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Ecoaching: how it works

Let’s begin with a definition of ecoaching:

A two-way communication between a Coach and Coachee that is enabled through the use of technology, whether it be email, telephone, online chat or bulletin board.

This is clumsy, but accurate.

With the rise of elearning, ecoaching has become a popular way of replicating the relationship between trainer and student. Recognizing that despite the many advantages of elearning, people still need the human touch in some form; elearning providers have worked hard to connect people with each other.

So what are the issues involved in ecoaching? What are the benefits and difficulties of ecoaching and what are the skills needed to provide a good ecoaching service? Benefits In addition to the straightforward benefit of providing the student with a human point of contact, a good ecoach 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 ecoach can add depth and understanding to whatever content is being delivered. Where qualifications or assessments are involved, the ecoach 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 Academe, where we deliver the Chartered Management Institute’s Certificate and Diploma in Management, is that this is the most valued part of the ecoach’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 ecoach is invaluable.

Difficulties

The major difficulties of ecoaching 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, Coaches 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!

Ecoaching skills

In many ways there are few differences between the skills needed by an ecoach 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 ecoaching 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 ecoaching session, it’s equally likely that specific content knowledge might be required too, especially where qualifications or assessments are concerned. Hence the ecoach 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 ecoaching is expanding month on month. Client organizations see it as a way of providing personal and professional development to their staff, and elearning providers see it as a way of adding value to their offering and ensuring that the content they’re supplying is understood and contextualized. There are still issues to be resolved around costs (how are ecoaches to be paid – for each contact? for an hour’s work? for each group of students?) and take-up (encouraging students to contact someone they haven’t met can be problematic). But as the use of electronic media and elearning begins to permeate the training environment, these issues are likely to be swept away by a growing understanding of the benefits that a good ecoach can provide.

By: Keith Dixon, Knowledge Architect

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