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Coaching to learn

Coaching and Learning

Coaching is closely akin to reflective learning and is therefore an excellent approach to supporting learners. For example, Kolb proposed a model of experiential learning, that has been influential, in which the learner engages iteratively in four stages: concrete experience (CE), reflective observation (RO), abstract conceptualisation (AC) and active experimentation (AE). Put more simply, the learner has an experience, observes what happened,  thinks about what, why and how it happened and tries something out as a result. Effective learning, Kolb argued, encompasses all four stages, but individuals tend to have a preference for one or more and may tend naturally to focus on that stage at the expense of the others. These stages have been characterised more simply as 'feeling', 'watching', 'thinking' and 'doing' respectively.


The process of coaching has many similarities: a coaching conversation may consider the coachee's current experience, encourage reflection or observation on what is going on with that, prompt thinking about what, why and how it happened, and lead to action to do something else. Encouraging the coachee to work through these stages for themselves, leads to greater self-awareness, more appropriate decision making and more effective action than simply providing suggestions, just as engaging fully in experiential learning is more effective for learners. 


The parallels between coaching and learning mean that coaching can support an effective process of learning, as well as supporting the decision making that accompanies the learning process (for example, courses to take, options to select, what placement to undertake and so on). 


In the PC3 project we have looked at coaching as a means of supporting learning in a number of contexts. These are considered in the following sections. 


Using peer coaching to enhance learning across a cohort

The Sports Management course team introduced student-student peer triads (including a coach, a coachee and an observer) to support students in developing effective learning objectives for their placements. Evidence suggests that this process enhanced learning in those who participated fully, and students reported that it helped them learn beyond the specific learning task. For full details of this intervention, see Case Study 1: Sports Management.


Using one-to-one coaching to support individual learners

The Personalised Learning through Coaching (PLC) module incorporated one-to-one coaching to support learners in making decisions about their personal and professional development. Learners were assigned a personal coach and were offered a series of five 1-hour coaching sessions during the module.  These took place face-to-face, via telephone or via video conferencing. For full details of this intervention, see Case Study 2: Personalised Learning through Coaching


Using coaching to underpin personalised curriculum design

The original plan for PC3 included a framework for using coaching to underpin personalised, individual curriculum design. This approach was overtaken by changes in priority at the institution, so it was not fully realised. However, we provide the structure and framework and invite others interested in this proposal to trial it. For full details of the PC3 framework, see Case Study 2: Personalised Learning through Coaching module.


Using coaching principles in delivering course content

On a number of occasions, we and other staff used coaching principles to deliver content, provide module and tutorial support. Media studies students were taught coaching as a means of helping them deal with change in their professional environments - see Mini Case 1: Media Students


Encouraging self-coaching to help students to become independent learners

Within the context of encouraging students to develop strategies for encouraging their peers to make use of coaching, a team of coaching student ambassadors was established, who received additional coaching training, supported each other through coaching and developed strategies for promoting coaching among their peers. They report that coaching helped them to learn to self-coach, leading to more effective learning strategies and more confidence in learning. For full details of this intervention, see Case Study 3: Student Ambassadors.


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