• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Case Study 2: Personalised Learning through Coaching module



Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds Met) is a large post-1992 University with significant student numbers (in excess of 30,000). It is anticipated that by 2012 the changing population profile with decreasing numbers of children will result in a drop in the numbers of of young (typically 18 year old) people enrolling on courses and hence the university needs to identify alternate groups within the population where recruitment is currently low to make good this drop.


Leeds Met is committed to an agenda of flexible, quality provision that is student-centred and responsive to changing needs. Part of this is widening participation through an increase in part-time work-based learners, both those new to education, as highlighted by the Leitch report [1], and those enhancing existing qualifications through postgraduate study. Critical to this are links with employers and partners, such as the Carnegie Leaders in Learning Partnership and the Regional University Network, as well as the “study for leisure” market, reflecting Atherton’s[2] conceptions of curriculum quadrants of competence, Continuing Professional Development and learning for the love of it. Traditional curriculum development does not necessarily address the needs of these different markets. Most current provision still follows a content-driven approach where learners sign up for a specified delivery at a set time and place. Its development rarely involves the learner and only superficially involves employers and professional bodies. In contrast, part-time work-based learners need curricula to be adapted to their individual learning and personal needs, in terms of both content and delivery. 


The aim of the PC3 project was to provide a vehicle through which students who are work-based professionals could engage in study with the University and using the approach of developmental coaching identify their individual study needs and use these to choose suitable modules of study from across the university. What is innovative here is that coaching enables the students to be clear what they really want to do and hence what they need study to achieve this; this is in direct contrast to the current situation whereby the University offers students predetermined programmes of study which may, or may not, allow some small element of choice from a prescribed subset of modules (usually choosing one or two modules from a pool of three or four).


The Personalised Learning through Coaching module was developed as a mechanism to introduce this approach and was trialled within one programme within the University, the Leadership and Management programme within the Leading Edge scheme, which is aimed at aspiring school leaders. 


Intended Outcome

The purpose of developing the PLC module approach was to allow a "way in" to personalised curriculum creation through coaching that was compatible with existing university regulations and that would allow us to test the concept. 

We wanted to work with a programme where there was a need for work-based learners to assess and make decisions about their learning plan and the Leading Edge scheme within the Carnegie Faculty, aimed at aspiring school leaders, fitted the bill. Here, the programme leader, Nick Sutcliffe, explains how he expected the PLC module to contribute to the scheme:


The Challenge

Our challenge was how to implement the PC3 approach to allow us to establish “proof of concept” without having to address all the regulatory, cost and module sharing issues first. The concept of a cross-institutional course did not exist – all courses were “owned” by a Faculty. However feedback from our stakeholders suggested that the perception that a course was owned by one Faculty, was a potential barrier to adoption by other Faculties – “not invented here” had the potential to be significant issue for us. However, getting the regulatory and administrative changes required to have a genuinely cross-institutional course, would be time consuming and, in the context of the changing management of the university, not something to which anyone was prepared to commit at that point.


The university already had an IPOS (Individual Programme of Study) programme in place but it was only being used in one of the six Faculties. However it was widely seen as problematic in a number of key areas. Firstly, it was felt that students on the programme did not have enough support to make sensible curriculum choices that would lead to a coherent programme of study. There was a distrust of encouraging what was seen as a “pick and mix” approach to curriculum design. There were also both pedagogical and financial complications where students wished to take modules from different Faculties – how would prerequisite learning be dealt with and how would funding be distributed? Finally there were technical issues arising from the Faculty-centric nature of university systems – if they were studying across Faculty where was their “home” within the virtual learning environment and other student data systems?


It was also not possible to give a student access to any university services without them being enrolled on a course of some kind. We therefore selected the smallest such course – the module – and decided to develop a module that would give students access to the coaching and self-assessment elements of the PC3 framework and support them in making their curriculum choices. Since modules had to be owned by Faculties, we validated the module initially within the Carnegie Faculty as part of the Leadership Pathways programme, with the intention of creating a module that could be adapted to each Faculty’s needs. Here is the module specification for the module. This was undoubtedly a compromise from our aim of a centralized programme but it allowed us to progress the concept within the uncertain context of change within the institution.


The module approach allowed us to introduce coaching for curriculum personalization into a programme in a way that could be costed and administered, but it also introduced some changes from the original plan. The coaching became “front-loaded” rather than being available to students throughout their study. The curriculum choice also had to be made “up front”.



What we did

The PLC module was designed as an M level, 20-credit module, based around reusable learning objects, on coaching, self-assessment, curriculum choice and personal development planning, supported by regular one-to-one coaching. Here is the final module guide. The assessment was designed for two purposes: for the student to identify their learning needs and propose a curriculum to meet them, and for the student to reflect upon the process, the technology platform and their coaching experience. The former was to provide the student with a plan on which to select their curriculum choices (40% of the Leadership pathway could be personalized), the latter to give us evaluation data from this pilot scheme. Here are the marking scheme and feedback sheet for the assignment. 


The module was based around the PC3 framework:


This was designed into the module structure in the following way:

The module was designed to introduce the students to aspects and issues surrounding learning, self directed change, models of coaching, personalisation and self awareness and these were supported by a number of activities and coaching sessions. From the outset students were informed that though they were engaged in a module of study, all coaching sessions would be treated with the utmost confidentiality and would follow an agenda set by the students. Five coaching sessions were included as part of the module and students had the opportunity to agree when these were held, together with an opportunity to arrange a further session if they felt the need for one. The boundaries for the coaching sessions were largely set by their inclusion within the PLC module and it was anticipated that key issues facing the students as they progress through the module would form the basis of the various coaching sessions; it was suggested coaching sessions would occur at the start of the module, when students studied self directed change, when they underwent a personal audit, when they engaged in identifying their personal requirements and when they engaged in reviewing their development and outcomes from the module. 


Given that this was an experimental module, we offered funded places on the initial cohort. We recruited 10 students to the module, all aspiring head teachers, with their module fees paid for by via a grant to Carnegie Leaders in Learning. The students knew that the module was new and experimental, and would be delivered online with personal coaching, and agreed to take part.  The module operated over two semesters in 2010. 


What happened

Of the 10 students who signed up for the module, only two completed it to the point of assessment. Although there were several students with unforeseen personal, family and health issues, all the students had problems with the personalised curriculum area. The coaching element was much appreciated and the students were able to reflect on their personal development, but translating this into curriculum choices was difficult even for those who completed. In addition there was unexpected issues of digital literacy, with several students not engaging with the technology to the point of not reading email more than once a fortnight. As a result of the problems with what should have been an ideal learner group (education professionals at M level used to the concepts of coaching and personalisation in their professional context) we reviewed embedding personalisation in a module. However, it is interesting that one of the proposals of our student ambassadors is that the university introduce a coaching module in the first year of study so that students can use coaching throughout their course. This may therefore be a more fruitful approach: to focus on coaching and how it can benefit study overall rather than focus specifically on personalising the curriculum.


Benefits observed

Several students received coaching on the module and this was certainly considered to be the most valuable element of the process. One student described it as having been "empowering and increasing confidence". Another student took the model further and introduced it in their school as a way of helping staff support each other. Although the module results in and of themselves were disappointing, we have since been able to use components of the module and the resources, to work with other students and staff in providing coaching support. They have also been picked up more widely with requests from other educators to use the resources we have produced and in excess of 25,000 hits for our video-based resources on Youtube. We therefore provide the details of the module, so that other course teams interested in considering a module-based approach can adapt and adopt the elements that they find most useful. 


Remaining challenges

We had initially hoped to revise this approach with a new cohort, this activity was overtaken by events in the University, including a complete change of senior management and, with it, institutional priority, so we were unable to do this. The remaining challenge is how to design coaching into the curriculum so that students have sufficient exposure early in their studies to allow them to reap the benefits throughout. The module-based approach is one that we still consider worth pursuing in the right context (a view supported by our students). An alternative approach is show-cased in the Sport Business Management case study.


For those considering this approach, it is important to remember that adopting such a radically different approach to curriculum creation will constitute a threat to many academic and administrative staff within the university. What they will see are the operational, pedagogic and administrative problems surrounding such a significant change to teaching students. In particular they are likely to raise questions about validating such individually designed awards; which Faculty will students belong to if they are studying modules across the university, how will resources and staff be costed to deliver this approach, where will the university get sufficient coaches from to support this approach and so forth. A further issue is likely to revolve around the perception of staff that everyone does coaching as part of their teaching and student support activities already so why should we make such a big thing of coaching.


The approach of embedding the coaching and self development elements of a student’s learning within a credit-bearing module enables its inclusion within existing programmes of study with minimal change i.e. awards are achieved through accumulating credit and successful completion of a coaching module will result in students receiving the relevant number of credits towards their award. Similarly the issue of resourcing the module and hence its costing model can be accommodated using the standard costing model (whatever that is) within each Faculty. Here the  module would assist students to choose modules either from an agreed set of modules or from modules offered to all students across the university (cross Faculty modules). Introducing personalised curriculum creation in this way should prove less threatening to all staff. Once the approach is in use as a module embedded in programmes across the university, the possibility of moving to a situation where students enrol on the module only rather than on an award where the module is embedded would be the next step. This would enable students to choose a truly individual and personalised set of studies. A crucial element of the PLC module is a rationalisation of their study choices by a student to ensure that they can defend these against requirements such as the coherence of the proposed studies and the appropriateness of level of study.


Key points of practice

This approach provides the students with an introduction to developmental coaching and what it means to be a client undergoing such a process. In order to appreciate the coaching process and be able to reflect on its impact, students are introduced to what is effective coaching hence they meet and discuss the issues involved in planning the sessions, agreeing or contracting what it is they expect from the sessions, what they can expect from their coach and so forth. It is important that they see the coach as a facilitator who most likely will have little or no subject knowledge of their profession. It is equally important that they are able to develop a rapport with their coach and have sufficient trust in them to be frank and honest during the coaching sessions.


On a reciprocal basis the coach needs to be able to demonstrate the coaching competencies of active listening, effective questioning, developing rapport, having an awareness of the client and their responses, and recognising where and when to use appropriate tools and techniques to help the client move forward. Depending on the skill set of staff, this may require additional staff development in the first instance, to develop them as coaches. 


A crucial element of the coaching activity is to ensure that each student feels comfortable and confident in expressing their views and knowledge; secure in the knowledge that the conversation is non-judgemental and that the coach will treat the client with respect, integrity and dignity. It is equally important that the client does not feel inhibited within the coaching relationship by prior interaction, line management or other organisational constraints. While it is unlikely that there will be organisational or line management issues between the coach and the students as clients, there is a potential issue where the coach is also an assessor of the students at the end of the module. While it is possible for a member of staff to hold both roles, it is extremely important that the students don’t see this as meaning that they must tell say what is expected i.e. give the ‘right’ answer, so the coach needs to take pains to ensure the student's self confidence is strong enough for them to feel able to speak openly and freely within the coaching relationship.


Induction of students into a coaching process needs to include information relating to the absolute confidentiality of the coaching sessions and the degree of control the students have of the agenda and what is discussed. Students need to understand that they set the agenda and have control of each session (assuming this is the case) – they can choose not to follow a discussion theme if they wish and that the coach will check to see if they are happy to pursue topics or agree to change expectations if that is what is arising from the conversation. Similarly they agree what they expect from each session and have the opportunity to review and reflect on the outcomes of each session in line it those expectations.


On a parallel though potentially conflicting theme it is possible that what the students identify as best for them may actually not include their current study and this is not in an institution’s best interests. Again students need to feel comfortable that this is an acceptable outcome and the institution needs to have mechanisms in place to ensure that it can learn from this.


Clearly one facet of establishing a good rapport with the students as clients is to ensure that they understand and agree the purpose of the coaching sessions with respect to themselves. This can be achieved through a variety of communication activities including the use of a clear and simple contract at the start of a coaching relationship in which the expectations of coach and client are stated. Similarly providing students with a brief summary of key points from each session together with any agreed outcomes in a written form between sessions can help to promote trust and strengthen the rapport between the coach and the students as clients.


A critical element of the coaching sessions will be the ability of the coach to be aware of the students’ responses; not only the words they are uttering but the physical changes they may show and also the emotional impact of the interaction on the coach. In recognising and responding to emotional responses it is likely that the coach will be able to help the client pursue issues at lower more ‘instinctive’ or ‘natural’ levels rather than keep the conversation on a high, ‘removed’ more abstract and less challenging level. It is important that the coach uses all information available to them to help the client become aware of surface and underlying issues and to challenge the client when they appear to be unaware or ignore such things.


The words a client uses will demonstrate their preferences and it is imperative that the coach recognises and uses these to help ensure coach and client are working together and not talking at cross purposes. Examples here would include whether the client preferred to talk about things at an abstract level, or whether they had visual preferences or audio preferences. These might be shown by the client using phrases such as ‘what I see..’ or ‘I’m hearing...’. The coach can use similar phrases in conversation to help strengthen the rapport with the client. As ever the stronger the rapport between coach and client the greater the level openness and honesty the client will use when working with their coach.


Useful information

To support this module we produced a significant set of reusable learning resources on coaching, adult learning, self-directed change and personalisation. 


[1] The Leitch Review of skills (2006), Prosperity for all in the Global Economy – world class skills, available at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/leitch_finalreport051206.pdf


[2] Atherton J S (2005) Teaching and Learning: Curriculum. http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/curriculum.htm




Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.