Thursday, September 17, 2009

Personal Learning Coaches for College Students

One of the things that is jumping out at me as I teach a seminar class for Honors students is that students need their thinking critiqued and that if they feel the person providing the critique is earnest and sensitive to their needs, while also being critical where appropriate, then the student very much wants the coaching. I hadn't planned to serve in the role of learning coach before the course started. After a week or so into the semester, it seemed like a necessary thing for some of the students. In one case it appeared that the student was making intellectual errors of a certain sort. The student needs extensive practice with a different approach to remedy the problem. In a couple of other cases it was more a matter of confidence. The students were under performing and needed feedback and reassurance that they were ok, while at the same time getting a critique of their early work, which was not up to par.

Such coaching in the context of a seminar class is perhaps a natural extension of the course work. But this seminar is for a small group of elite students. What about having a learning coach for any student who wanted that. This may be a moronic idea because there could be quite a few students who would want such a thing if it were available, and the activity is labor intensive. If an instructor in the role of coach devotes an hour or two per week to a student, above and beyond the instructors other obligations, then the instructor probably can take on at most 2 or 3 students at a time. The student/faculty ratio here is on the order of 20:1. So it would seem impossible to do this for one and all.

One way to get the numbers in balance is to offer the coaching say for one semester only, perhaps when the students are juniors. If an instructor can take on between 4 and 6 students per year, having a different crop in the spring than in the fall, then that gets it closer to being do-able from a bean counting perspective. And doing it in the junior year, the coaching could be viewed as a way to continue on with general education values as the students delves into the major.

Why would faculty and students participate in a coaching program? On my campus the shoe has yet to drop as a consequence of the State of Illinois' fiscal woes. That will happen soon enough. When it does, the consequences are likely to be many and just about each will seem for the worse - larger classes, faculty and staff taking on greater burdens, fewer support staff overall, greater student alienation, etc. It will then start occurring to some that to prevent the situation from imploding entirely, many of us have to step up and do still more.

In doing a few Google searches in preparation for writing this piece, I found a college that uses learning coaches as a faculty development approach. Suppose we started to do that too, both to get more faculty sensitive about their own teaching and to get them ready to serve as learning coaches for students. It would take a while to get a critical mass of instructors, some who would serve as models of what a personal learning coach for students is like, the others to coach the next cohort of would-be coaches. But if it worked in the early stages, I see no reason why it couldn't ramp up on its own, particularly if everyone who does it is volunteering. Perhaps after it grew sufficiently it would need a staff person to manage logistics. Otherwise the program could be run in a very Spartan way resource-wise.

I've written elsewhere of the Peter Drucker argument that we should all have two careers, one that is for pay and enables us to put food on the table and a roof over head, the other as a volunteer so we can express our sense of social responsibility. Instituting a program of personal learning coaches for students would be a way to enable that for faculty and encourage students to be reflective about their own learning in a way that is not tied to any particular course. I'm intrigued by this possibility.


skookum said...


I coach, including students. I'd coach them to coach each other and learn through the process. Just shift the coach-staff model you mentioned to another level - where the students coach each other.

todd said...

This is a great idea, Skook. Faculty could lead the way along with excellent students who are already motivated. A training model that "coaches the coach" could spread quite rapidly. I have always thought that students and faculty alike should get and take credit in study skills and/or development. In other words, Faculty get 1 credit, students take 1 credit each semester to provide coaching and receive student success training.

Lanny Arvan said...

I can see two possible approaches and I wonder which is better. Suppose students take multiple courses. They could have a different coach in each course. Alternatively, they could have a single coach across all the course with perhaps a different object for the coaching.

vishnuprasath said...

Education is a must for everyone,
only then a person will communicate and face problems easily in all aspects.
Plenty of jobs openings
are there but it is meant only for the right candidate,
its the right time to develop new skills to become one of the right person what the organization expects.

willson said...

If I were to wager a guess at why, I’d say that users don’t “browse” forms. The interaction style users engage in with forms is different, and requires its own study and design best practices.
latest technology