E-Coaching: An overview of 7 new coaching formats

E-Coaching: An overview of 7 new coaching formats

by Prof. Dr. Har5a4ffa842628afb1644dfce677d09_s1ald Geissler

Over the last years, coaching through modern media is becoming increasingly popular. This development is stimulated by the increasing need for flexibility both, in the professional and in private sectors, but also by the demand for more cost-effective coaching formats. The purpose of this paper is to provide a systematic overview of this new area of coaching practice and to outline seven coaching formats.

To the question, what e-coaching is and what formats of e-coaching exist, it is important, first to consider the basic characteristics of human communication:
  • Communication is structurally constituted by the triangular relationship between the speaker, listener, and communication content. Communicating partners alternate between the roles of the speaker and the listener and thereby, construct and develop the communication content together.
  • Language lies at the heart of human communication. It is an extensive and differentiated system, made of pre-defined sound combinations (phonemes). Each of these phonemes have a socially defined meaning (semantics) and based on a set of rules, i.e. grammar, they connect to sentences, which are interconnected and together make up a pragmatic language system.
  • This way structured language can appear in three forms:

a) In spoken language, which is not documented or archived (social situativity).This type of communication is fluid,in the sense that words are present only at the moment they are being said, but then they immediately disappear.

b)  In audio-recorded language, which is documented and thus, it can be traced and reconstructed.
c) In written language.
  • The medium we use in order to speak is the human body. The body is particularly important for the expression of emotions. Thus, emotions can be expressed through our face (facial expressions), posture, intonation, pitch and volume.
  • Additionally, communication content can be enriched or illustrated through visualizations (texts, tables and graphs, audio and video recordings, as well as artistic artifacts, such as paintings, sculptures, films etc.). Every visualization has some structuring capabilities.
  • A further possibility to enrich or illustrate communication contents, is the use of actions. Actions such as for example, hand gestures, used to clarify an aspect or an area of a given communication content, role play or pantomime, which can be used to reconstruct a social situation, or the staging of the “inner dialogue” in psychodrama.
If face-to-face communication in coaching however, is omitted, the mutually constructed meaning by communication partners can be expressed and conveyed through the use of the following media:
a) Telephone communication
b) Video communication
c) Asynchronous and synchronous text- based communication
These media can be used in addition to non-interactive and interactive media:
  • Non-interactive media, for example when the coach sends emails, MS Word documents, Power-Point slides, audio- or video documents to the client. The client is asked to study them and then discuss them with the coach through telephone, skype or asynchronous text-based communication.
  • Examples of interactive media include, documents with empty spaces to be filled out by the client, engaging the client in role play, in order to analyze the client´s behaviour in communication, or when coach and client communicate in virtual reality using avatars, in order to address the client´s issues and find appropriate solutions to them.
Arguably, coaching with modern media covers the above presented range of face-to-face communication to a large extent, however not completely. For instance, asyncronous and synchronous text-based communication  can´t convey body bound expressions or actions. Nevertheless, telephone and video communications are certainly less restricted in this sense. Despite these restrictions, there are some clear advantages in communication through modern media. For example, actions through avatars in virtual reality potentially generate communication content in new, unprecedented ways.
In e-coaching or coaching with modern media, seven formats can be identified, which are categorized into two clusters. The first cluster includes three “basic formats”. Communication content in these three formats is developed without any additional media support.
  • The first basic format is telephone or video communication. Undoubtedly,  there are significant differences between these two media, in terms of body-depedent expressions. Specifically, video communication can not only convey vocal expressions as it is the case in telephone communication, but also facial expressions and body language. However, these differences are minor in comparison to the differences to text-based communications.
  • The second basic format is the pure asynchronous text-based communication. Unlike telephone and video communication can be grouped under the same format, asynchronous text-based communication must be distinguished from synchronous text-chat, as it pre-supposes more time, particularly time to reflect (www.moodeln.de).
  • The third basic format  thus, refers to synchronous text-chat. Here it should be noted that in practice there are hardly any initiatives to coach exclusively through synchronous text-chat. The main feature of this format is thus, its use in combination with asynchronous text-based communication and possibly also with telephone or video communication.
The second cluster involves “enriched formats“, which use virtual visualizations or actions to enrich communication contents, and to provide a certain structure to the coaching program. In coaching practice there are currently four formats:
  • Telephone or video communication, combined with non-interactive communication elements, such as MS Word documents, Power-Point slides, audio- or video documents, enriching the communication content.
  • Telephone or video communication, combined with interactive texts, such as coaching questions to be answered by the client. An example to this is “virtual coaching (VC)”: The coaching process is thereby structured through some basic coaching questions, which can be accessed on the internet (www.virtual-coaching.net) and answered in written form by the client.
  • Telephone or video communication, enriched with interactive visualizations. Examples include:  a) Avatar- based actions, which coach and client carry out in virtual worlds. First attempts in this direction are currently made in the Karlsruhe Institute by Elke Berninger-Schäfer.  b) Tools for virtual constellation work, such as the LPS Cocoon tool (www.world-wide-coach.de).This tool uses 13 virtual stones through the positioning of which clients in the coaching process can express their ideas or personality characteristics on a virtual table.
  • Asynchonous and synchronous text-based communication, with interactive communication elements, following the concept of e-learning. Existing possibilities in this area include:

a) The tool “JigsawBox“ (www.jigsawbox.com) offers the coach the possibility to send written documents, figures, audio and video documents to the client, to edit them and to combine them with learning tasks, creating a basis for the subsequent asynchronous text- based coaching process.

b) Similarly, the “Theratalk” tool (www.theratalk.de) provides a basis for synchronous text-chat coaching, and targets couples´ relationship problems.
c) The “Coachmaster” tool (http://thecoachmasternetwork.com/software/) offers coaching questions as a basis of both synchronous and asynchronous communication.

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