4 Ways Digital Coaching Enhances Learning

Recently, a colleague and I were debating the merits of mainstream education. I thought back to a subject in which I had done very well during my final exams: I ‘parrot studied’ in preparation for the exam, then forgot everything about it as soon as I stepped out of the exam room. The goal was simply to pass, and to that end, the learning process was successful. But did it challenge my worldview? Did it shape my thinking and behavior? Definitely not.

In contrast, during my internship I had a brilliant lecturer/supervisor who took on a coaching approach rather than the traditional teaching method I’d been accustomed to. When presented with a theory, instead of simply explaining it to the class and leaving us to study our notes, she got us to participate in investigative dialogue. When I stated my view, instead of being told I was right or wrong, I was presented with another question. And then another and another.

Sometimes these questions would help me gain clarity on what I already knew about a subject, and other times they would reveal a gap in my thinking. This new realization would lead me to readjust my view on the topic, and readjust my behavior to match my new perspective.

Based on my experience with each style of learning, I came to realize that the most valuable learnings in my life have come from a coaching relationship. Yet, traditional teaching methods prevail in many online learning programs. So how can you take the essence of coaching and apply it to your learning program to enhance the learning outcomes? Here are four areas to consider.

Who is the expert?

In a typical instructor-led training session there’s usually a facilitator at the front of the room who has all the answers. We need to know those answers to pass some standard, and the facilitator shows us how to arrive at them. There’s typically one path to get there, and if we pay close enough attention to what the facilitator tells us, we’ll learn how.

This type of learning focuses on transferring information from the facilitator to the learner, placing the facilitator in the ‘expert’ position. This approach is effective in some cases, such as learning a multi-step process, but not in learning about new ideas or concepts, which can be understood and applied in many different ways.

Transferring information is a necessary step in learning behavior and mindset change, but it’s certainly not enough.

In coaching, we see a more collaborative relationship: the coach shares information with the coachee, but the emphasis is on the coachee’s feedback. The coachee’s feedback is valued as much as the coach’s, placing the coach and the learner on the same level: it is a collaborative relationship that does not assume that one person is more competent than the other. There are no right or wrong answers, only what works for the coachee and what doesn’t work.

Who sets the learning outcomes?

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.” – Seymour Papert

In training, the lesson is planned around the learning outcomes set by the facilitator. A shortcoming of this is that the learning is rigid and can at times cage the learners in, not allowing them the space to explore their own thinking.

In contrast, when being coached, the coachee decides what the goal of the learning should be. The coach then designs a coaching program based on that goal and provides a supportive role. In this way, the learning is moulded to suit the needs of the learner, not the other way around. This also allows the learner the space to explore their own thinking and develop their own conclusions and action points, making the learning more meaningful and memorable.

Information vs experience

The focus in many training programs is on showing the learner the best way to do or understand something based on facts, or an expert’s experience, whereas coaching focuses more on the learner’s own (and arguably more relevant) experience in their unique context.

Again, this ties in with my coaching experience during my internship. In counselling, there are so many rules and ethical guidelines to abide by. I studied those (in parrot fashion) until I knew them by heart, but when it came down to it, it wasn’t always clear to me how to apply those rules in specific cases. Through coaching, I was able to deepen my understanding by relating the rules and guidelines to my own experience. This allowed me to practically apply them to a variety of contexts.


A major upside to training is that its generalized and directive nature allows it to be done at scale, whereas coaching is usually limited by its one-on-one nature. Fortunately, digital coaching has opened up a space in which we can combine the best of teaching and coaching on a massive scale. The Cognician platform has achieved this through simulating a coaching relationship that is accessible to thousands of users around the world.

Learning on the Cognician platform

1. Who is the expert? The learner is considered the expert in their own context. The ‘coach’ makes no assumptions about them and does not assume to know better.

2. Who sets the learning outcomes? Although each program is designed with broader learning outcomes in mind, the user is encouraged to choose their own learning path and arrive at their own unique insights and learning outcomes. This makes the learning personalized and meaningful to the individual and helps to activate behavior change.

3. Information or experience? The platform uses expert-curated information, applied to the learner’s context, to coach the user.

4. Scalability The platform is highly accessible in terms of scalability, allowing thousands of users online at any given time.

Where do you think automated coaching might have the most value in your organization?

Are you ready to give your online learning the best possible start? Read 8 Proven Strategies for Great Elearning Implementations.