Client-Centred Learning in Practice

This blog post contains examples of client-centred learning with some of my current clients. It is intended to show examples of what can be done, not as a definitive, 'this is how to do it' post. I hope you will find this useful and find ways you can adapt the situations to your own clients. All names have been changed to preserve client confidentiality.

Example 1 - John

John is 53 years of age and has never held a driving licence, although he does hold a motorbike licence. He now wants to learn to drive because he is a self-employed music teacher and relies on his wife for transport when his clients want him to go to their homes. John is quite nervous about learning to drive because he has quite a low self-image with regards to driving. When he first called me he told me he was, "...not a natural driver". This was one of the first things we discussed, so I could understand his reason for using this phrase. It turned out he'd tried driving lessons a few times in the past, but each time had given up because he didn't seem to fit the instructor's agenda (my words, not his), that he always felt he was moving on in his learning when he didn't feel ready to do so. He felt he was being a nuisance by always having to ask the instructor to explain something again, and inevitably he experienced impatience from these instructors, thus lowering his self esteem further.

So, I decided I would use John's current motorbike skills to help him relate to both vehicle control and awareness and planning. When he was looking straight ahead through the car windowscreen as we were approaching an open-view right bend on a housing estate, I asked him where he would be looking on his bike, and he instantly pointed to the driver's door window. When he was struggling to understand gears and control, I asked him to 'teach' me the controls on a motorcycle, which then helped me to help him relate this to the car. All pretty obvious things to do.

But how did I relate his driving to music? Well that has been a lot of fun, and very successful! To help him to make his driving flow better, rather than thinking about each thing in turn, I told him his driving was rather 'staccato' and that he should aim for 'legato'. He understood this instantly and was able to bring about the change. He was also inclined to drive a bit too slowly, so we agreed his current style was 'andante' (walking pace) and that he needed to become more 'allegro' (lively). I am musical, so was able to use those skills here, but someone without such skills could coach by asking the learner to tell them how they would describe a disjointed style of driving in musical terms. You could even ask the learner to describe how they drive as if it were a piece of music, so that it becomes much more relevant to them.

Example 2 - Sally

Sally is 54 years of age and has also never learned to drive. She has recently split from her rather controlling husband, who would not even let her learn to drive! She now has some independence, but driving of course would give her much more. However, such a controlling man has also sapped her belief in herself, so that when a previous instructor told her she was too old to drive, that she could try automatic if she liked but he didn't believe she would ever be able to drive, she decided to give up! That was, however, until she was recommended to try me by a mutual friend. Sally does have problems with driving, much of it related to her lack of self-esteem, but also related to the fact that her brain is struggling to see everything she needs to see on the road as it is simply over-whelmed by the amount she is asking it to see! This causes her to drive excessively slowly, and to fixate, which of course kills the peripheral vision and prevents proper eye scanning. It also causes her to have difficulty in assessing the correct road positioning. 

Sally enjoys painting and is quite talented in this respect, and so I decided, when we were parked up at the side of a rural road, to ask her to look at the scene in front of her from the point of view of an artist. What would she choose as her focal point of the picture? She chose a tree which was central in our vision and said she would paint the outline of this first. I then asked her how she would paint the hedges at the side of the road, and she explained she would use her pencil to sketch back from the tree towards the vehicle, which then led us on to a discussion about perspective and the illusion of space ahead and how that is represented on the 2D picture. This discussion effectively allowed Sally to teach herself about eye-scanning and looking ahead into the distance, bringing the eyes back towards the vehicle (and into the rear-view mirror) before focussing back out to 'the tree' once more. The drive after this was so much better! Positioning was good, steering improved, and she seemed to be seeing much more than before. This may not be an instant 'cure', but it has certainly helped Sally to understand her own problem and how to deal with it.

Example 3 - Josh

Josh had been taking lessons with another instructor. He had no problems with this instructor, and I can say that he had been well taught, but he reached a plateau that he couldn't get off! No matter how many lessons he had, he was just stuck at this particular point. So, when he came to me, a little lacking in confidence by then, I built him back up with his skills until we finally reached the same sticking point. Just as the words were about to come out of my mouth to ask if we'd reached that point, Josh said it for me! He was, of course, upset to feel it happening again. I'd got to know him pretty well by that stage and had my suspicions about what was wrong. So I asked him, "Are you by any chance a perfectionist?" to which he replied that he was, almost to the point of OCD! So, my solution was to work with this problem of being a perfectionist by changing the focus of his perfection. It was clear to me, and he agreed, that he was spending a lot of his time trying to ensure his gear changes were perfect, thus bringing his attention inside the vehicle.

The following lesson, having given it some thought, I told Josh that he was to perfect just 2 things - what the eyes were seeing and what the brain was doing with the information it received. So, he was to perfect his 'eyes to brain' skills! He told me what he was seeing and what he needed to do about it, not because it was any kind of commentary drive from him, but because he was focussing on perfecting these aspects. And it worked! Within a very short time he had overcome the plateau, and continued to perfect his eyes-to brain strategy all the way to a successful first time test pass!

Three very different examples which I hope will give you a little insight into how you can make your lessons more client-centred. You need to get to know your learners well, and to listen carefully to what they are saying - encourage them to speak, but be very sure you listen! Avoid the temptation to interrupt, make assumptions, or finish off their sentences! Hear the meaning behind the words that are spoken. John is a simple example of hearing the message behind the words, "I'm not a natural driver". Use your learners' current skills to help them build a better understanding of what they need to do as a driver. His driving style needed to be smoother and faster, and his knowledge of music has helped him to do this. Sally was struggling with looking and seeing, and yet she is a landscape artist!  And Josh was a perfectionist, so rather than fighting against this, we used it to focus his need for perfection outside the vehicle.

Please add your comments, or any examples of your own that other ADIs could benefit from, to the comments box below. Thank you.


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