The Beyond the One Percent presentation explores the topic of how many people train, why they train, what courses they choose and why, and ways to possibly motivate more than 1% of adult gun owners to take training beyond their state minimum. It is based on my presentation at the 2017 Rangemaster Tactical Conference.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7, for those that need the links. If you’ve haven’t read them, start there before reading this part.
Part 8 is the final part, full of suggestions as to how to make training more accessible to a wider audience.
I discussed the value of having loaner gear available in Part 7.
And a review of the reasons why having an inventory of loaner gear will benefit both the instructor and the student.
If you study the history of private sector training, you’ll find that it started with 3-5 day classes at fixed locations, like Gunsite, the Chapman Academy, John Shaw’s school, and the Rogers school. Classes were often held on weekdays. Those schools and many others are “destination” facilities that offer capabilities and training beyond what many local facilities can.
Instructors from those schools, and graduates of those schools began offering 2 day weekend classes, hosted at local and regional ranges. Currently there are dozens of instructors offering hundreds of classes annually, all over the country, in this format, typically 16-20 hours of training for $400-800.
Most of the traditional NRA classes were 12-16 hours, offered locally. As more states began passing concealed carry legislation with required training, the minimum hours for state mandatory training began dropping. For example, in 1996 Texas required 10-15 hours of instruction. Now Texas requires 4-6 hours. NRA revised their Basic Pistol course to an 8 hour format, and developed a Personal Protection In the Home course that covered many topics common to defensive pistol courses (except for drawing from a holster), also in an 8 hour format, in response to the national trend toward shorter training.
As I discussed in a previous part, training hours is an area where those serious about training and those passionate about gun politics disagree. The 30-40 hour programs originally designed by the fixed location schools were based not on meeting state minimums, but to teach the skills they felt were actually needed by people training to use handguns in self-defense. Opinions as to the standards of skill performance and the topics to be learned really haven’t changed much since the late 1970s.
The problem, as gun politics activists point out, is that the “best practices” standards of the big schools, if used as state minimums, would restrict the right of self defense to those with the excess money and time needed to meet those standards. Often those people are at much lower risk of criminal attack than those with smaller budgets and lower incomes.
More than a decade I converted most of the courses that KR Training offers into 3- and 4- hour blocks designed as a series. You can’t teach everything someone needs to know in a 4 hour class. So the burden is on the instructor to prioritize skills in their course design.
There are a lot more people that can spend 4 hours, $100 and 200 rounds on a Saturday training class than there are people that can spend $500, 20 hours, and 1000 rounds on an all weekend course.
Those that study adult education understand that deeper learning takes place if it’s spread out in smaller chunks over a longer period. Students that come to a 4 hour course, pick up some new skills or corrections on old skills, who spend the next month working on those specific things, and then return for another 4 hour block, tend to progress better, and maintain that improvement better than the student that spends their entire training budget for the year on a 5 day class at “Disneyland for guns”, and then does no practice for months afterward. This is one reason why so many “level 2” classes in that format are disappointingly heavy on review of level 1– many of the “destination training” customers are the personality type that mistake passing level 1 (with no practice to maintain skills) makes them ready for another giant dose of new material a year or more later.
Using a half day format allows incredible customer-focused variation in what is offered. State permit course a half day? Offer an afternoon follow on course teaching more gun skills. Pair a pistol class in the morning with a long gun afternoon course. Pair two classes that are back to back in skills progression together to make a full training day. Offer a beginner class and an advanced class in the afternoon. Offer a discount to advanced students to assist with the morning class to improve student/teacher ratio for beginners.
And perhaps the most important advantage: more granularity allows better matching of student and course. Anyone that’s been to many classes has either been in a class where half of it was review, half of it ended up being remedial work taught down to the least prepared student, or showed up for a class only to discover it was way over their head. Whichever end of that you are on, the class ends up being wasted time and money.
So why do so many offer two day courses instead of the 4 hour format? Reasons range from “everybody teaches 2 day courses”, “that’s not enough time to teach anyone anything”, and the ever popular “I need to make more money than that”. I understand that instructors coming from out of town need to make a minimum for the trip to be worthwhile. I’ve done my share of that kind of road work. But as I showed in earlier parts, there are far more locally based NRA and state permit level instructors, and local clubs running matches, than there are traveling trainers. So the 4 hour format is viable for a majority of instructors that are teaching in their own areas.
My advice to traveling trainers is this: design the first part of your program to be accessible to a wider audience, that can support a larger class size. Sell that as a standalone short course that’s both part of the longer course and a separate item. That will enable you to reach more students, including some that may take the longer course on your return visit, and generate revenue that may make a marginally attended longer course fiscally viable.
Depending on the capability of their local course hosts, traveling trainers could design a 4 hour certified pre-course the local host could offer, as a way to screen and prep students coming to the longer course. This could minimize problems with students coming to classes they are ill prepared and/or ill equipped to attend, by providing a path for them to get the necessary preparation and/or equipment ready prior to class day.
Blended learning, where online and in-person training are integrated, continues to increase in popularity. I continue to increase my use of blended learning, sending students pre-class articles to read, videos to watch, to help them be better prepared for class. This is particularly useful when the class is only 4 hours and there’s little time to deal with remedial students or equipment problems. Emails to students after class, and/or monthly newsletters, provide drills to practice and articles to read to keep the student interested in, or at least occasionally thinking about, the material they learned in class.
The NRA took a big step that direction in 2016, converting their Basic Pistol course to a blended learning format, over loud objections from a majority of active instructors, who felt left out of the decision process (because they were). I wrote one of the few public in-depth reviews of the online course, from the perspective of someone that had developed both online and in-person training in my job at TEEX.
The NRA missed the mark, in my opinion, for all the reasons I’ve explained here. The class was too long and too detailed, including topics irrelevant to the target audience. This goes back to a general reluctance in the training world to believe that anything can be taught effective in less than a full training day.
My experience has been that if thought is given to prioritization of skills, and re-use of technique for multiple tasks (for example, teaching a ready position that is part of the drawstroke and the position where malfunctions are cleared and reloads are performed), it’s possible to not only teach a useful subset of skills but build a foundation that makes progressing in later classes easier.
I have over a dozen different short courses in my program, grouped together into basic, intermediate, advanced and instructor level tiers. I add 1-2 new courses to the program each year. Response to my 2-3 hour Skill Builder class has been strong, as it provides an “accessible to all levels” course that provides the thing students want most: live fire shooting time, in a format similar to the amount of time they would practice on their own, with value added in the form of structured practice and instruction.
Like many trainers I do a monthly electronic newsletter. I limit myself to one email a month to students, because I hate to drown in marketing email as much as anyone. I confess to having an aggressive opt-in policy, which is that anyone that emails me about a class gets added to the monthly newsletter distribution. People seem to find that less annoying than having a “subscribe to my newsletter!!” giant popup in their face every time they visit the site.
I use targeted emails for specific classes, both to encourage those that have taken class X to take class X+1, or those that took class X in the past to come back as a discounted price refresher student.
Breaking the idea that each class is a “one and done” thing, and that there’s no value in re-taking class as a refresher student – is one of my goals. I see that occurring with Craig Douglas’ ECQC course. I’ve taken it 3 times and it’s common for people to talk about the number of times they’ve taken it. Other than maybe the Rogers pistol course, there’s not really any live fire course that people see as a recurring training event. Everyone wants level 2, or the same material from someone different.
There’s great value in going back through a class for a 2nd or 3rd time, as you’ll pick up details you missed the first time, or simply perform better. As a course host I’ve had the opportunity to take or audit many classes multiple times, such as InSights Street and Vehicle Tactics, Rangemaster Combative Pistol 1, Ben Stoeger’s 2 day competition pistol course, and MAG-20 classroom.
What do students want? Here’s a chart showing which courses were most popular in my program over the past 12 years. Demand for the advanced level pistol classes was the highest, driven by a small number of students who have taken dozens of classes that I’ve taught or hosted. The least popular (despite my strong belief in their value and continued efforts to schedule and promote them) were force on force and unarmed classes.
Many people have limited interest. Remember the 99% are only going to do the state minimum and never come to anything else. So the percentages of those returning are not surprising.
Step 1 in creating a customer that is going to come to more than one class is to get them to one class. The slide shows my list of people that might have interest in training beyond the state minimum, or in some cases, training to prepare them to meet the state minimum.
One reason I put the effort into putting this series online was advice from Ben Stoeger, who said “give away content online”. I saw this first in the music business, as a performing and recording artist with multiple CDs of original music for sale in physical and online forms. Nobody buys music anymore, but they will still pay to attend live performance. Often the decision to go see the live show isn’t based on radio airplay, but on exposure to the performer’s content via free online services.
In the 1990s I put a lot of effort into adding content to the KR Training website, but didn’t migrate to other platforms (youtube, blogging) as the trends changed. I did make that migration on the music side, with lots of videos from my own live shows up on youtube, but not as much on the firearms training side.
Start with “have something interesting to say” and then find a way to put it out there frequently enough that people get used to seeing your content. Look at your output critically, because any tiny flaw in anything you put out will become the story and the focus of all the internet traffic. Try to make your content as troll proof as you can. I suggest disabling comments. Nobody reads the comments, and 99% of what is posted in the comments isn’t worth reading if you do take the time to read them.
I’ll be doing more of that myself, as I mine the last decade of Rangemaster Tactical Conference presentations and other material for blog content.
I ran my first Groupon deal this spring, with decent result, primarily bringing customers that had not trained with us before into classes. Groupon likes to promote particular types of deals: often 50% discounts or 2-for-1 deals, at lower price points. So don’t think of Groupon as a primary revenue generator. It’s value is in filling seats that otherwise would have been empty, and expanding awareness of your program.
The last few slides are the essentials.
The biggest thing I learned from putting this presentation together was a greater awareness of the divide between the noble motives most that attend training claim to have, and their actual motivation. The types of training people seek out is rarely what a logical training needs assessment, based on realistic risk assessment, identifies. Training competes with other purely recreational activities for customers’ dollars and hours. Those offering training have to strive for a balance between the lengths and types of courses customers want, and what trainers would prefer they attend, in a perfect world.
Hopefully these ideas and thoughts will be useful to you as you continue in your own training, as a student and/or an instructor.
Update: an addendum with comments and info from people who contacted me after reading this series.
There will be more content coming over the next few months (and beyond) as I explore other topics in depth on this blog, so if you’ve made it this far I encourage to subscribe to the RSS feed or the email feed (the button is to your right on the page) or my monthly KR Training newsletter.
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