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What is a Virtual Learning Coach and Why Your Organization Needs One

Sometime about 2 years ago, your learning & development organization istockphoto-1297518021-612x612faced the enormous challenge of implementing virtual training – for many organizations. It was the first time they’d ever seen the “inside” of a virtual classroom. Back then, it was remarkable if your learner audience completed a live online virtual instructional delivery thinking, “wow, I got a lot out of that training.”

Enter the Virtual Learning Coach, The Expert in Your Organization's Virtual Learning Success 

Today, virtual training is ubiquitous, and now it is remarkable if your virtual instructional delivery is marginal – learners expect effective, efficient learning delivered via the virtual classroom. Now more than ever, it’s critical for training professionals to master the virtual classroom. To develop a strong internal virtual training capability, virtual training stakeholders across the organization need to be ready to assess, coach, and develop individuals new to virtual classroom support, or those who are performing marginally. The Virtual Learning Coach can lead the organization to virtual classroom excellence, but only if they have the skills to identify opportunities for improvement and provide feedback in a meaningful way. 

What is a Virtual Learning Coach®?

Failure to achieve learning objectives (and the organizational objectives driving them) in virtual learning is not because the virtual classroom is a placeholder until we can get back to in-person training – instead, it’s because the instructional team is probably not used to leveraging all of the capabilities of the virtual classroom to enhance the instructional experience. Bad habits learned early in the pandemic are now likely limiting your capacity to achieve virtual learning excellence, and the Virtual Learning Coach is the solution. 

A Virtual Learning Coach is not an instructor, but rather an expert in Virtual Learning techniques and practices that can ask you the right questions to propel you forward in the “art” of virtual instruction. They focus on the instructor and their efficacy in the virtual learning environment. Together the coach and virtual learning professional identify weak areas, and develop approaches to remediate them, all with an eye to aligning the instructional experience to the desired outcome.   

A Virtual Learning Coach is a type of internal learning consultant, and the focus of the instructional coaching is helping your L&D colleagues master the virtual classroom. Notably, the Virtual Learning Coach has the advantage of already being well-versed in the L&D practice, the organization, and its training needs.  If properly trained as a coach to provide meaningful, measurable formative feedback, the net effect is to “raise the bar” for all L&D practitioners in the organization.  

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Supporting The “People to People” Approach to Virtual Learning

Achievement of virtual learning excellence embraces learner engagement as part of its approach – at the end of the day, the learner outcomes that depend on effective instructional experiences rely on the efficacy and engagement of the learners.  Engagement of learners allows for more activities, more human connection through high level interaction/collaboration, and enhanced learning outcomes.  Maximizing engagement means virtual classroom designs and implementation remembering that the instructional experience may not be “face-to-face" but MUST be “people-to-people.”  This engagement method can be summarized in five steps: 

  1. Identify learner intent and its relationship to the intent of the instructional experience 
  2. Allow learner intent to influence the instructional delivery 
  3. Allow the instructional delivery to inform application 
  4. Ensure the application informs practice 
  5. Provide opportunities for the practice to develop mastery 

How can a Virtual Learning Coach Help Your Organization Achieve Virtual Excellence? 

Coaching is the key to getting employees to take their self-reflection and move it to self-improvement and ultimately to move into virtual instructional excellence. InSync’s Inquire Engagement Framework® adopts coaching methodologies and techniques developed in research and tailors them for the virtual instructor and the unique environment of the virtual classroom. The coaching objectives are aligned and support the following goals: 

  • Identify and explore opportunities for virtual classroom designers, facilitators, and producers to maximize learner engagement so they can all enhance learner outcomes.  
  • Nurture the evaluation of individual instructional performance within the virtual classroom using established measures. 
  • Assist in the increase of overall competence of your virtual training team through collaborative and social peer-modeled performance. 
  • Guide and sustain a culture of continuous improvement instructional practice. 
  • Foster individual awareness of personal instructional strengths, and areas where instructional practice needs assistance.
  • Ensure the People to People approach to engagement is applied in all design, delivery, and support of all Virtual Instructional Practices 

Six Things You Need to Know About Being A Virtual Learning Coach 

If implementing a virtual learning coach practice appears to be a logical step for your organization, there are some initial best practices that should inform your implementation: 

  1. Virtual Learning Coaches should be treated as learning consultants, insofar as they’re at least partially removed from the day-to-day instructional practice.  
  2. Virtual Learning Coaches should be intimately familiar with the virtual classroom platform in use at your organization and its capabilities. 
  3. Similarly, Virtual Learning Coaches should be intimately familiar with best practices for instructional delivery and learner engagement in the virtual classroom.  
  4. Formative feedback provided by a Virtual Learning Coach is NOT assessment, but rather a means of establishing a path to excellence recognized by the individual being coached. 
  5. The training of a Virtual Learning Coach should focus on the development of providing formative feedback based on established and well-understood measures.  
  6. Coaching practices are based on establishing mutual respect and rapport between the Virtual Learning Coach and the instructor. 

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Measurement and Coaching 

Having an observation and evaluation process as part of your professional development plan is very important to get to Virtual Excellence. A meaningful practice requires a set of achievable and consistent measures directed at the delivery of instruction in the virtual classroom that are separate and distinct for the subject matter being taught – the measures should focus on techniques, methods, and strategies in the virtual classroom that enhance learner engagement and outcomes. The Virtual Learning Coach® approach to improvement draws on research in individual psychology, tailored for the role of instructor in the virtual classroom. The Virtual Learning Coach® process follows four basic steps: 

Step 1: Self-Assessment and Observation

All coaching interventions should start with self-assessment and observation to establish a common understanding of the current state of the individual’s instructional practice. 

Step 2: Identification of Opportunities for Improvement

Identification of specific, achievable, and measurable interventions by both the coach and coachee in the short-mid-, and long-term timeframes drive goals directed at evolving instructional practice to excellence. 


Step 3: Review and Refinement

A periodic review of progress against performance goals allows the Virtual Learning Coach and individual instructor to identify gains and resulting learner outcome improvements. As instructional practice is enhanced, new measures may be brought in to continue a path to virtual learning excellence. 

Step 4: Ongoing Assessment and Feedback

As the saying goes “ain’t none of us perfect” – even in the case of a highly effective instructional practice of an instructor, the virtual classroom environment itself is constantly evolving, bringing new capabilities and opportunities to enhance instructional practice, which requires an ongoing process of evaluation and improvement across the L&D function in the organization. A Virtual Learning Coach can guide coachees to develop and implement an evolving set of measurable standards that drive the organization to virtual excellence even as the playing field changes.  
 

Virtual Instructional Excellence is Achievable 

The path to virtual instructional excellence depends on many factors, but without a doubt the Virtual Learning Coach plays a pivotal role in getting there. It’s a separate and distinct role from collecting affective learner response data – it focuses on the instructional team and not on learner response. Focus on the learner to the exclusion of the instructional team misses half of the key players in the learning environment. A Virtual Learning Coach addresses this need and helps your organization achieve virtual learning excellence. 

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Published by Dr. Charles (Chip) Dye, Ph.D. September 1, 2022
Dr. Charles (Chip) Dye, Ph.D.