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)

The sound of silence: socialisation in and at play


This weekend, the North Shore Football Association in Sydney is promoting a weekend of silence on the sidelines “to raise awareness of respect on the field for players and referees”.

At the Braidwood Recreation Ground this morning, the Under 5s’ play was delightfully silent.

Each Saturday, over 100 children take part in the sessions organised by Palerang United. Our family has been inducted into sideline support as a result of our two grandchildren joining the fun.

What has been fascinating about the Under 5s has been the connection between parents and grandparents as they edge their children and grandchildren towards relative autonomy. So far all four weeks of the season have involved children and their carers all taking part.


Everyone is there as a social act. The process fascinates me as I think back to my reading of sociological texts and my discovery of the concepts of socialisation and the social construction of reality.

My naive hope is that the Palerang United induction for all of us should make a lifetime of silence and respect possible. This requires us to nurture the play spirit evident in those who are just starting to engage with football as players, coaches, parents, grandparents and referees.

This morning, the Under 5s ventured into some very basic directional game play. The teams attacked either goal and were delighted to score at whichever end of the pitch they were. It was wonderful to hear laughter on a cold morning at the Rec as the sidelines broke their silence.

The morning gave me an opportunity to reflect on Will Richardson’s sharing of Frank Smith’s view of classic learning:

We learn from people around us with whom we identify. We can’t help learning from them, and we learn without knowing that we are learning…Just about all the important knowledge we have about our personal worlds, and the skills we have developed to navigate through these worlds are a direct result of learning in the classic way.

This, to me, is the essence of socialisation in and at play and the respectful silence of a community sharing a set of cultural practices for a lifetime of play.


Accidental Connectivism and the Impulse to Write

Writing has been on my mind a lot lately. Perhaps because I have been thinking about writing I am finding stimuli everywhere and everywhen. I realise that it may be that I am an ‘accidental connectivist’.

The most recent stimulus was George Siemen’s blog post Teaching as transparent learning. In the post George explores the idea of learning by sharing:

My work on blogs, articles, handbooks, and so on is an invitation to engage in conversation, not a proclamation of what I absolutely know.

He adds that Will Richardson (see, for example, New Reading, New Writing), Terry Anderson, Stephen Downes, Grainne Conole, amongst others, “seek not to proclaim what they know, but rather to engage and share with others as they explore and come to understand technology and related trends.” (Stephen Downes picks up on this point in his OLDaly post. Stephen notes that “When I write, and even when I speak, I am basically thinking aloud – and readers and listeners are able to follow along.”)

George adds to his list Alan Levine, D’Arcy Norman, Janet Clarey, Brian Lamb and Alec Couros as examples of writers who decide “to share their thoughts and ideas in a transparent manner” in doing so “they become a teacher to those who are observing.”

[George’s post sent me off on a tangent about teaching and demonstration. Many years ago some physical education textbooks used to talk about ‘executive demonstration’. This kind of demonstration required the teacher to demonstrate a skill or an activity. The idea was that learners could observe and extract from the demonstration. Whilst looking for some links to old texts I came across a conference paper by Michael Messerole and Paul Clark (2004) entitled Electronic Portfolios: What Value Do They Provide? In it they show examples of teacher candidate portfolios. These examples include “types of digital artifacts being created by teacher candidates, including digital video, text and electronic documents.”   Michael and Paul’s paper demonstrates the transparency George writes about.]

Earlier this week (27 April) OLDaily pointed me to Clay Birrell’s post How to write timed essays that are not crap. He shares an approach to writing that  “was never possible before about two years ago – a way that allows the students to literally watch and hear their teacher read an AP Exam prompt, read the exam poem cold, and then write the exam. All under test conditions, within the 40 minute time limit.”

Will Richardson’s post on New Reading, New Writing had a fascinating ripple effect. Gardner Campbell picked up on the annotation potential of Diigo explored in Will’s post as did Melanie Jennings.

A few days earlier two car journeys in two days gave me access to Radio National’s Book Show. One of the journey’s had me transfixed with Lee Gutkind’s interview.

lgutkind Photo Credit

I was fascinated by Lee’s discussion of creative non-fiction as a genre and followed up his discussion here in which he observes that:

Although it sounds a bit affected and presumptuous, “creative nonfiction” precisely describes what the form is all about. The word “creative” refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting nonfiction—that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid manner. To put it another way, creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and, often, more accessible.

Number 36 of the Creative Nonfiction Journal took George’s transparency and Will’s Diigo annotations one step further:

During the editing process for this issue, with the permission of the writers, we eliminated the original beginnings of three essays and started them a few paragraphs or pages in. Our goal was to make the beginnings more immediate, to eliminate some writerly throat-clearing, to help plunge readers into the heart of the story—the action, the theme, the substance—from the very beginning. Did these changes in fact make this story more effective? And what was lost in the process? See what the author had to say about the changes, and join the discussion below!

One day earlier I listened to the Book Show’s discussion of Richard Brautigan and Chris Kelly‘s great idea for the Torpedo magazine‘s birthday tribute.

hawkline-bcover Photo Credit

John Barber has created a remarkable website that chronicles Richard Brautigan’s work. In a section on Brautigan’s novels, this quote appears:

One day when I was twenty-five years old, I looked down and realized that I could write a sentence. Let’s try one of those classic good-bye lines, “I don’t think we should see so much of each other any more because I think we’re getting a little too serious,” which really meant that I wrote my first novel Trout Fishing in America and followed it with three other novels.

An audio file of the Radio National program can be found here. I ended up reading some of Richard Brautigan’s poems after Adam Ford‘s observation that Brautigan started writing poetry “to learn how to write a sentence and once he was satisfied he could write a good sentence he would have a crack at writing fiction.” I liked this short poem from Wild Dog (1965) entitled The Buses:

Philosophy should stop
at midnight like the buses.
Imagine Nietzsche, Jesus
and Bertrand Russell parked
in the silent car barns.

I did stop myself pursuing poetics at this point but I did remember fondly Miller Mair‘s work.

All these opportunistic encounters add to my sense of being an accidental connectivist. By this I mean that many of the wonderful opportunities to engage with other writers in structured courses like CCK08 are transformed into a local context after such courses are ‘over’. Of late I have been participating in Yammer communities and writing Tweets. Both of these encourage parsimony. Despite the brevity of exchanges in these media I sense there is enormous transparency available too (shortly after concluding this post I received a link to Tweeting to Inform learning Space Development via OLDaily and followed up with a visit to Kate Trgovac‘s blog). There is great humour. (Just recieved a Creative Nonfiction tweet on Writing it Short.)

Blogging after shorter writing episodes is a treat. Writing about writing is a great slow blogging possibility to be open. Todd Sieling explored these ideas earlier this year.

Oh and … I realise that I must return to How to write articles and essays quickly and expertly (2006) too if I am to continue exploring witing!