E-Coaching:
Connecting Learners to Solutions

By Gerald Marino


E-coaching is the process for connecting distance coaches to clients through technology and distance communication methods. Some use the term e-coaching interchangeably with distance coaching or distance mentoring (telementoring.) Few practitioners differentiate e-coaching from distance coaching since normal coaching practice combines all distance coaching channels (telephone, video conferencing, e-mail, online chat sessions, knowledge bases, instant messaging, etc.); but e-coaches who employ all appropriate and available distance channels to provide ongoing support gain many benefits. E-coaches can work asynchronously with clients who may be across the globe; they can draw on electronic support systems such as knowledge bases and data repositories; they can connect clients to experts with specific knowledge of the content in question and they can collect data and develop trends from all their electronic transactions.

E-coaching is starting to make an impact in three distinct areas-business, sports, and schools and education. All areas are finding benefits and these include:

  • Customized and tailored performance consulting and support from a distance
  • Contact with global experts and leaders in specific information domains
  • Transfer and ongoing reinforcement of training skills and knowledge
  • Access to vast amounts of content in knowledge bases
  • Collaboration with peers having similar challenges in other geographic areas
  • Digital collection and storage of performance data gathered over time

Research Supports E-Coaching Theories
There is minimal quantitative research or empirical evidence on the effectiveness of e-coaching (distance coaching) vs. face-to-face coaching or on the benefits and gains of e-coaching. Most analysis on coaching in general and e-coaching is qualitative and self-reported by practitioners. However, information from practitioners claims several benefits for e-coaching/distance coaching relationships and the limited research conducted reports gains: Goldsmith and Morgan (2003) showed that "feedback or coaching by phone worked just about as well as feedback or coaching in person." Wentling and Wang (2001) established that e-coaching can have significant impact, positive and negative, on transfer of training; Wadsworth (2001) demonstrated that the specific communications methods employed in distance coaching can also improve e-coaching results in training transfer; Bennett, Tsikalas, Hupert, Meade, and Honey (1998) reported that distance mentors (telementors) helped high school students make science, engineering, and computing career choices.

Linda Miller, Director of Coaching Services for The Ken Blanchard Companies (www.coaching.com) reports success with e-coached (distance coached) clients she has never met in person. These clients worked through very challenging situations via phone conversations and e-mail contact. With many clients, the entire coaching relationship and experience was developed over the phone or online without any face-to-face interaction.

Best Practices for E-coaching Success
A review of the literature, the Internet, and discussion with practitioners reveals that e-coaching can have a positive impact in performance improvement situations where coaches and clients set specific goals and measure results. These situations include transfer of training, project support, goal setting, leadership development and change management programs.

The key (reported) ingredients of successful e-coaching are:

  1. E-coaches must extend effective coaching skills and practice with intelligent use of technology. The foundation for e-coaching success starts with mutual respect and a trusting relationship between coach and client. E-coaches must be skilled at developing and sustaining such a relationship at a distance using electronic methods, strategies and techniques.
  2. E-coaching motivation needs to come from the client and have management or administrative support. Clients and coaches must engage in collaborative goal setting and agenda creation for the experience to succeed. The e-coach can then assist the client and help them stay accountable for the goals set.
  3. E-coaches need to follow a structure or process supported by technology. Coaches and clients need to work through specific content or stated goals. Exchanges need to be planned, scheduled and structured to be effective. Follow up and summary by e-mail or other electronic methods helps clients stay on track and keeps coaches apprised of task and goal status.
  4. E-coaches do not need to be experts but need to effectively direct clients to solutions and problem solving resources-other experts, knowledge bases, materials, etc. Clients expect e-coaches (and all distance coaches) to help problem solve and provide resources for problem solutions. E-coaches are expected to have appropriate electronic tools and direct clients to online or physical resources to work through problems and issues.
  5. E-coaches and clients need to use all appropriate, available and cost effective communication media. Wadsworth (2001) reports that clients and e-coaches will use communications channels they are comfortable with and suited for the situation's context and purpose. Thus e-coaches need expertise and access to communication media that support the content and context of the exchange. This may mean e-mail or telephone is fine for many exchanges but e-coaches should have access to groupware, instant messaging, online conferencing or group collaboration software for specific situations.

E-coaching extends the limits of effective coaching
E-coaches can't expect to be effective without the coaching skills found in effective face-to-face coaches. The requirements for overall coaching success apply to e-coaching; but when e-coaches use the powerful tools afforded by the Internet, e-mail, online chat, instant messaging, collaboration tools, online conferencing and knowledge bases they extend the limits of time, distance and scale of face-to-face coaching. They greatly extend their power and effectiveness as a coach and increase the benefits, value and gains they deliver to clients.

References

Bennett, D., Tsikalas, K., Hupert, N., Meade, T., Honey, M. (1998 ). The Benefits of Online Mentoring for High School Girls: Telementoring Young Women in Science, Engineering, and Computing Project - Year 3 Evaluation, Center for Children and Technology, Project Report 771, retrieved January 28, 2004 from http://www2.edc.org/CCT/publications_report_summary.asp?numPubId=77 .

Goldsmith, M. and Morgan, H. (2003), Increasing Leadership Effectiveness: A review of leadership development practices of 8 major corporations, retrieved January 22, 2004 from http://www.marshallgoldsmith.com/html/articles/increasing.html.

Miller, L. (personal communications January 30, 2004.)

Wadsworth, A. (2001). Analysis of the Use of Internet-Based Communication Technology for Online Post-Training Coaching, ProQuest Digital Dissertations, (UMI NO. AAT 3017240), retrieved online January 23, 2004 from http://80-wwlib.umi.com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/dissertations/fullcit/3017240.

Wang, L. (2001), The Relationship Between Distance Coaching and The Transfer of Training, Academy of Human Resource Development, Conference Proceedings (Tulsa, OK, February 28- March 4, 2001), Volumes 1 and 2.

Author Note

 

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