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akiy 03-24-2006 09:40 AM

Beginners Retention Rates
 
Note: This thread is a split-off from the Aikido in 70 Words or Less thread.
Quote:

Tom Newhall wrote:
Our goal is to get as many people signed up as possible, because general retention rates for ExCo classes are around 15% by the end of the semester. (Last semester, 70 people signed up, 8 people tested for 6th kyu at the end of the semester)

Perhaps the issue here is, then, not that you need more people joining at the beginning of the semester but to take a look at the curriculum to see if what is being taught during the semester and how it is being taught should be examined?

In any case, I wonder what sorts of changes people here have had to make in their beginners curriculum in order to try to help their retention rate.

What worked?

What didn't work?

-- Jun

SeiserL 03-24-2006 11:46 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Great question. Since I don't actually teach, I will offer my own experience.

I didn't join, much less stay, at schools because they didn't know how to actually punch or make it look, much less be, a martial art.

I joined, and have stayed for over 11 years, in my current school because my Sensei and the people I train with help me keep it real. It seemed doable and practical since day one.

MaryKaye 03-24-2006 02:03 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
We noted that a lot of beginners were daunted by forward rolls, and experimented with omitting forward rolls from the Intro curriculum (our seven-session course for brand new beginners).

I don't think it helped at all; it annoyed the more athletic beginners, and people who were going to be driven away by forward rolls maybe stayed a few more weeks, but they still left.

The biggest thing I have personally noticed is that retention is worse in Intro during terms when it was small to begin with. Students feel lonely if there are too few of them. You can partially cover this by asking more advanced students to come, but at some point you lose the sense that it's an Intro class at all--the beginners start feeling that they are slowing the advanced students down, and you might as well just have had them come to open classes in the first place.

Mary Kaye

Amelia Smith 03-24-2006 02:29 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

Mary Kuhner wrote:
... the beginners start feeling that they are slowing the advanced students down,

Yeah, what's up with that? Aren't we supposed to practice with people at all levels? I have been wondering about how to impress beginners (and some others) in the dojo with the fact that it's OK to slow the advanced students down a bit. It helps the advanced students, too, and it helps the art (to survive, because we need new people, all the time). Of course, it helps if the advanced students have a good attitude about working with beginners.

I think that a 1 in 10 retention rate from first class to first grading/test is pretty typical. A lot of people who try aikido probably decide they just don't like it. Others can't make the time... and others are turned off by one thing or another at the particular dojo/class they go to, some of which we can do something about, some of which we can't.

The only thing that I see making a meaningful difference is if the senior students are friendly and helpful, which is less of an issue in intro classes. We've never had an intro class at this dojo, but I'm trying to start one, as an experiment, so I'd be interested in what people have to say. Also, I wonder if intro classes help with the general retention rate at all.

--Amelia

Michael O'Brien 03-24-2006 02:54 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Our dojo has an intro class and I personally enjoyed it. Several of the intermediate and advanced students usually attend and are happy to work with the newbies. As far as it helping retention rates, I don't know? I think that those that are honestly interested in training would come and train anyway and those aren't you lose anyway.

On a side note about slowing down the advanced students and it being good sometimes. Working nights now I have only been able to attend our intermediates class that is offered twice a week in the mornings now for the last few months. My instructor advised me this past Thursday I should also start attending the Saturday morning advanced class. I told him that exact thing "That I was worried about slowing down the training of some of the more advanced students." He told me to come and train anyway. That it would help me get up to speed faster and would help them focus some as well.

senshincenter 03-24-2006 04:18 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Our take is simple: Retention is based on a dojo's capacity for cultivating the virtues of commitment and discipline in the deshi.

If a dojo doesn't take on this role, and few do, then you are like the fox that waits by the tree for the rabbit (his dinner) to run into it and knock itself out. In other words, dojo that don't take on this role, are left waiting for that person that comes in "as is" and "ready made" for a life of Budo training. That person is hardly going to show up - they are very rare - especially if your understanding of Budo is about the whole enchilada. Thus, if he/she does, it probably is only because of huge allowances that you've made in regards to "Budo" (e.g. no forward rolling). Better to start with the premise that the newbie is totally lost, totally incapable, like a newborn, and thus in need of not only training but of the character traits that support training.

For the long lasting of us, we know what helped us to cultivate the virtues of commitment and discipline, some of those ideas were mentioned already, but we often have a very hard time in understanding how we make those things an actual structure of the dojo culture and its pedagogy. However, this is precisely what folks have to figure out if they are truly interested in having folks stay and stay in the right way and for the right reasons. Once you do, retention issues are left for those folks that die, or move (hoping and trying to move back) and for the occassional square peg that shows up about four times a year (or less).

If you leave newborns to fend for themselves, they die - law of nature.

Young-In Park 03-25-2006 03:11 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
A former instructor said if students "don't know how to roll, there's no one to party with."

It took me a couple of years to develop a systematic way to teach ukemi to beginners. I took beginners to a corner of the mat and taught them how to roll.

I first practiced teaching with children. When I started, there were about five to ten children enrolled in the children's "program." When I stopped teaching, there were about thirty children, of various ages and ranks, enrolled.

When I tried to implement the same teaching strategies with adults, I met fierce resistance. Not from the beginners, but from other instructors. In spite of their resistance, I singlehandedly taught all the beginners in the dojo how to roll. I was even able to teach those (even the most reluctant ukes) already in the dojo how to do breakfalls.

Since I wasn't the most politically correct person in the dojo, I was passed up for promotion. Then I was constantly reminded that I had to listen to those who were ranked higher than me, although they had less experience. I was expected to listen to an instructor who taught kumitachi to beginners who were on the mat for the first time for their first ever aikido class.

About three years ago, I told the chief instructor that the dojo was losing beginning students because they were being thrown into the fray too quickly. He wanted to survey the former students as to why they left the dojo...

During the time I was teaching beginners in the corner of the mat, the dojo made a modest profit every year. Due to a difference of opinion, I left the dojo about a year and half ago. At a recent meeting, it was noted the dojo is now breaking even. When speculating as to the reason, someone said the beginners are not sticking around as long as they used to because no one is teaching them.

Although it isn't as bad as it was before, the adult program has a lot of white belts (beginners), very few mid ranked students (6th - 3rd kyu) and a lot of high ranked students (2nd kyu and above).

I thought this was a peculiar situation unique to this particular dojo. However, I've seen variants on the same operating philosophy at other dojos.

Basically a dojo should teach beginners how to stretch, roll and some exercies (ie aiki taiso & how to punch) before throwing them into the general dojo population.

YoungIn

SeiserL 03-25-2006 09:00 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

Young-In Park wrote:
Basically a dojo should teach beginners how to stretch, roll and some exercise (ie aiki taiso & how to punch) before throwing them into the general dojo population.

More personal attention to beginners by the advanced belts. That makes sense to me, not only for learning the basics better/faster but also for feeling a part of the larger group.

The problem may be the senior students seeing the beginners as theirs and not following the overall curriculum or protocol of the school.

Nice insight, compliments and appreciation.

Alec Corper 03-25-2006 12:05 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
I don't mean to be contentious, but I think this is a wrong question to be asking. As an instructor I prefer to stay focussed on what I need to teach and how best to teach it so that those who want to learn will get the best chance to do so. This may seem the same as thinking about student retention, but it isn't. It is not my job to "keep" students, it is their responsibility to learn. The only exception would be kids, and I don't have children's classes.
Other recent threads have addressed the idea of "basics" in Aikido. If a dojo is strongly focussed on Kihon, everyone, including beginners, will benefit. The temptation to make Aikido easier to attract and hold students, IMHO, is as dangerous as doing "advanced" techniques to hold and please senior students who are no longer improving through the study of the essentials.

gstevens 03-25-2006 04:33 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
This is a complex question, and one that I have been pondering for a while now.

I only have a limited amount of experices to draw on, but according to our Dojo's stastics, I am in the 5% or so of students that continue training after 2 years. (Don't quote me on that I will look it up on Tuesday where it is posted on the wall and tell you what it is for sure).

There are different sets of people in the dojo,
For some it is one of the basics of life, something akin to breathing or eating. Others it is an activity that makes them feel better, better able to deal with the world and their own emotions. To some it is just exercise, others primarly a community or lifestyle enclave somewhere to be the social animal that we are.

There is a lot of retention of brand new people that depends on their connecting to someone in the Dojo, and being able to see their own improvement in their techniques, right off the bat. The feeling that they have learned something new, been able to change their way of moving connecting or thinking in the first few classes. The Idea and realization of Budo as an art, or a way of life comes much later if at all for some people.

The people in the dojo are the people that need to make the connections to the new people to strike up conversations, to be friendly and open to having a community and relationships. If all you are at the Dojo for is to train physically your dojo probably is not going to attract or keep beginers. This does not need to be a huge thing, just little stuff, and being patient of new people on the mat.

How many of you of advanced belts feel compeled to bow into a person on their first night? How many of you inwardly grimace after the demonstration if the person next to you is a white belt, or unranked person? If you are grimacing inside, you are grimacing for that first contact too. You know that you can feel it in your training partners, even though they are new they can feel it too.

Some people are not going to stay, they didn't realize till they started doing aikido how little they like others in the personal space. They didn't realize that it would involve people touching them and grabbing them. Others are looking for a magic bullet to life, safety, self defense, whatever. Since there are no magic bullets, they are going to try for a while and move on.

The idea of a college level class on part of a campus seems to me to be a very hard one. There are time commitments pulling everyone in all directions, keeping students in such an enviroment would seem to me to be difficult. The larger the class to begin with the more people there are to network and compare experiences with generally that will help retention, the fewer the people, the more others are likely to look for these connections elsewhere.

What brings people in the door is rarely what keeps them on the mat.

Guy
:-)

Dan Rubin 03-26-2006 04:33 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

David Valadez wrote:
[T]his is precisely what folks have to figure out if they are truly interested in having folks stay and stay in the right way and for the right reasons.

Different teachers/dojos have different ideas of what is "the right way" and "the right reasons." Are you saying that each dojo should decide on their own definitions of those terms? That's an interesting idea. Defining the type of student a dojo is seeking provides the dojo with a target audience to concentrate on, with training to match it.

However, like any business, smaller dojos can afford to target a small niche audience, while it is harder for larger dojos do so and survive.

The current issue of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts contains a 14-page article on this very topic, titled "The ‘Risk Society' and Martial Arts Training in New Zealand." The article examines why students enter and remain in the martial arts in general, not any particular art or any particular dojo. The author argues that there are four reasons why students enter the martial arts: a fear of assault, a fear of poor health/physical fitness, a fear of social isolation or a fear of spiritual isolation. Of those students who stay, the ones who entered for the social community tended to stay for that same reason; the others stayed for a variety of reasons. (Needless to say, it's unfair to the author to summarize such a long article in two sentences.)

The article is interesting, but after reading it I felt that I had gained understanding but no useful ideas about student retention. Perhaps others in this forum can discuss the article further.

Dan

senshincenter 03-26-2006 08:01 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Hi Dan,

Thanks for writing.

I'll try and take a look at those articles and maybe make some comments later - time affording. However, thanks for pointing them out.

Well, I think different dojo and different sensei all have different ideas, etc. - even if they don't say it, and/or even if they don't try to have differetn ideas, etc. Call it the multiplicity of Life. Thus, I wasn't really talking about that - not really anyways. I was trying to be a bit more specific.

What I was suggesting was that dojo that are truly interested in retention (which is more than a business matter - since the passing of time is also integral to the maturation of skills) need to figure out how to make the cultivation of commitment and discipline an actual part of the dojo's very structure (in terms of culture, pedagogy, praxis, theory, etc.).

Right now, most Aikido dojo function by hit or miss policies (which themselves often go unstated and/or function at a less than conscious level). They often passively wait for folks that have a capacity for commitment and discipline to walk in (which is one reason why Aikido dojo tend to be made up of older folks - relatively speaking) or they are lucky (which can only be "periodically") to have some things in place that might be able to address the issue of student retention (e.g. a strong senpai block; some folks that are already highly dedicated to their own practice; a crowded mat that inspires high degrees of energy/euphoria; etc.) - things that help newbies to cultivate commitment and/or discipline.

In either case, one is not going to be looking at a consistent increase in dojo membership - this is because folks mature enough to train a lifetime (or many years) - just walking in off the street - are few and far between, and because luck fades (turns into bad luck - e.g. your most dedicated students leave/move, your senpai block all quit, etc.). At most, one's membership is going to be a matter of ups and downs - which often go unexplainable. Of course, this is how most Aikido dojo see the world, and experience it too, but this is precisely because they do not have any real (i.e. viable) plan in place that is designed specifically to address the issue. Commercial dojo have a plan, albeit for different reasons and thus by different means. However, though, we'd rather not be a commercial dojo this does not mean that traditional dojo need to be left out to the chances of the "weather" ("Gee, do you think it will rain tonight?" "Not sure, maybe, maybe the monsoons will come, but then again, maybe we'll have a drought this year."). Traditional dojo just need to figure out how to make the tenets of their own practice work for them. They need a plan - a traditional (vs. commerical) plan. After all, traditional training is a "life-time journey" and "Aikido is for everyone" and "the spiritual maturity of the soul is the fulfillment of Life/Existence," etc. - if you look at this, this is one surefire business plan. You are open to everyone, and you are open to them for the whole of their lives. Talk about a client! I think only the tabacco industry has something close to this!

Instead of suffering the weather, or, worse, being tempted to borrow some of the lesser nauseating features of the commercial dojo, traditional dojo need to figure out that what is hard is expecting joe-blow off the street to be capable of a life-time practice, etc. Never mind that, that is not hard - shouldn't have said that - that what it is is impossible. It's not that a life-time practice is impossible, it's expecting folks that aren't capable of a life-time practice to have a life-time practice - that is what is impossible - just as expecting folks to walk-in ready-made for such a practice is improbable. Traditional dojo should thus then work toward giving folks the tools they need to develop the capacity for a life-time practice. Start out asking, "What does it take to have a life-time practice?" Get your answers. Then go out and create, invent, borrow, etc., ways (i.e. practices) that generate these answers in the individual. Sure, you won't get everyone, but this number is much different from the "everyone" that we see in the common explanation for poor weather: "Traditional Budo is not for EVERYONE."

well - ranting a bit there - forgive.

thanks, take care,
dmv

Nick Simpson 03-27-2006 03:00 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

Perhaps the issue here is, then, not that you need more people joining at the beginning of the semester but to take a look at the curriculum to see if what is being taught during the semester and how it is being taught should be examined?
Thats it there. Generally we get 15-30 new people come to the first class of the year at the uni club, quite a few hang on untill christmas and then dont really come back after the holidays. Generally get one person who stays from each year and grades etc etc. I've spoken to a few people who no longer train and they tend to feel like they didnt learn much and that they couldnt defend themselves if the need arose and they would prefer to do a 'striking' art. My reply is to go try everything, but you get out what you put in...

Peter Seth 03-27-2006 05:12 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Hi all. :)
It is usual to get beginners - especially male, who want a 'quick fix,' to be bruce lee, steven seagal etc in a very short time. They want to 'take out' quick-time without realising the amount you have to put in to achieve anything in life - especially a martial art. I think maybe in the case of a uni club there are lots of other things which have to be considered - drinking/socialising/other sports/activities interests available and of course study. It is sometimes hard to prioritise. Aikido in particular does not tend to give 'quick fixes' - safety in practice has to be a priority especially at beginner level and quick fix self defence techniques have to be carefully introduced, which does not suit all beginners. But, maybe they will come back to aikido after they have tried other arts - a lot of people do. We can all teach basic self defence techniques which may include bits from a variety of arts - I sometimes do - even just to show parrallels to a specific aikido movement/technique. This can also be useful in keeping individuals interest, but must be used judiciously or you end up teaching another art?

Sorry would like to continue but lunchtime is over. - maybe later
Pete :)

batemanb 03-27-2006 06:43 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

Alec Corper wrote:
I don't mean to be contentious, but I think this is a wrong question to be asking. As an instructor I prefer to stay focussed on what I need to teach and how best to teach it so that those who want to learn will get the best chance to do so. This may seem the same as thinking about student retention, but it isn't. It is not my job to "keep" students, it is their responsibility to learn.

It all depends on how you teach what you need to teach. I agree with this last sentence, ultimately my role as an instructor is to inspire my students to want to learn.

rgds
Bryan

SeiserL 03-27-2006 07:46 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
IMHO, usually satisfaction comes when the realities closely match the expectations or desires.

Michael O'Brien 03-27-2006 04:33 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

Alec Corper wrote:
It is not my job to "keep" students, it is their responsibility to learn.

Technically this may be true; But if you don't "keep" your students then there is no one there to teach. Then you have to analyze that maybe your "best way" to teach isn't really the best way to teach after all?

If a dojo is having a major issue retaing students then the question of "Why aren't we retaining students" is a valid question to ask.

James Kelly 03-27-2006 09:35 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Funny, from the topic heading I thought this thread was about beginners retaining the stuff they're taught.
Quote:

Guy Stevens wrote:
There is a lot of retention of brand new people that depends on their connecting to someone in the Dojo, and being able to see their own improvement in their techniques, right off the bat. The feeling that they have learned something new, been able to change their way of moving connecting or thinking in the first few classes. The Idea and realization of Budo as an art, or a way of life comes much later if at all for some people.

The people in the dojo are the people that need to make the connections to the new people to strike up conversations, to be friendly and open to having a community and relationships.

This is a good point. At my old dojo we noticed that the students who tended to stay felt they had some personal connection to one (or more) of the regularly attending senior students. This connection would arise spontaneously -- usually if they got along personally or if the beginner were particularly enthusiastic or talented.

So we instituted a mentor system where every new student was assigned to a senior student. The senior was responsible for the new student, to look after and mark their progress and generally connect with them and keep them interested. It worked reasonably well and seemed to the unscientific observer to helping retention rates, but it had the problem that a mentor and a junior may be mismatched and may have been stifling spontaneous connections. Unfortunately the policy wasn't well received by all the seniors and didn't last long enough to get good data.

But what did come out of that was a similar policy where for every kyu grade, a junior has to find a senior student (at least 3 ranks higher) to sponsor them for the test. The senior helps the junior prepare for the test and takes some responsibility if the junior isn't up to par (and can suggest to the junior if they think they're not ready). We found that this created some bonds between the juniors and seniors while allowing them to arise naturally and, again unscientifically, seams to help retention. And students coming up the ranks would routinely choose the same senior for sponsorship which basically created the mentorship we were looking for in the first place.

mriehle 03-28-2006 11:31 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

James Kelly wrote:
But what did come out of that was a similar policy where for every kyu grade, a junior has to find a senior student (at least 3 ranks higher) to sponsor them for the test.

I quite like this idea. I'm not sure how I'll implement it in my school, but I'm going to find a way. It would solve several problems I've had, retention being only one of them.

As to why students stay or go, I have this observation:

When I desparately tried to get people to stay, I lost all my students. When I was always trying to get new people in, they stay a month or two and then leave. For various reasons, I don't much care if they stay or go now. They mostly stay.

I think, maybe, the first step is attracting people who are teachable. That doesn't mean people who are ready for the full commitment and just walk in and Do As They're Told. It means people who you, as a teacher, can reach and teach them the principles they need.

As to how you actually do that...

...workin' on it... :)

Alec Corper 03-28-2006 11:40 AM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Michael wrote:
Quote:

Technically this may be true; But if you don't "keep" your students then there is no one there to teach. Then you have to analyze that maybe your "best way" to teach isn't really the best way to teach after all?

Yep, totally agree

If a dojo is having a major issue retaing students then the question of "Why aren't we retaining students" is a valid question to ask.
Nope, sorry, the question is "Why am I not teaching Aikido in a way that will attract and hold people without the interference of my personal wishes?"

Michael O'Brien 03-28-2006 04:41 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

Alec Corper wrote:
Michael wrote:
Nope, sorry, the question is "Why am I not teaching Aikido in a way that will attract and hold people without the interference of my personal wishes?"

I think perhaps we are looking at the same elephant, just from opposite ends. LOL

senshincenter 03-28-2006 04:43 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

Alec Corper wrote:
"Why am I not teaching Aikido in a way that will attract and hold people without the interference of my personal wishes?"

Could I ask for more explanation - I'm afraid I'm not following (my fault, I'm sure).

Please/thanks,
dmv

Charles Cunningham 03-28-2006 05:16 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
At a recent demo, one of our senior instructors spent several minutes explaining to a large group of prospective students just how difficult and frustrating aikido is. He showed them how much easier it is to simply hit uke than to blend and do an aikido technique. He said it takes most people more than 5 years to learn to do a nikyo right. Then he told them how few students are still practicing after 6 months, after a year, after 3 years, after 5 years, etc. He painted a fairly bleak picture of aikido. "Hmm," I thought, "Interesting choice. Give 'em the ol' weed-out speech."

I seriously doubted that any of these prospective students would return to try a regular class. It surprised the hell out of me to see about a dozen of them (the majority) come back and stick with aikido for several months now.

Shows you how much I know...

Charles

senshincenter 03-28-2006 05:32 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Quote:

Charles Cunningham wrote:
He showed them how much easier it is to simply hit uke...

Charles

I'd say it's easy just to touch someone in the face or on the torso when they are just standing there - sure - that's easier than trying to do Nikyo in Kihon Waza (choreographed ukemi). HOWEVER, this don't make it easy to hit someone - certainly not easier than doing Nikyo. Being able to hit someone as designed by striking arts, in the midst of a combative situation, is every bit as hard as trying to pull off Nikyo under it's own designed conditions. What is easier is fooling oneself into believing that one's strikes are effective (when they are not) - that is easier than fooling oneself that his/her Nikyo is effective when it is not (but not by much).

What is hard about staying in the training is not the art. That's why these attempts to make the art easier are in my opinion missing the point. What is hard about commitment is commitment itself. That's why, if you were to ask all the looky-loos, the hobbyists, the 3 monthers, etc., you see that they almost have nothing in their lives where commitment is practiced. By the time they get to your dojo to quit your Aikido, they've already quit a million things. When they are left without assistance in the cultivation of commitment, about the only thing they can't quit is quitting itself.

Michael O'Brien 03-28-2006 06:26 PM

Re: Beginners Retention Rates
 
Well spoken David. It seems in our fast food society, anything that can't be gotten in 90 seconds or less isn't worth having anymore.


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