Around the world, companies in all industries have been forced to adjust their business models to overcome the challenges of Covid-19. Restaurants have become takeaways, entire offices have worked from home, and gyms have headed both online and outdoors, with many now running hybrid models (combining a physical and virtual presence/service). Keen to understand how the pandemic has affected the learning journey for personal training students and what this could mean for the future, we spoke to The Training Room – the UK’s leading health and fitness education provider – to gain some insight. Here’s what National Field Manager, Darren Doak, and Health and Fitness Education Manager, Paul Huzzey, had to say…
Question: How have training providers adapted because of Covid-19?
Paul: When Covid-19 forced us into lockdown, all of the theory and practical elements of personal training education shifted online. Training providers and awarding organisations quickly realised they needed the infrastructure to be able to deliver – and run – these digital courses. The Training Room was in a really strong position because we already had the fundamentals of our online PT course in place, meaning the learner journey wasn’t much affected. The main impact came when students were ready to take their theory and practical assessments because, at the beginning of lockdown, the awarding organisations didn’t have the procedures in place that allowed them to do this.
Question: How have practical assessments been adapted?
Paul: Both the Level 2 Certificate in Gym Instructing and the Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training practical assessments have been adapted so that students can sit these in the current environment. Whilst the Level 2 practical assessment still requires certain equipment, some adaptations have been implemented to assist learners to work around this. For example, if learners have access to workout equipment at home or in a remote location, then the practical exam can be filmed there and sent in for assessment. With the Level 3 practical exam, students can perform home workouts or outdoor sessions, as long as they have the correct equipment to achieve this.
Question: How is technology being utilised to deliver theory assessments?
Paul: At The Training Room, we have invested in proctoring software which allows learners to take their theory papers in invigilated exam conditions from their own homes. The proctoring software takes over your laptop so you can only open the assessment; you can’t open Google alongside it and quickly search for answers. There’s also an assessor, trained to watch eye patterns and movements, who is observing through your webcam and preventing you from looking at other devices or materials to cheat your way through a test. Assessors have strict criteria to follow, so if a person were to look down or scan the room a certain number of times, for example, then they could have their test cancelled. Before an assessment takes place, the assessor will do a scan of the room so they can see if there are items like posters on the wall that could influence the person’s performance, meaning these tests are as closed-book as they possibly can be.
Question: Taking your assessments online is very different from taking them offline, so what impact do you think this is having on the learner experience?
Darren: For the most part, students are just relieved that they have the opportunity to be assessed. With a virtual assessment, because an invigilator is not physically in the room with you, some people may find that this is a less invasive way of taking an exam, and less nerve-racking. Similarly, if a learner chooses to film their practical assessment, they are just delivering that session to their client, but when they are in one of The Training Room’s academies being watched live, they’re delivering to the client and the assessor. Although they shouldn’t be, students tend to look over to the assessor for guidance or are waiting to be led by the assessor, whereas filmed practicals tend to flow that little bit more naturally.
Question: What impact will Covid-19 have on the PT learning journey longer term?
Paul: Because the entire learning journey has moved online, this has opened up PT education to the international market, both for training providers and students. If you’ve got students in remote places who find it difficult to access certain venues for training, it takes away the need for them to travel and makes PT courses more accessible. The Training Room’s qualifications are recognised in 42 countries across the world, including the majority of mainland Europe, as cross-referenced by CIMSPA and REPS. Therefore, offering fully virtual qualifications has enabled us to start training students in Europe and around the world. Another key thing about learning online is that it’s on-demand. Whenever a person wants to learn, they can. This gives people the maximum flexibility to fit the courses around their lifestyles which is absolute gold dust and a great positive for PT education heading into the future.
Question: How has Covid-19 influenced what you teach?
Paul: At The Training Room, we believe it’s important to be proactive and agile to support our students in the best way possible, so we created a business manual that provides information on how to set up your own personal training business, complete with business plans, advice for managing cash flow, and how to use social media effectively. In essence, the manual provides everything you need to know to promote and market your business online. It’s a great new resource for our students to accompany the business module that exists within The Training Room’s new Level 3 Personal Training course.
Question: What does going virtual mean for the future of face-to-face PT education?
Darren: It’s great that technological advancements are making PT courses more accessible, but face-to-face will always be there as an integral part of a PT’s education. You can’t take away the human element from assessing a practical piece of work and providing that tailored feedback. Although we’re now capable of delivering courses purely through online platforms, such as Zoom, from my experience, most students would still prefer to go through the face-to-face education or a more hybrid model (face-to-face and virtual) because of the extra level of experience and knowledge that the tutor is able to pass on in that environment compared to the e-learning format. So, although it’s important to be progressive and integrate new technology to meet the current and future needs of learners, we’ve got to be careful not to take too much of that human element away, as we’ll ruin the recipe of what makes successful education.
Question: What effect has Covid-19 had on future employment opportunities for newly qualified PTs?
Paul: Covid has shown you have a choice in your delivery method and that you no longer have to work exclusively in a gym environment. Although many PTs will still yearn for the traditional gym environment, others are adapting by going purely online or adopting a hybrid model (part virtual, part gym/outdoors), which indicates one possible future for the industry. Pivoting online gives PTs the potential to reduce their fees because they don’t have to pay gym rent and other overheads, and they aren’t limited to a particular location, with the potential to train people all over the world. This opens the door to a much larger and more diverse audience and the possibility of increasing their earnings. You’ll probably find that when the bad weather hits in winter, those PTs that used to deliver outdoor sessions will instead run big group ex classes via virtual platforms, and there are so many other ways that the virtual space can be used to support or bolster a PT’s offering. In many ways, by students doing their learning online, this gives them the confidence and reinforcement to create a successful online business if they so wish.
Darren: It’s also important to note that with no clear end in sight for Covid-19, and some scaremongering still going on related to the safety of gyms – despite a report based on around 4,000 gym-goers in Oslo concluding they’re safe – there’s a long road ahead. Some members, PTs and fitness instructors may not wish to return to a gym environment straight away, causing a potential headache for operators. However, with around 10 million gym memberships in the UK, it’s highly unlikely that traditional gyms and studios will cease to exist. Virtual training will simply be a much bigger part of the mix moving forwards, so having the tools to deliver an online or hybrid service will be essential for the next generation of PTs.
The future of PT education…
As humans, we evolve through adversity. During Covid-19, we’ve had to learn to do our jobs from home, often through virtual means, which has certainly been the case for training providers and their tutors. In many ways, this has improved the learning journey for prospective PTs by making courses and assessments even more flexible and accessible, breaking down some of the barriers that once stood in their way. The ‘virtual switch’ has also opened the door to increased opportunities for qualified PTs who are no longer restricted to physical training sessions, but, instead, can become virtual or hybrid PTs to enhance their offering and earning potential. Positives all round as we enter this new fitness era.
For more information about The Training Room and its world-class personal training courses, visit: www.thetrainingroom.com/personal-training-courses