, lead by example, listen to feedback, constantly seek new ideas and mix in the industry, they will continue to teach well. If they are no longer interested, they shouldn’t teach.

James – There are many ways that this can be done, but for me it ultimately lies in two areas. It’s about having a real passion for not just your subject / area of interest but for teaching and learning, and endless curiosity to develop your craft. As mentioned earlier, this can be developed by regular observations of teaching and learning practice, sharing best practice via regular team training events, attending external CPD activities / opportunities and finding yourself a role model / mentor!

Dane – For me teaching is something I really enjoy. Maintaining that passion is key. I have developed my own teaching and those of my tutors in a range of ways, these have included:

  • Team teaching with other tutors
  • Reviewing videos of teaching
  • Peer feedback (getting other tutor colleagues to sit in and give you feedback)
  • Continuing to do higher teaching qualifications
  • Observing experienced tutors
  • Reading the subject and listening to talks around communicating messages and principles clearly
  • Learning from a community of tutors. We hope our Facebook group might help to facilitate that for Active IQ tutors.

Finally and most importantly find a mentor, someone you trust and let them facilitate your progression. As with many things, the longer I teach, the more I seem to prepare, as I am aware of all the contingencies I need from all the mistakes made over the years!

So make sure you know the topic and you are up to date, make sure you know the lesson plan, make sure you have practised the delivery and gained some feedback. Finally make sure you make all the learners feel valued, and you really display your enthusiasm for the subject. We are in a privileged position as educators and teachers. We must continue to challenge ourselves and improve; so that we can create the best fitness professionals we possibly can, and give them the best start to their career.

I hope by reading this blog, you may have gained some insight into methods to improve teaching quality in your provider’s or your own teaching. Should you have any questions, as always please do not hesitate to contact me at

Dr Dane Vishnubala | Active IQ Chief Medical Advisor