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UK Coaching Team
Coach Developer Self-care and development

Relish the Thought: Imagine if Coaches Were Given More Control of their Learning Journey

UK Coaching is constantly striving to develop more dynamic learning experiences for those working in the sport and physical activity sector. It believes strongly that learning should be designed and delivered with the individual learner’s needs front of mind. Blake Richardson digs deeper into UK Coaching’s learner-centred, insight-driven approach to coach development

Every UK Coaching-led workshop, resource, training event or conference presentation provides learners with guaranteed food for thought.

But at the in-house interactive seminar I attended to upskill staff on innovative ways of bringing learning theories to life, we were treated to a banquet – albeit a metaphorical one.

Hosted by Kelly Brown and Mark Scott of the UK Coaching Learning team, we were told to think of learning pathways like an all you can eat buffet.

Allow me to indulge you.

Learners, said Kelly, should have an extensive menu of tools and methodologies at their disposal as they negotiate their learning journey.

In a nutshell, the development organisation provides a menu high in nutritional value (ie, learning value), while the learner chooses what to consume and when and where to consume it.

The idea of having a full platter of learning methods for them to dip into means they can make their way through the whole menu – starters, main course and dessert – at a pace that matches their hunger to learn.

If they have too much on their plate on any given day, week or month, they can choose to ingest less. And as their learning journey evolves, so their tastes may change; portion sizes too, as they express a preference for a particular method of learning.

I may have over-egged the pudding here, but you can see how having a wide element of choice will afford individuals full control of their learning – which, as a result, will help them feel more engaged with the content.

Clearly then, in designing a learning journey, taking a standpoint of one size fits all is destined for failure. Each learner’s needs must be considered. Get the structure wrong and learners will switch off.

Creating the right structure

Of course, things are never that easy. Research from UK Coaching suggests those who work in the sport and physical activity sector need help in deciding what methods best suit their ongoing professional development.

The learning environment can be complex and confusing, hence the need to set out the various options in a clear, concise and objective manner.

Currently, too many organisations steer learners down an established path. By feeling obligated to trustingly follow their lead, learners are potentially missing out on equally effective alternative forms of learning that may benefit their development.

It’s not just about making sure learners arrive at their goal, it’s about the richness of the journey as well,” said Kelly.

So, for example, in order to gain a certain coaching qualification, there may be a well-trodden route laid down, with the main feature being a compulsory two-day face-to-face course, run over a limited number of days at a set venue.

Could the learning process be made more flexible and more meaningful by adding an element of personal choice, with other learning methods offered that run alongside the qualification, so that the right blend of learning is achieved?

That way – returning briefly to the food analogy – learners get a healthy balanced diet, as opposed to a fixed method of training and support that is lop-sided towards one essential nutrient.

Personalised learning solutions

And so we come on to the question of what types of learning should be on the all-inclusive menu in order to make the whole experience more appetising.

Kelly introduced us to the 70-20-10 model for learning and development to serve as an illustration of how the sector needs to modernise its approach and interact more effectively with learners.

Organisations who use this well-established model can ensure their learners are getting the right blend, while at the same time tipping the balance from compulsory learning in favour of self-directed learning (As we will see, both organisations and learners could do with a nudge to make this happen).

The three sections represent how we learn: 

  • 70% through on the job experience
  • 20% through informal learning
  • 10% through formal learning. 

We split into small groups to discuss what components sit in each of these categories – mindful of the sector’s current bias towards the 10% model.


This is what we came up with:

70% – referring to everyday, real-life learning, normally at your fingertips. This is on-demand 24-hour learning. We often receive this in a passive manner without realising.

  • Desk-based learning.
  • Use of digital media tools and resources.
  • Self-directed reading (online blogs, news and feature stories, guides, click-of-a-button downloadable magazines) – responding independently to how to solve a particular problem or respond to a query.
  • Problem-solving through online conversations, such as forums or online communities, or chatting to someone at work.
  • Using Twitter, Facebook or other social media apps to connect and learn
  • ‘Water cooler moments’, meaning a place in the office where people might gather and have discussions and swap ideas.
  • Webinars, where you can log in anytime, anywhere.
  • Flexible on-line e-learning courses done at a time and a place of your choosing.
  • Podcasts.

20% – referring to co-collaborative learning, or social learning, where you share a space with other learners. Some formalised learning but requiring reflection in your own time.

  • Mentoring or buddying: You are there to learn from each other but might choose to read up and apply learning outside the mentoring conversation.
  • Communities of practice, like a webinar organised to facilitate learning.
  • In-house seminars (like the one I attended for this blog!).
  • Team-building and company days, where the emphasis is on learning from each other and exchanging cross-organisational thoughts.

10% – referring to more traditional learning. Face to face or virtual. Formal structured pathways.

  • CPD course
  • NGB qualification course
  • Workshop
  • Conference
  • Classroom training session.

Three is better than one

Our discussions were set against a backdrop of key findings from a learning needs analysis questionnaire created by the UK Coaching Learning team – completed by 322 coaches from 52 different sports, predominantly Level 2 and above (you can read the full analysis in the Applied Coaching Research Journal, pages 14-27).

The survey concluded that coaches think the 10% method is the best way to learn.

When given a straight choice between face-to-face workshops, online learning and one-to-one mentoring or coaching, respondents said they would prefer face-to-face workshops.

The survey, however, was not domain specific. So, for example, talent pathway coaches, if surveyed separately, may very well declare an affinity to one-to-one mentoring.

And at this point it is worth stressing the importance of not getting too hung up on the percentages attributed to each group, which is in no way reflective of the amount of learning time you should spend in each category.

What is more important are the elements that sit within the three categories, all of which have equal value. In other words, don’t put all your eggs into one basket.

One percentage that should be noted, however, is that 80% of classroom-based learning is forgotten after one month.

And therein lies the problem. As Kelly explained: “We expect our coaches to be more 70% on the job but a lot of our delivery models across the sectors lie in the 10%.”

Food for thought

Ideally then, an optimal learning journey would see fluid movement between all three categories.

“We need to start acknowledging that coaches can learn more and be more engaged from tapping into this 70% cluster of learning methods because that puts them in control,” added Kelly.

We shouldn’t be asking leaders to jump through hoops – by saying to learners, for example, that they have to attend a particular training course within the next six months. That’s not being learner focused, sandwiching learners into that 10%.

“At the same time, we do recognise that measuring the tangible rewards of informal learning is a challenge for our sector. For example, we would love to see how we can start to measure peer shadowing and show how this has enhanced the learner’s coaching.”

Being able to provide some form of acknowledgement that learning has taken place will surely help to persuade learners to embrace this real-life, on the job learning, where they can self-select and apply what they need for their particular journey, tailored to their individual lifestyle and circumstances.

At this moment in time, this pick and mix approach to learning is not to everyone’s taste.

But by advertising more prominently the complete menu of learning that is available and raising awareness of how sampling new learning opportunities can maximise your development, surely this approach is destined to become a recipe for success.

Any time, anywhere

Want to learn at home? Browse UK Coaching’s full range of eLearning courses

Find out more
  • Spaced Learning: Learn Better by Spreading out Your Practise

  • The Learning Zone: Be Comfortable with Feeling Uncomfortable

  • Understanding Individual Learning Styles


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UK Coaching Team