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nautical62 30-04-2009 13:47

Teaching and Learning Theory
As I look through the topics in this thread I see many discussions of where to get specialized training or what are good publications to learn to sail. It's great to see people who want to learn from those with experience in teaching, yet it also occurs to me that most anyone who takes less experience people out sailing with them, will find themselves teaching the people they are with to some degree.

So often we focus on the knowledge, but not the means for effectively sharing it. I both teach sailing and have a section in an outdoor class I teach on how to teach. I thought I'd share a bit of it here. Some people may find it useful. Please realize, this information is oriented towards those who don't yet know the basics, but even as someone who teaches regularly, I often find myself referring back to these basic principles to better myself.

Instead of a really lengthy forum post, i've provided it here:


In addition to sharing what I know, I'd love to hear from others. If you have taken a sailing class or learned informally from crewing for others, how was your ability to learn either helped or hindered in regards to some of these ideas? Please don't slam any particular individual or organization -just examples or tips you've adopted. If you teach sailing, either formally or informally, what things have you discovered help you get ideas across effectively and productively?

(P.S. - I'd like to keep this to teaching and learning - not matching competence, group dynamics, etc. though I'd be happy to do a similar thread on any of those. Competence and Rules of Thumb is a topic I find very interesting as well.)

jackdale 30-04-2009 13:58

Not sure where I got this.

Four stages of learning

1) You do not know what you do not know.

2) You know what you do not know.

3) You know what you know.

4) You do not know what you know.

Many highly competent sailors are at this last stage, but they make poor instructors becuase they cannot / do not analyze the skills and knowledge in a way that makes it possible for them to assist others.


GordMay 30-04-2009 15:08

Your hierarchy of learning styles seems reminiscent of Howard Gardner's theory of "Multiple Intelligences".

Gardner advocates instructional methods that appeal to all* the intelligences; as opposed to traditional schooling, which heavily favours the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences.

* While Gardner suggests his list of intelligences may not be exhaustive, he identifies the following seven:

1. Verbal-Linguistic–The ability to use words and language
2. Logical-Mathematical–The capacity for inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning, as well as the use of numbers and the recognition of abstract patterns
3. Visual-Spatial–The ability to visualize objects and spatial dimensions, and create internal images and pictures
4. Body-Kinesthetic–The wisdom of the body and the ability to control physical motion
5. Musical-Rhythmic–The ability to recognize tonal patterns and sounds, as well as a sensitivity to rhythms and beats
6. Interpersonal–The capacity for person-to-person communications and relationships
7. Intrapersonal–The spiritual, inner states of being, self-reflection, and awareness

GordMay 30-04-2009 15:25


Originally Posted by jackdale (Post 278694)
Not sure where I got this.
Four stages of learning ...

It's not clear who originated the Conscious Competence Learning Model (4 stages of learning).
As well as various modern authors, sources as old as Confucius and Socrates are cited as possible originators.
Some believe that W.C. Howell was responsible for Conscious Competence in its modern form - apparently the model can be found in: "Human Performance and Productivity - Information Processing and Decision Making" ~ by W.C. Howell and E.A. Fleishman

nautical62 30-04-2009 15:29


Originally Posted by GordMay (Post 278723)
Your hierarchy of learning styles seems quite similar to Howard Gardner's theory of "Multiple Intelligences".....

Thanks Gord, It's good to see a broader based list of intelligences. My list is a consolidation of his and others that I find seems to apply especially to hands on outdoor skills. I know some MI theories break what I call linguistic learning down into 3 separate categories.

Like Gardner, I advocate teaching to different intelligences or learning styles instead of favoring one, especially with sailing and other outdoor skills which are so hands on. I also find my consolidation goes well with the previous teaching ideas of demonstrate, explain, practice. I know there are many variations on the multiple intelligences, but what I like about all of them is they are not bound by theories of why people learn differently, but advocate teaching to all styles, regardless of why they may be different.

nautical62 30-04-2009 15:42

Jackdale - That's also something to keep in mind - the terms I've heard go with each of those are: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence and Competence and Unconscious competence and some add a 5th which has to do with the ability to teach what you unconsciously are competent at.

One thing I've run into with this, is defining exactly what the skill is this all relates to. For example, most people are Unconsciously Competent drivers, but would have no idea what do to in regards to auto racing. We need to be careful of this when talking to people about sailing competency as well. Someone may be unconsciously competent in one set of circumstances, but in over their head in others.

I don't think competency affects so much how you teach, as I mentioned above, but certainly affects what you should teach. It also affect how challenging an experience is appropriate as well as what leaderships style is appropriate. Less competent people need a very direct approach, were more experienced participants generally work better with a more supporting role from the person in charge.

I've learned that misreading levels of competence is one of the quickest ways to get be perceived poorly by participants. If they are more competent than you think and you are directive, they will feel you are talking down to them. The opposite and they feel too left out there and on their own.

The source quoted by GordMay might speak to very different implications of this as well.

Jackdale - as an offshore instructor, what are the implications you've seen of the various levels of competence? (In addition the excellent point that competency in a skill has little to do with competency teaching a skill)

Boracay 30-04-2009 16:42

Problems with short seamanship courses...
Some of those that I have encountered who have done short seamanship courses know what the instructor taught them.

Problem is, I (and I assume most "cruising" skippers) don't run my boat in a "standard" way. I have guidelines that relate specifically to my boat and the area in which I sail, and this can be quite different to what has been taught in a short course.

Some short courses (for example):-
1) Don't teach anchoring with a heavy anchor, big boat and anchor winch. The graduate is worse than a spectator because I have to watch out for them as well as do the anchoring.
2) Don't teach appropriate lookout techniques for crowded conditions. On Sydney Harbour three is not too many.
3) Don't teach integration with the existing crew. With some cruising boats being crewed by a single grumpy skipper or a couple set in their ways an over confident crew member is not compatible. During the course they do as they're told. After finishing some know that they know everything.
4) Don't teach docking.

Tempest245 30-04-2009 17:55


Nice thread, I've saved your link for future reference.

I teach sailing part-time, and I do try to tune in on the individual student's style of learning. The things, I find most difficult to teach beyond sailing skills are
"anticipation" and "teamwork"

For example, many students and even regular sailors, wait for the helmsman to ask for a sail trim rather than take the initiative to adjust the sails.

When coming into a dock, how many people wait for an instruction to do so before getting out the dock lines, boat pole, anticipate or communicate a port or starboard tie up, open the gate etc.

As soon as I can...I encourage novices to think of themselves as a through all their maneuvers and to problem solve on their own. letting them fail, or get into a little trouble and then solve their way out is in my experience a more instructive way of getting them to think...than if I tell them everything they need to do. Sitting back and watching them, also gives me an idea of each individuals strengths or weaknesses, so I can focus on those areas individually.

When I tell them, at some point, that I am not going to give them any more active instruction, that they must, sail the boat on their own, and solve their own problems, they seem to become more collaborative with each other and in more in tune with what's going on with the boat.

I'm going to print and add your material to my class notes.


nautical62 30-04-2009 19:36

Borcay- I appreciate hearing some specifics. On thing your post makes me realize, is that while teaching technique is important, it means little if you are not teaching people what they need to know. As a teacher, I know it's easy to teach what is convenient instead of what is important.

Tempest - Wow, I could go on for ever about some of the issues your brought up. I really appreciated your comment on sitting back and observing students, to see where they are at and how they learn. I need to do that more.

Getting people to anticipate or think outside the box, is one of the biggest things I struggle with in teaching others. I know when I'm able to do that myself it gives me a bigger picture, opens up new possibilities and increases my safety awareness and preparedness multi-fold. I ended my class today with a discussion of forward thinking, and the issues related to relying on rules of thumb. It's hard to teach. I didn't get across nearly as much as I had hoped.

Pblais 30-04-2009 20:35


The things, I find most difficult to teach beyond sailing skills are
"anticipation" and "teamwork"
These are highly complex concepts. It's something you can't teach in a few sessions and something I think you have to be tuned into learning for the rest of your life. When very little is familiar it is hard to anticipate with an accuracy that pays off. Knowing more allows you to expect more, challenged more, and look for more. Anticipation is the coming together that says wait a minute this just isn't right. I need to look further. This all needs to happen before it's too late. It's often called "a second instinct". The ability to know you know before you know what it is you don't know. It's possible to get there though doing it all the time might be a head ache.

With more experience this does happen but darn if I could figure out how to teach it.

Tempest245 01-05-2009 19:31

Well, Maybe " teach" is not the correct word. Let's call it encourage.

In a two day, basic sailing class, I will do quite a bit of instruction on getting the boat ready to sail, leaving the dock, and then sailing on the 1st day. That evening I tell them that the next morning, they a team, set the boat up, leave the dock, raise the sails and get out of the marina to our sailing grounds, with little or no help from me.

I arrive with a large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and my sunday paper, and sit in the cockpit while they prepare the boat. (acting indifferent) when they are ready to leave they start the engine, let go the lines and take the boat out. I'm observing the whole time, who knows what...who needs help with a bowline be discussed later.

It's actually amazing how 4 people who have never met before can pull together and figure out how to accomplish those things as a team, when they know they will not get help from me. They collaborate, and often do it perfectly. IF I see them hank the headsail on incorrectly, or run the sheets back inside the stays, I let them experience that on the water as they try to raise the sails...and see how well they figure out what they did wrong and how to correct it. Any mistakes become opportunities to learn, and for me to teach.

If it's blowing hard, I might ease up on the learn the hard way, a little.

Students come from all walks of life. I've taught Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Engineers etc. They are often highly skilled in their own fields and perform in a very complex world of their own. So, I guess, rather than teach them these concepts I just try to draw them out.

There's something about being on the water on a sailboat on a gorgeous day...some students, if allowed, would sit back turn their brains off and sightsee. I observed this phenomenon a few years ago.....and changed my style.....they can't avoid having to think, if I'm reading my paper and not standing over them telling them how to do everything.

jackdale 04-05-2009 15:14


Originally Posted by nautical62 (Post 278738)

Jackdale - as an offshore instructor, what are the implications you've seen of the various levels of competence? (In addition the excellent point that competency in a skill has little to do with competency teaching a skill)

Nice post.

One of the major issues is that people attempt to increase their qualification without practicing what they have learned in the past. They may have the knowledge base, but they cannot apply it. In addition they are lacking the skills. Since we are often running watch systems, this means that I do not have complete in the navigators or the helm. I am supposed to get some sleep, but that is hard when I am concerned about the abilities of the crew.


nautical62 04-05-2009 15:38

One thing I'm hearing from responses is:

Knowing how to teach is important, but knowing what to teach is equally as important.

People have pointed out sometimes the important elements are skipped, perhaps because they are not easy. Assessing competence is a key element to determining what to teach. It also relates to some practical issues such as the consequences of not doing something right. Sitting back and observing allows one to assess someone's competence, and allow them to experientially learn. However, the context of day sailing and passagemaking for example can put this in a very different context.

People have also pointed out not all skills are hands on skills, but things like teamwork or anticipation which perhaps don't fit well into a skill based teaching model are very important but not so each to teach.

Thanks everyone who has contributed so far for your input.

Sandero 04-05-2009 15:52

This is a very interesting and challenging task - teaching a novice to sail. I am still learning after 23 years!

There are many aspects to sailing and for the beginner I think some theory is key. It needed be complex physics, but the student needs to "understand" how a boat is made to move through the water by the wind.

This introduces the basic concept of sailing upwind, downwind, and point of sail and the zone you can't sail to. It can introduce the shape of the boat, the keel and especially how the force of the wind is transfer to the boat itself via the rig and of course a bit of sail trim, tacking, and gybing.

Then there's the whole bit about knots, making up a line, and the names of the parts of the boat and the lines, what they do, and how to raise and lower (flake a sail).

Then it's steering, with to a distant point, with a tell tale or windex, with a compass, using a helm or a tiller, how to correct, how to tack and how to coordinate the sail work with the helm work and how to trim a sail for each point of sail.

This opens up that one needs to navigate and learn the rules of the road, reading and using charts, plotting a course, taking bearings, getting a fix, doing DR.

The above can be done in a few days perhaps 3 and the student get to do all of the above hands on until the get the feel. But really"getting it" requires lots of iterations and time and can't be done in 3 days.

Learning cruising will involve understand all the boats systems, weather, planning, communications and of course anchoring and I suppose getting on and off docks. This is such a variable that teaching it at one dock with one boat is hardly enough to "learn" it.

All the above can is the basis for drilling down to deeper and broader understanding of sailing. The subject of sailing is so broad that it may intimidate many, but it may also draw many into it as they rise to the challenge of so many disciplines coming together in sailing.

Did I forget cooking? plumbing, electrics, sewing, and the drudgery of maintenance of all the systems and finishes.

The hook that got me was that with the skill to sail and a relatively small boat I could go anywhere in the world that the sea touched with just the wind, a well found boat and enough time. How could I resist?

nautical62 04-05-2009 15:54

Some possible lessons from the above:

Teach what is important, not just what is easy.

Identify how competent people are and decide what to teach accordingly

Take the time to observe and allow participants the time to experientially learn at their pace.

Keep the consequences of learning and mistakes in mind. They will vary with the circumstances.

Realize soft skills are just as important as hard skills, but may not be as systematic easy to teach.

Realize teaching cruising skills goes way beyond teaching sailing skills.

And snuck in from the following post - give people the time practice on their own what they have learned.

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