Unlocking potential – Coaching’s role in optimising workplace L&D

22nd August by Karen Smart

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Is content really king when it comes to effective workplace learning and development programmes? With 99% of large employers experiencing the failure of in-house training programmes over the last five years, is there a better way of supporting your L&D strategy with a means of embedding learning more successfully?

Coaching in the context of adult learning can act as a powerful form of scaffolding that supports and guides learners as they acquire new skills, knowledge and perspectives. Scaffolding in education, refers to the temporary support provided by a knowledgeable mentor or trainer to help learners reach higher levels of understanding and independence. Similarly, coaching serves as a structured framework that aids learners in achieving their learning goals in a personalised and effective manner.

The scaffolding theory is based on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) concept of educational psychology which was devised in the 1930s. It represents ‘the space between what the learner is capable of doing unsupported and what the learner cannot do even with support. It is the range where the learner is able to perform, but only with the support of a teacher or a peer with more knowledge or expertise.’

Although it was developed in relation to the education of children, it is also a useful lens to apply in the context of learning in the workplace. For example, a group of colleagues working in a learning circle on a shared problem provides each individual access to support that can assist them in performing beyond what they can do on their own. Group coaching or mentoring also offers similar supportive opportunities.

Building on Vygotsky’s work, Jerome Bruner created the scaffolding theory in the 1950s to describe the process where the learner is given support from an instructor which is then gradually removed as the learner’s skills increase. The idea being that the scaffolding provides enough support so that the learner feels challenged, but not beyond their current level of capability.

Both of these theories can help us shape learning experiences and resources that can focus on the skills development and coaching can function as effective scaffolding in learning and development for many reasons.

The first is personalisation in that coaching takes into consideration the individual needs, preferences and learning styles of adult learners. Coaches tailor their approach to match the unique characteristics of each learner thereby ensuring that the support provided is relevant and engaging.

Coaching also serves well with goal clarity. Coaches or managers as coach work with the learner to set clear and achievable learning goals. This acts as the foundation for the learning journey and helps the learner to stay focused and motivated.

The use of reflective practice is also a central part of the coaching approach. Learners are encouraged to reflect on their experiences and learning progress. This reflective practice enhances self-awareness and allows the individual to make connections between theory and real-life application.

Through one-on-one interactions, coaching can also assist learners in developing specific skills. Breaking down complex concepts into manageable steps can enable the learner to gradually build up their expertise and confidence.

A coaching approach also lends itself well to fostering accountability for the learner and their own learning journey. Making space for regular check-ins and progress updates help the learner stay on track and remain dedicated to their goals. It also helps build up crucial soft skills such as problem solving because the learner is encouraged to find their own solutions so this is pivotal in building independent thinking and decision-making skills.

In-house training programmes can be beset with a number of challenges around their planning, design, delivery and evaluation. By augmenting learning and development with coaching, some of these challenges such as ensuring that the programme is engaging and keeps learners invested in their own development can be easily overcome. It can help create meaningful progression pathways and enable L&D professionals to assess the impact the training has had on operational and financial performance. It can also help bolster statistics like take-up rates, satisfaction levels and improve completion versus dropout levels.

In essence, coaching provides a structured, yet highly flexible framework that scaffolds the learner’s growth by offering a personalised approach, targeted skill development and continuous improvement and support. It creates a dynamic learning environment which encourages independent thinking, self-directed learning and lasting transformation. So whether it is acquiring new skills or navigating career transitions, coaching really does play a valuable role in the facilitation of and embedding of learning.