Expand Your Learning Capabilities 10 Fold

Imagine whichever instructor you have you can learn something. Imagine every run you take and every turn you make you can learn something. Imagine being able to discover things for yourself, create learning and improve more or less all the time you are on skis. Imagine being able to use every instructor to your advantage.

Phil Smith, director of Snoworks Ski Courses explains how.


Muska Mosston was an educator, an observer of teacher and learner relationships. He noticed that there were many different relationships that developed between teachers and learners. Some teachers were very forthright with their instruction and very direct whilst others more two-way, developing a dialogue with their learner. As Mosston traveled around the world observing these relationships in many different sports and many forms of education he was able to observe when this relationship was working, when it was not, how learners preferred to learn, how they did not, how teachers preferred to teach, how they did not. He began to recognise many different styles of teaching along with their strengths and weaknesses and many different preferred styles of  learning and what was working and what was not.

After many years of observations Mosston put all these different relationships into a model that we can all use. He called this model the ‘Spectrum Of Teaching Styles’.

The spectrum is very simply based on ‘Who Makes The Decisions’ the teacher or the learner. At one end of the spectrum the teacher makes all the decisions and the learner just makes one – to do what they’re told. At the other end of the spectrum the learner makes all the decisions and the teacher makes just one decision – to do what they’re asked. It’s so simple but an incredibly useful model that enables us all to see the different styles of teaching along with all their advantages and disadvantages.

Learner ‘Do What You’re Told’
Teacher ‘I’ll Do What I’m Asked’

Mosston recognized that both learners and teachers can and do become entrenched in one particular style and therefore miss out on so much teaching and so much learning.

By understanding all the different styles of teaching you can double, triple, quadruple your learning capabilities. In fact your learning will have no boundaries. You can also understand why learning plateaus occur or why you may like or dislike a particular instructor’s teaching style. You’ll also learn how to change and adapt to get something from literally every instructor you ski with no matter who they are. You can take learning firmly into your own hands rather than the learning being in the instructor’s.

Below is a brief outline of each teaching style moving along the spectrum from the instructor (we’ll refer to instructor from now on rather than teacher/coach) making most of the decisions to the end of the spectrum where the learner is making most of the decisions, but it’s not a one way journey. You can move freely back and forth along the spectrum at will. We’ve also changed the labels of some teaching styles to make the spectrum really user friendly and skipped a couple of styles for simplicity. So let’s start at the one end and finish at the other.

As the title suggests. This style is quick and direct. You are told what to do, how to do it, when to do it, whether you’re doing it right or wrong and how to correct it. It’s quick, direct, to the point, precise – no messing about. Ideal for situations with limited time, when precision is required or safety issues are a major consideration. The instructor may lead, get you in behind them, following their line very closely. The instructor is firmly in control. You do as he/she says. The instructor firmly leads the session.

As the title suggests. The learner takes time to practice something. learns what something feels like compared to what they would normally do. They learn to compare what was and what should be, in their own time, going at their own speed, choosing their own line. The instructor still determines the general subject matter and gives feedback accordingly. Practice time allows the learner to develop and begin the process of making decisions themselves developing an amount of individual responsibility whilst still receiving plenty of direction and feedback from the instructor. The instructor’s in control but appears more flexible allowing learners time to practice. The instructor leads the session.

As the title suggests. Learners begin to watch other performances from the instructor, other learners, other skiers. They learn to observe performance in someone else, recognize what is right, how it differs to themselves and can begin to apply it to their own learning. The instructor provides a lot of direction, who to watch, what to watch, when to watch but the learner can begin, under the guidance of an instructor, to see effective performance and in turn apply it to themselves. The instructor’s very much engaged and there’s a lot more two way dialogue going on within the group between group members and the instructor. The instructor still leads the session. but there is a lot more engagement with the class.

As the title suggests. The learner begins to learn to check themselves and begin the process of learning self-evaluation and self-feedback. The learner begins to take responsibility on themselves for some elements of learning and can thus continue the learning process when the instructor is no longer around, increasing their learning potential exponentially. The instructor still provides lots of direction and helps the learner develop their own feedback mechanisms.  This is crucial when skiing slopes where the task and environment is always changing. The learner can learn to recognize mistakes and self-correct. The instructor is heavily engaged in teaching but is working out ways to develop the learner’s own feedback mechanisms and to make sure these are on track. There’s much more two way dialogue between the learner and the instructor. Learners used to COMMAND often get frustrated with the instructor and want to be just told what to do. Instructors could appear wishy washy and vague to learners not used to this style, but the object of this style is to develop self-evaluation and if done well the learner should be well aware of the objective, begin to benefit immensely and begin to improve whilst skiing by themselves under no instruction.

As the title suggests. The learner begins to recognize their own ability level and begins to select tasks suitable to their level and experience. What speed or line to take, what run to attempt. This moves the learner away from making disastrous decisions where they find themselves way out of their depth which can often lead to frustration, disappointment and feelings of inadequacy, or even worse, injury. The learner can also learn to recognize when they need to push themselves, making exactly the right decision to develop their performance rather than playing it safe. The instructor provides the framework for the learner to select appropriate tasks and guides the learner accordingly through the process. The learner also develops independence from other learners in the class. Choosing their own speed, own line and own terrain. Classes of mixed ability can begin to operate effectively with a degree of autonomy for each learner within the class. If in a class of mixed ability, rather than thinking of being held back or over stretched, the learner can select the appropriate task for their level allowing learning to continue to take place whilst all class members work differently. The whole class is working at a different pace with different objectives and the instructor’s moving around everyone individually helping with the task selection and developing feedback as required. Learners used to COMMAND can often feel short changed as the instructor is spending time with everyone individually rather than all the time with the whole group. But remember what the object of the style is and to benefit massively from this style the learner needs to recognise its advantages. The learner is making many more decisions themselves.

As the title suggests. The learner begins an important step of working things out for themselves, developing an ability to learn independently and the ability to find solutions themselves. The instructor is still very active creating tasks and scenarios that allows the learner to develop very important discovery skills. The instructor will help lead the learner along the best route of discovery, keeping them heading in the right direction. It’s the first step to creative learning. The instructor will still have set the target goals and will help the learner to discover and achieve these. Rather than the instructor becoming redundant, the instructor is as engaged as ever, if not more so, but in a very different relationship. There’s a lot more questioning from the group and the instructor listens, offers advice and suggests rather than dictates. The instructor can seem less domineering and more understanding. Learners used to a more COMMAND style may not be used to this type of approach preferring to be told what to do. But the whole idea of this style is to help learners become more in tune with working out things themselves. Vital for long term development.

As the title suggests. The learner begins to develop outward thinking in their learning. Discovering new and exiting way of doing things. Developing creativity and the ability to find different ways of achieving a goal. Taking different lines down a mogul field or developing different ways of initiating turns, different ways of skiing and controlling speed. The learner increases their repertoire of skills, becomes more versatile and more adaptable to changes in the environment. The learner develops the ability to think outside the box and create many solutions themselves recognising and discovering many different ways of achieving things. The instructor is still very active in setting the goals and helping the development of creative thinking and skiing and still heavily involved in developing and aiding feedback. Learners used to COMMAND may get frustrated thinking “just tell me the right way to do it and quickly” but remember that is not the purpose of this style and to develop DIVERGENT thinking and the ability to think ‘outside the box’ and create independence, it’s a vital style to learn and develop. This is an absolute must for anyone that wants to take their performance towards its maximum level.

As the title suggests. The learner begins to take more responsibility in the learning process recognizing their ability and goals and working out what they themselves wish to learn, develop and achieve. The instructor becomes more of a sounding board, a source, an aide, responding to the learner’s questioning and needs. The learner is much more active in their development, taking the lead role. The instructor is used by the learner but far from being redundant is now a valuable learning tool and now the learner takes the leading role using the instructor as they choose. The learner is making all the decisions, choices, setting the goals. The instructor just one decision – do what they are asked. But that doesn’t mean to say they’re less involved, they could be more engaged in the session than ever but it’s now up to the learner. It’s a valuable place for any learner to get to and means every instructor can be used to the learner’s benefit. The learner is firmly in control of their own learning and the instructor is used as much as the learner chooses. It’s the learner’s show. I love it when learners have arrived at this style. They just ask me questions all the time and I just need to answer.


The spectrum is far from a one way journey starting at COMMAND and finishing at DESIGN. Learners and instructors alike can learn to move freely back and forth along the spectrum jumping from one style to another at a moment’s notice and mixing them all up as needed.

Mosston recognised that there is nothing new in any of these styles. They have always been there and have always been used by both learners and instructors. By being familiar with all the styles you can now begin to recognise if you or any of your instructors have become entrenched in one or another style unable to move out. You can see by the descriptions of each style, that each provides huge learning capabilities and by missing out on any one you may be missing out on much learning.

An instructor entrenched in DISCOVER working with a leaner entrenched in COMMAND is a recipe for disaster. Along the same lines as a learner that is entrenched in DESIGN employing the services of an instructor entrenched in COMMAND. It’s not going to work.

The key for successful learning is for both the learner and instructor to recognize their own preferences if they have one and to escape from the confines of that particular style developing the ability to move freely back and forth along all the styles opening up huge possibilities for learning.

When I personally first became familiar with the spectrum it opened up huge learning opportunities for me. I can now go to any instructor in any sport and recognize their teaching style and use it to my advantage. For example if an instructor’s preferred style is COMMAND I can recognize I’m going to get some useful information from them, quickly, succinctly and directly. If I have an instructor that appears less commanding and more DISCOVER or DESIGN I can quickly change how I am going to learn taking the lead role and using them accordingly. I’ve even arrived at a teaching session where the instructor set off in his preferred COMMAND style and I’ve turned the session into DESIGN almost immediately. I remember once I arrived for a tennis lesson and the instructor began to set about his routine. I quickly asked if he could help me on my top spin. “sure” was his answer and in no time at all I was leading the session and getting valuable information from the instructor that I wanted and felt I needed.

All instructors have experience, all instructors have knowledge, all instructors have something useful to give you. Discover their teaching preference and use it to your advantage. Every lesson becomes worthwhile and every run a learning experience. Develop your ability in the spectrum and your learning with have no boundaries.

Reference – Mosstons Spectrum Of Teaching Styles

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