While I very, very much understand and empathize with the plight of dojos attempting to move to online learning (and, consequently, achieve more marketshare during the physical downtime by attracting non-members), most of them aren’t aware that customer exposure fatigue is a thing.
I’m just going to provide a few resources off the bat and jump right in as to what I mean:
I am invited, weekly, to no less than 9 Zoom or Google meet sessions, 15 on a bad week. I imagine our members are experiencing more or less the same amount. Here’s something I hope everyone keeps in the back of their head—exposure fatigue can kill a brand and turn a customer off completely. Just seeing the subject can bring up feelings of annoyance and wanting to completely ignore or block the sender. You know how you might be tired of seeing BJJ or MMA material on Aikido pages and it makes you dislike the subject matter as a whole? It’s like that. I had been warring with myself as to whether to provide this piece because many of my dojo friends are struggling and panicking and I didn’t want anyone to think I was passive aggressively calling them out or directing this specifically at them… but when I started getting afraid to open my Facebook because I knew the number of invites that awaited me, I thought perhaps the broader members community was feeling it too. The last thing I was is for members to be so fatigued of the topic of Aikido that even when we DO open, they don’t feel like coming.
Distance education is an entirely different ballgame than face to face teaching. While models of a teacher facing classroom works (sometimes) for in person classes, it often does not work for online learning where the stark contrast between what customers are used to getting is compared to the pale imitation of what they now receive, especially from a highly collaborative environment to solo “talked at” lectures. I’m not going to go into the whole marketing mind frame where trying to insert yourself as the instructor in your customer’s (or potential customer’s) home and their downtime (without having a succinct message that targets and triggers exactly what they are looking for at that moment in their life) may do more harm than good (as opposed to the customer themselves coming to class and choosing their own time where they agree to submit to your instruction) but be aware there are a lot more differences between distance learning and face to face instruction than just what kind of exercises one is limited to doing.
I used this analogy with a friend of mine who was disheartened that his Zoom sessions with members were very small: Imagine you had a girlfriend / boyfriend who you knew were the love of your life, but due to circumstances out of either of your controls, you can’t be together. You don’t know when, if ever you’ll be able to move forward with your relationship. What do you do? I know what I’d do, I’d cold turkey the fuck out of them and move on because otherwise, I’m wasting my time and their time… or just until our relationship changes in it’s nature to something else that doesn’t remind me of the what could have been’s and what won’t ever be’s.
I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons over Voice Chat with martial arts friends (including Aikidoka)—many who won’t join a Zoom session where I’m trying to tell them how to do something, but who will come a dozen at a time, wanting to play in a collaborative and fun Party Member centered game (we sometimes have so many people who want to join that we have to ask them to wait). I’ve been using it as a learning experience in terms of understanding why members are willing to play for hours at a time (and we have to even limit the time since people have to sleep) at a time scheduled that may not even be optimal for them, but they shrug off the one hour sessions of Aikido Zoom. People who have never even played DnD are excited to try. It may simply come down to the fact that Aikidoka, by nature, enjoy collaboration, something that “This expert will now take an hour to talk AT you about what you should be doing” is not going to hit (notwithstanding popularity contests since some famous instructors might draw a crowd no matter what… but perhaps not the same recurring people.) Obviously, a lot of the “rules” of traditional DnD had to be tossed out until we simply retained the essence of what makes it “fun.” I was talking with Adam about this difference and he noted that a student led collaborative problem solving model often works great for both engagement and learning, virtual or otherwise. (It’s also why, while I was reluctant to push out too many Instagram videos during this downtime—I was eager to do the relay with my friends from around the world, figuring out how to do them was 90% of the engagement.)
Either way, ultimately we currently just don’t know what the Aikido member base needs. We need to research, poll, study what members are looking for, why, and how they would like to be taught. Then we need to take the most current research and theories and models in distance education and adapt it to an Aikido curriculum. Much in the same way most successful businesses run, figuring out what customers need in the current circumstances will ensure not only that they don’t fatigue of the topic, but that if and when we can open, they are eager to return. After all, my father used to drill this into my head: sales may be king, but customers are god.
Anyway, I know everyone is trying their best. I am trying my hardest to also figure out the best way moving forward for my own dojo but I don’t want to rush it in the event that it does more harm than good. I’ll try to provide some more resources on Distance Ed (Adam is an instructional designer in the Distance Education department at NCC so I’ll bum it off of him.)