PG Cert AP: Day 9

Back to the core module today, and in the morning session we discussed learning theories and how they are applied. One of my colleagues brought up research that people have a bias towards teaching in the way that best matches how they learn – something to be aware of. The learning theories we discussed can be grouped into four broad categories – behaviourist, cognitive, humanistic, and biological, and it was noted that while most of the work on learning theories has been done in the context of children’s learning, much of it also applies to adults.

The behaviourist school says that learning is built on previously learned behaviour, and should feature frequent and timely rewards and reinforcement. Notable theorists include Watson, Skinner and Pavlov. Cognitive theories argue that learning is a complex process that is constructed by the learner themselves, using new information to develop and transform existing knowledge. The work of Piaget was discussed, before moving on to social constructivism, the current hot trend. Building on previous cognitive theories, social constructivists argue that an individual’s learning takes place within their wider social and cultural group. Vygotsky’s concepts of scaffolding and the ‘zone of proximal development’ were discussed, followed by Kolb’s learning cycle. The humanistic category was discussed briefly, as a reaction against behaviourism and the need to encompass the whole of one’s life as a learning experience. Biological theories were not discussed at all as being outside the practical application of this course, and the morning ended with a brief debunking of the concept of learning styles, citing the work of Coffield and others.

The afternoon was about different approaches to learning – surface, deep, and strategic. Surface learning is superficial, with students learning only the minimum they need to complete the task at hand and often forgetting it straight away. For this reason surface learning is generally viewed as inappropriate. In my own work I see this all the time, with academics only interested in the bare minimum they need to do as they know they can, for example, call my team twice a year when they need to set up new assignments in Turnitin. What I would like to do is find a way to fully engage them so that their learning becomes embedded, just part of their knowledge and experience – deep learning. The new VLE should help with this by being more intuitive and user friendly. The strategic approach to learning is one that combines elements of both, choosing the best approach for the particular time and context. Perhaps our troublesome academics would argue that they are merely being strategic?

PG Cert AP: Day 7

First session of the new semester was the odd one that has me teaching on it. The first part was delivered by the module leader and covered cognitive load theory and what implications this has on the use and design of digital learning materials. Cognitive load theory states that as learning involves effort, there are therefore limits on how much information can be processed at any one time. Sweller identified three types of effort – intrinsic, extraneous and germane. Intrinsic load is that which has to be learned, extraneous load is additional information that distracts somehow (e.g. the overuse of footnotes which requires people to flick between the body and the footnotes), and germane load which front loads some additional effort with the intention of making learning easier and more efficient in the long term. Well-designed learning materials should aim to reduce extraneous load to increase intrinsic or germane load.

My session followed this by demonstrating some content creation tools and giving examples on how they can be used to create good materials. My time was very limited so it had to be a demonstration rather than a guided hands-on session, and I included Storyline, Prezi, ThingLink, Pictochart and PowToon. Each one of these could easily have warranted a half-day session to really get into detail and this is something that we’re thinking about for next year, as the programme leader for the PG Cert and my team will both be part of a new CELT which the university is in the process of forming now. The programme leader was also in this session, primarily with their student hat on, but they were also informally observing me to give me some feedback. That was all pretty positive, saying that I was able to answer all the questions that came up calmly and confidently, which is reassuring, as I personally felt like I fluffed the PowToon part. The application has changed a lot since I last used it in earnest and I hadn’t given myself sufficient time to get used to the new version in my session preparation. I followed up the session by publishing a comprehensive range of further information and self-help resources on the module’s SunSpace site which I pointed people towards.

Session 7: Coaching at Work, Part 2


Day 2 of Coaching at Work was about filling out some of the principles introduced to us yesterday, followed by some practical application in a safe and supported environment.

Matt’s completed coaching model takes the form of an equation, Potential minus Interference (both internal and external) equals High Performance; add in Learning and Enjoyment for Sustainable High Performance.

Following a discussion on the purpose of coaching which served as a recap, the conclusion of which was that coaching aims to move people from vague desires to meaningful action, Matt gave us the ARROW model of questioning which consists of five steps, or categories of question:

  • Aims: What do you want?
  • Reality: What’s happening now?
  • Reflection: How big is the gap?
  • Options: What could you do?
  • Way Forward: What will you do?

For each of these steps Matt gave us around 6 to 8 example questions which break them down into more detail, and some advice. Possibly the most important being not to stick to the model literally, as people don’t think in a straight line and can jump around the steps in the model. Reality is the most important step according to Matt, as it can take people some time to work out what the situation is actually like, and also possibly the most tricky. We were warned about one question in particular from the examples in this section, namely ‘How does this make you feel?’, which has the potential to be upsetting for some in certain situations. For the Options section answers don’t have to be realistic or even necessarily desirable, the purpose here is to generate many and creative answers which are hashed out during the final step, the Way Forward. What all coaching questions need to have, and which the given examples have been designed to provide us, is the quality of compelling the person being coached to focus and provide more detailed answers than to ordinary questions in another context.

After our work on the ARROW model we broke up into groups of three and practiced coaching on each other, using some prepared live work issues we were asked to think about prior to these coaching days.

We ended the day by reflecting on the qualities of an effective coach and getting some more tips from Matt which included the three principles of coaching:

  • Awareness: The ability to focus and give your complete attention to the person being coached, and without passing judgement.
  • Responsibility: The person being coached needs to own their tasks, so don’t take anything away from them. Particularly important if you are the person’s line manager as well as coach.
  • Trust: The person being coached needs to have trust in the coach, the coaching process, and most importantly themselves.

Regarding awareness, we had an aside on active listening with advice which included showing an interest, avoiding interruptions, removing distractions and making good eye contact. All of which are designed to show that you are listening.

Next steps after today are to try and put it all into practice in our own teams before the final coaching day in around a month’s time, and to read some of the follow-up articles and documentation which Matt has provided.

Session 6: Coaching at Work, Part 1


The first of a three day ‘mini-course’ within the module devoted to coaching. Today was all about coaching theory, tomorrow will be practical application, and then in around a month there will be a third day covering how you have implemented coaching in the real world and how to coach teams rather than individuals.

These sessions are being delivered by an external consultant, Matt Somers, who’s coaching model is based on the work of Tim Gallwey who’s work includes The Inner Game of Tennis which Matt recommended in particular for follow-up reading.

The day began with an exploration of what we each wanted to get out of the coaching sessions, and our collected responses can be seen in the first piece of flip chart paper in the attached photo. What I wanted to gain was to learn how to apply the principles of coaching in situations where people and teams are likely to be resistant, to coaching specifically but to any kind of change in general.

Next was the day’s first exercise and demonstration of the power of coaching. Standing in a circle we had to toss a ball between us, recording how long it took to do so. On our first attempt we did it in 20.1 seconds. Matt then asked us how we could do it in half the time. There were many iterations, and eventually we go it down to an incredible 0.15 seconds – I won’t tell you how, spoilers. The point of the exercise is that after each iteration we all thought we had done pretty well and, after the first two or three rounds, that we couldn’t possibly improve further, but by making us think about how we could half the time, instead of telling us to do so, or that it can be done, or other teams have done it faster, Matt was coaching us to push ourselves, to find our own solutions.

And that is the crux of coaching. It is about drawing people out, releasing potential, helping them to learn as opposed to teaching, training or counselling them. The role of the coach is to ask the right questions, to help motivate people and to remove internal barriers to success – internal interference as identified in the second piece of flip chart paper in the photo. These are factors such as low morale, a fixed mind-set, boredom, stress, low self-esteem, etc. There are also external factors of interference which a coach may not be able to do anything about, such as the influence of others, conflict, office culture and family problems.

Another important factor for success we discussed was motivation, and the importance of motivation in getting people to perform at a consistently high level. We identified three broad categories of motivator – performance, learning and enjoyment – which are distinct from routine day-to-day things such as salary, benefits or job security. What these three factors of motivation have in common is that they are largely internal, and thus can be developed with the help of coaching.

The day ended with another couple of exercises. ‘The Trials of Tell’ was designed to show the limitations of an instructive or commanding style by having one partner in a pair imagine themselves to be an alien who, lying flat on the floor, had no concept of the ability to stand, while the second partner had to instruct them on how to do so. The second exercise contrasted this by having someone who self-identified as clumsy and unable to catch a ball consistently, doing exactly that, with the aid of being peppered with coaching style questions as they were tossing the ball back and forth between themselves and Matt. Instead of commanding ‘Watch the ball’, asking closed questions, ‘Are you watching the ball?’, or asking interrogative questions, ‘Why aren’t you watching the ball?’, Matt started by asking ‘What do you notice about the ball?’ and then followed up with questions about the ball and exercise which were related to the catcher’s responses. In doing so Matt demonstrated two things, firstly the power of using questions as an effective means of getting people to think, rather than giving instructions, and secondly the nature of coaching questions: that they should be open and not closed, start off broad and then get narrower, follow the interests of the person being coached, and use their own words and responses in your follow-up questions to show that you are actively listening and engaging with them.

Finally, I’ll end this post with a couple of random quotes from the session. These are not Matt’s, but axioms he has picked up over his years as a coach and isn’t sure who to attribute them to:

"Quitting and going is bad, quitting and staying is worse."

"Learning is easier than being taught."