Supporting Learner Experience: Re-imagining Coach Education and Development



I have been thinking about what coach educators do in the context of Joi Ito’s observation:

Education is something that is done to you. Learning is something you do for yourself.

Two job descriptions and a Will Richardson post have helped focus my thoughts about learner experience this week.

One job description is for a Performance Pathway Coaching Lead at the English Institute of Sport (EIS). The second is for a Performance Coach Manager at the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

Will’s blog post is titled ‘Cultures of Perpetual Learning‘.

Performance Coaching

The EIS Performance Pathway Coaching Lead will have responsibility for ensuring “an optimal supply of coaches with specialist expertise in identifying, confirming, developing and transitioning athletes with medal winning potential”.

This is a new position within the EIS and the successful candidate will:

  • lead the design, development and delivery of a new cross-sport ‘World Class Pathway Coach Programme’ including being accountable for developing coaches associated with the programme
  • drive the development of Performance Pathway Team (PPT) coaching programmes and initiatives through identifying and developing cross-sport solutions to the most significant challenges and opportunities facing World Class pathway coaches
  • proactively research, evaluate and share best practice in pathway coaching and coach development to drive identification, development and retention of coaches within World Class Programmes (WCPs) and the wider UK High Performance System

The job description does not mention the word ‘learner’ and has three references to ‘learning’. The Pathway Coaching Lead will:

  • Work in partnership with coaches, coach developers and learning specialists
  • Have demonstrated ability to create engaging, inspiring and challenging high performance learning environments

A desirable technical competency for the role is “experience of developing on line learning and development resources/tools”.

A word cloud of the job description has these features:


The WRU’s Performance Coach Manager “will lead the establishment, development and delivery of an performance coach development framework which will enhance the pathway for top class coaches”.

The successful candidate will:

  • Develop the WRU Coach Development strategy in order to establish, implement and manage the delivery of an excellent coach development programme
  • Implement a system that enables the WRU to further identify, mentor and develop excellent coaches within the WRU coaching pathway.
  • Assist in the establishment and fostering of key strategic partnerships that aid and support excellent coach development within the WRU.
  • Develop a system of constant interaction and CPD for coaches to aspire to Regional and National level.
  • Establish, drive, lead and deliver the WRU “Level 4“ Course
  • Support the Coach Development Manager on all coaching qualifications within the WRU (Levels 1, 2 and 3) to ensure alignment between the levels and systems.
  • Support the “Head of Rugby Performance” in talent spotting for future performance coaches.
  • Through the vehicle of the Professional Player Development Programme to assist with the transition of International players who are nearing thenend of their career into the performance coaching system.

There is no mention of a ‘learner’ in the job description and no mention of ‘learning’.

A word cloud of the job description has these features:



Perpetual Learning

In his discussion of learning cultures, Will Richardson asserts “professional learning is now the responsibility of the learner”. He considers the implications of this assertion for workplace learning.

Will draws attention to work underway at AT&T in the United States. He links to John Donovan and Cathy Benko’s account of AT&T’s Talent Overhaul.

John and Cathy observe:

Having built the United States’ telegraph and telephone infrastructure in the last century, AT&T could once claim to be the company “where the future was invented.” But now the Dallas-based firm, like many in the technology sector, faces a future in which its legacy businesses are quickly becoming obsolete. With its industry moving from cables and hardware to the internet and the cloud, AT&T is in a sprint to reinvent itself.

They add:

The overhaul presents an enormous HR challenge. AT&T employs about 280,000 people, most of whom got their education and foundational job training in a different era. …AT&T has chosen to rapidly retrain its current employees while striving to engender a culture of perpetual learning.

Workers at AT&T are encouraged to be the CEO of their own careers. To date, workers have taken 1.8 million emerging technology courses (with badges), participated in nanodegrees, and online masters degrees.

In this environment the company aspires “to be learning something new all the time” and “to create a culture in which newly empowered employees can thrive”.


Learning Experience Design

AT&T’s commitment to learning in a rapidly changing industry environment raises, I think, some important questions for coach education and development.

I believe we are at a time when we can move into agile learning experience design.

Connie Malamed (2015) suggests that learning experience design focuses on how a person learns. It emphasises learning rather than instruction. This approach “acknowledges that we design, enable or facilitate experiences rather than courses”.

(Connie’s blog post has 6 references to a ‘learner’ and 90 references to ‘learning’.)

For Jess Knott (2016), Learning Experience means:

  • the democratization of learning
  • separating subject matter expertise from “knowing” what students need
  • asking students if things are working and quickly iterating if they are not.

Jess uses the word “students” broadly, “as we’re all students in the knowledge economy”.

Joyce Seitzinger (2016) proposes that education “will need experience architects as core roles sooner rather than later. It does need to humanise the interactions with its systems”. In her work, Joyce believes that “learning experiences should be transformational, not just functional and that an experience design approach to creating learning solutions is essential to achieve this”.



This blog post started with Joi ito’s quotation about personal learning. The conjunction of two job adverts and Will Richardson’s post on perpetual learning led me to a discussion of AT&T’s re-positioning as a learning organisation.

I am excited by the opportunity to explore learning experience design in coach learning as critical conversation about coach education and development.

We are moving rapidly away from the concept of a learning management system to a much more fluid approach to personal decisions about learning. I think we are moving to a much more connected view of learning too.

Although we make personal choices in our learning experiences, our connections with others expand our opportunities.

I see a Living Document as one way to share our evolving learning experiences. It is a transparent way to share where I have been, where I am now and where I might be headed. Such documents can take many formats that acknowledge learner preferences.

I think the use of a digital record raises fundamental questions about how we value and assess learning in current coach qualifications. At present, there is a tendency to focus on the education system that delivers content rather than on ways to support and unleash personal learning.

We need more conversations about agility in learning organisations.

Photo Credits

Climb (Efren, CC BY-SA 2.0)

DSC00032 (Redisant, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Two paths diverged in the snow (Richard Alan, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Brain as PLN (Tyler Letkeman, CC BY-NC 2.0)