High Flying on South Africa’s First Online Business Coaching Course

By Dale Williams

Some years ago, after deciding that I wanted to fly aeroplanes, I enrolled in a local flight school at Cape Town International Airport. It was the start of a fascinating period of learning about everything that had happened since Wilbur and Orville left the ground nearly a century before.

My very patient instructor would help me to navigate my way through the other aircraft so that our tiny Cessna 152 could get into the skies over the west coast to practice turns, stalls, spins and recoveries from spiral dives.

Flying out of Cape Town had its unique challenges as I needed to be very sharp with my radio work while the control tower directed us through the other commercial traffic at the busy airport.

At the time it seemed like a tremendous overhead to have to do all this talking on the radio, when friends learning to fly at out of town or bush fields simply broadcast their intentions and took off.

The value of being adept on the radio only showed itself some years later when hearing pilots trained at country fields flying into larger airports stuttered their way through their radio calls.

The environment in which we learn plays a big role in what we learn. It struck me that there is much overlap between my learning to fly experience and a pioneering group of students who have just graduated from the UCT GetSmarter Foundations of Corporate Coaching course.

Having had my own experience of learning about coaching on the Middlesex Masters programme starting in 2002, and then having taught on various programmes, from introductory programmes for business leaders to Masters level at local universities, I was intrigued and curious when asked to convene the UCT GetSmarter Foundations of Corporate Coaching course earlier this year.

In this article I will share some of the significant learning that I have taken away from the experience with the hope that it may benefit others as coaching in South Africa continues to grow. Of particular interest is the growing international trend of complementing face-to-face coaching with an ever-increasing demand for telephone, teleconference and Skype coaching.

33 participants took part in the pioneer course that came about through an innovative partnership between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the trailblazers at GetSmarter, who have opened up the field of online learning over the last five years. Dr Suki Goodman from UCT oversaw all academic aspects of the programme, having seen the potential to use an online platform to teach business coaching.

Comparing this online course to the typical classroom learning experience is fascinating as there are very few aspects that are clearly superior in either format. There are many nuances that make for interesting learning about this new and evolving medium for education.

Below I describe five key areas of the online course and then offer a summary of the learning.


1. Coaching triads

It is typical in coach training for students to pair up and coach each other with a third person observing. This is done around a particular skill area that is then practiced in a short session followed by feedback by the observer.

In addition, coach training typically requires new coaches to coach each other outside of the classroom, reflecting or at least reporting back on their experiences. As this happens without any observation, learning is limited to self-reporting.page1image30008 page1image30168

We were fortunate in being able to combine the best aspects of both 'in classroom' and 'out of classroom' coach practice.

At the beginning of the course, each student was paired up with a partner. This two-person partnership remained in place throughout the course.

In each module a variety of multimedia formats such as video and written notes were used to explain a new concept or skill. This was followed by an assignment where students were given the opportunity to experiment with the new skills by coaching their partner.

Sessions were conducted with Skype and were recorded and uploaded to the GetSmarter learning platform. From there the recorded session was distributed to three random students who gave written feedback based on criteria covering the competencies taught on the course.

This is a highly effective learning approach as the feedback is available for review throughout the duration of the course together with the recording of the original session. Students can re- listen to their session with the benefit of the feedback, and the students who give feedback are gaining immense value through hearing three different peoples approach to the assignment.

As convener, I also gave feedback to a group of students each week, working my way through the entire class, so that by the end of the course everyone had had two reviews from me.


2. Reflection and learning

Students kept an electronic learning diary that was updated after each module. In the diary they answered simple questions about what they had learned and what they still needed to learn. This adult approach to learning was built in based on my experience of how effective this has been on non-online programmes.

As it was electronic we were able to add some interesting benefits to the learning diary such as allowing students the opportunity to easily review previous entries, side by side with their current reflections. This way, on a single page, they were able to see the progress they were making throughout the course.

From a teaching and evaluation perspective it allowed a very detailed assessment of learning, by correlating students' own evidence of learning with that demonstrated through their practice coaching.


3. Questions and answers

There is no easy substitute for face-to-face time with a knowledgeable faculty member when learning about coaching. Being able to ask any question and getting feedback from someone who has experience in the field of coaching is incredibly valuable.

In our online version of the course we wanted to provide the same experience while taking advantage of the benefits of an online learning platform. We were able to do this through the discussion forum where students could post their questions and I would answer them.

Although not as rich as a face to face experience, our forum offered other benefits such as allowing all students to engage in the questions in their own time, students providing their own rich and diverse answers to complement that of my own and offering more students the opportunity to interact and dialogue, as we were not limited by the linear nature of a classroom where the process is one question and then one answer.


4. Guest lecturers

We invited some of my colleagues to provide us with guest lectures on topics specific to their areas of expertise and interest. Each module had short snappy inserts from people such as Paddy Upton, who shared his views on coaching from the worlds of business and sport, Michelle Clarke on marketing yourself as a coach, and Dr Richard Oxtoby on the psychology of executive coaching.

Trying to organise the same experience in the classroom is of course possible but involves a significant amount of logistics to get the guest lecturer into a room at the same time as the students. In our online version, the short videos were recorded at the convenience of the guest lecturer and were available whenever students had the time to watch.

The videos now form a library available for future students. On the downside, students do not have the opportunity to ask questions of the guest lecturers as they would in a classroom situation.


5. Development of a personal coaching model

Students developed their own personal model of coaching over the duration of the course. This is in line with other courses where, rather than providing a specific way that students should coach, they are given many inputs and design their own unique model of coaching.

The journey is deeply personal and reflects a person's background, interests and ambitions as a coach. The online platform again provided us with an opportunity to do something unique here and we gave students an interface where after each module they completed an exercise, which assisted them in making explicit their personal coaching model.

As new insights and learning were integrated from the course so these were built into the model, so that by the end of the last module students had a coherent offering which they could use to explain their coaching proposition to potential clients and others.

With a focus on corporate and business coaching, the model required students to articulate their experiences in a business environment, their own personal background and their learning about coaching.

This was complemented with the desired outputs of their coaching which covered their plan to develop their practice, their specific approach to clients and sponsors together with how they would manage within a business system. Lastly, their personal coaching model covered their on-going growth and development as a coach.

Unintended consequences

I must add a sixth point here, a sixth sense perhaps. One of the unintended consequences of the course was the relationship that developed between the students as a result of the coaching pairs. Having coached each other each week and discussed, on either side of the coaching session, their triumphs and challenges from the course, many students commented at the end of the course how they would miss these regular coaching sessions. Many meaningful relationships developed as a result of the experience students had on the course.

Flying and coaching

When I was learning to fly, being exposed to complex radio work significantly helped my abilities later on and likewise students of the UCT GetSmarter Foundations of Coaching course are now equipped not only with key coaching skills, but they are also very familiar with coaching over Skype or a telephone. This positions them extremely well with the relevant skills and experience required in the growing telephone coaching market.page3image28512 page3image28672 page3image28832

This innovative way of delivering comprehensive coach training is new to South Africa and offers tremendous opportunities for people to learn about coaching. Students on the course came from a cross section of backgrounds. While some were aiming to launch their own coaching practices, many others were interested in using coaching skills in their own businesses, internally as part of an OD or HR function, and in sports coaching.

For aspirant coaches, the ability to work over the phone is becoming more and more of a critical skill. My colleagues in Europe and the United States report that it is very common to have entire coaching relationships over the phone or Skype without having ever met clients in person. This offers new opportunities for the field of coaching and those who embrace it and learn to use the technology in their training will be at an advantage.

Dale Williams is an Executive Coach and full member of the WABC.
He can be contacted for more information at: http://www.connecteddale.com

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Posted by WABC

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