Add Coaching Sessions to Online Learning Programs for a Market Advantage

Until recently, executives or aspiring leaders were usually the only people you knew who worked with coaches, but that’s changing. According to a study by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), millennials are the generation most likely to have participated in a coaching relationship. Many companies now offer coaching as a benefit to employees of all levels.

Coaching has become a popular tool for professional and personal change and growth. Many associations and for-profit education providers now offer coaching sessions as part of their online learning programs, either built into the program design or offered as a premium upgrade. The lifelong learning market is ready and eager for coaching.

man talking online with a woman during one of their coaching sessions

Why add coaching sessions to online learning programs

Coaching adds value to and differentiates your online learning programs from the competition—unless they’re already doing it too. With the help of coaching sessions, learners see better results. They’re more likely to apply what they’ve learned and better understand what to do next in their professional development. ICF says individuals increase their productivity by an average of 86% when training is combined with coaching, compared to just 22% with training alone.

Jen Lewi, vice president of career development and conferences at the School Nutrition Association, spoke about coaching’s impact on learning in an episode of the Leading Learning podcast. With coaching, you can personalize education. Lewi said coaches hold learners accountable for applying what they’ve learned and changing their behavior. Coaching helps people:

•    Articulate their values.
•    Identify and leverage their strengths.
•    Uncover new awareness and a better understanding of themselves.
•    Address limiting beliefs.
•    Receive the feedback they need to progress.

Thanks to coaching, learners leave your programs not only with new competencies but also with new self-awareness and confidence. Leadership development programs would especially benefit from coaching sessions that help leaders and aspiring leaders unlock their potential, overcome challenges, and explore new behaviors.

Where to find coaches for online learning programs

You have two options: contract with professional coaches or train volunteers to provide coaching services.

Consider using volunteer coaches for early-career programs since learners would appreciate getting to know industry veterans. In the AASA National Superintendent Certification Program®, cohort members are matched for one-to-one coaching with veteran or recently retired superintendents.  

Offer a volunteer coach training program as a perk of membership—free or deeply discounted if the volunteer commits to a specific number of coaching hours. Don’t be surprised if you get lots of sign-ups. These skills are useful at work, especially for managers who need to know how to coach employees, an increasingly required skill.

Contract with professional coaches for mid-career and beyond professionals. The Virtual Executive Program at the American College of Healthcare Executives offers cohorts for three types of positions. The online interactive sessions are supplemented by individual coaching sessions.

the hands of a person taking notes during one of their online coaching sessions

How to add coaching sessions to online learning programs

Offer individual and group coaching sessions as part of the program price, like the Transportation Intermediaries Association does for their Small Broker Coaching Program. This program includes a mix of pre-recorded online content plus live coaching sessions conducted via Zoom. Learners work both independently and in small group settings with each of the three program coaches. They meet every two weeks with coaches and their cohort peers during the four-month program.

You could also offer what Lewi calls post-training coaching. For example, learners who have taken soft skills training can work with a coach to help personalize and apply what they’ve learned.  

For on-demand, self-paced online courses, learners can pay a premium to have access to a coach for a specific number of sessions. Lewi calls this the coach-struction model. At the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, learners complete coursework and assignments on their own before attending weekly coaching sessions, in which they get help with coursework and career issues.

In many cohort programs, peers coach each other in the Mastermind style or receive coaching from industry veterans, like the AASA program. The other option, of course, is building professional coaching sessions into the program price. In a post Jen Lewi wrote for Leading Learning, she described the private membership network for women, Chief. Its “hyper-curated” core groups of eight to ten members meet online monthly with an executive coach.

Coaching ensures that learners retain and apply new competencies and change their on-the-job behavior, which is why people pursue professional development.

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