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Feature: Logging on to Coaching


InternetKeith Dixon Knowledge Architect at Acadamee looks at the pros and cons of e-coaching.

Let’s begin with a definition of e-coaching: A two-way communication between a coach and coachee that is enabled through the use of technology, whether it be e-mail, telephone, online chat or bulletin board.

This is clumsy, but accurate.

E-learning has become a popular method of training. Recognising that despite the many advantages of e-learning, people still need the human touch in some form, e-learning providers have worked hard to connect people with each other.

So what are the issues involved in e-coaching? What are the benefits and difficulties of e-coaching, and what are the skills needed to provide a good service?

In addition to the straightforward benefit of providing the student with a human point of contact, a good e-coach can help the student come to terms with their learning in exactly the same way that a good tutor or coach can. By asking relevant questions, challenging assumptions, adding context and forcing the student to apply theory to their own practice, the e-coach can add depth and understanding to whatever content is being delivered.

Where qualifications or assessments are involved, the e-coach can act as a sounding-board and sanity check for the student, so that their work is validated or challenged before being submitted for assessment. Our experience at Academee, where we deliver the Chartered Management Institute’s Certificate and Diploma in Management, is that this is the most valued part of the e-coach’s role. For many students, online learning is a journey into the unknown and often a return to education after some years, so the advice and guidance of their e-coach is invaluable.

The major difficulties of e-coaching relate to time – there’s usually a lag in the contact between coach and coachee (unless it’s being facilitated by telephone) with the result that gaps open up for misunderstanding, delayed reaction, the need for repetition for clarification and all the other issues that are created when communication is mediated by electronic means. In addition, coachees can be very demanding.

Although it’s standard practice to create a contract saying something along the lines of ‘We promise to get back in touch within 24 hours,’ students can be impatient if they’re waiting to get feedback on their assignment.

E-coaching skills
In many ways there are few differences between the skills needed by an e-coach and those required of a face-to-face coach: enthusiasm, empathy, objectivity are primary skills, together with a certain facility with electronic media (email, chat rooms, bulletin boards). Where the e-coaching is providing via email or written media, the ability to write clearly and explain potentially complex issues in simple terms is obviously an advantage.

It’s usually the case that a face-to-face coach need not have any knowledge of the individual’s work or day-to-day tasks – a coaching process such as GROW (Goals, Reality, Options, Will) is generally sufficient to focus the coachee on what they need to achieve and how they’re going to do it. While this might form the backbone to an e-coaching session, it’s equally likely that specific content knowledge might be required too, especially where qualifications or assessments are concerned. Hence the e-coach is likely to be someone who is broadly experienced, has had some face-to-face coaching history and is happy – or at least willing – to work at a keyboard.

The use of e-coaching is expanding month on month. Client organisations see it as a way of providing personal and professional development to their staff, and e-learning providers see it as a way of adding value to their offering and ensuring that the content they’re supplying is understood and contextualised.

There are still issues to be resolved around costs (how are e-coaches to be paid – for each contact, an hour’s work, or each group of students?). Take-up is also an issue, encouraging students to contact someone they haven’t met can be problematic. But as the use of electronic media and e-learning begins to permeate the training environment, these issues are likely to be swept away by a growing understanding of the benefits that a good e-coach can provide.


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