Jan 13, 2020
When coaching is mediated through technology it is framed in a number of different ways. Internet Coaching, Online Coaching, eCoaching, Distance Coaching, Web Coaching, Digital Coaching, Virtual Coaching, Virtual Reality Coaching, Tele-Coaching are just a number of terms used from an almost inexhaustible list.
Some, if not most, are interchangeable which is not entirely surprising as this technology driven area of coaching is influenced by evolving technological advances. There do however appear to be subtle nuances in certain cases and this is an attempt to describe those and place eCoaching appropriately within this sphere.
An initial attempt at defining any coaching that was not communicated in a face to face manner focused on the geographical distances between the coaching parties and as such Distance or Remote coaching were the terms used used to reflect any coaching through technology.
A more restrictive definition provided by Brigitte Roujol stated (in French combined as “Coaching à distance”) : Synchronous or asynchronous coaching device using e-communication tools (phone, email, chat, video conference, blogs, wikis). At some point, there is a coach who is a physical person even if there is no joint presence of the coach and the coachee(s) in the same place.
As a personal opinion, the terms of distance or remote coaching are becoming more redundant in current usage. This, as seen when used for Distance Learning, echoes a time when course materials were sent by post and support was received by coach/tutor over telephone, email or post. Data from Google Trends over the last couple of decades appears to back this up.
Fig.1 – Google trend showing popularity of online coaching terminologies since 2005
After these terms comes a plethora of terminologies. Online Coaching in it’s broadest sense is where the key element in the equation is the use of the Internet for Coaching. eCoaching or e-Coaching has become one of the more frequently used terms to express distance coaching when performed through computer media (video chat and internet voice calls, email, internet based tools).
Telephone coaching has often been included under the term of e-coaching, mainly when the prefix of “e” was in reference to “electronic” coaching. However, as language in general as evolved the prefix “e” has instead evolved into meaning that something has become “computer based”. As a result Tele-coaching or Telephony coaching can be considered as clearly defined tools in their own sphere outside the domain of eCoaching
The implicit reference by Goujol that at some point in the coaching journey the physical presence of a coach in the process is an interesting one as in opinions provided by LinkedIn members actively involved in the eCoaching Sphere there appear to be fundamental disagreements over the relationship between technology and the coaching process. One camp of thought sees eCoaching as a helping relationship between coach and client where anything that is not face to face and is delivered at a distance through electronic media.
Others have a contrasting view, contradictory to that of Roujol, where no coach-client relationship is established and in fact refers more to form of technology mediated self-coaching. This train of thought appears to moving more towards the concept of AI in coaching and starts to blur the differentiation with eLearning.
The use of expert systems to create some form of calibrated coaching is still very much in it’s infancy and for the foreseeable future will still only be used as an augmentative tool to other technologies. As a result this interpretation of eCoaching is not included in this post.
Telephony & Skype are certainly the most associated technologies with distance coaching however with the array of tools we now have at our disposal online it has been a challenge to categorise them in an efficient manner helpful to potential practitioners. Stella Kanatouri makes a helpful attempt on classifying coaching technologies based on 6 parameters:
With these parameters in mind, we at Outplace Yourself define eCoaching as:
The use of an integrated set of online tools to produce an interactive and collaborative platform that allows the management of a two-way remote communication, both synchronous and asynchronous, between coach and coachee, with the focus of maximising and accelerating the results of coaching.
There are times when old and new collide with similar terminology but with vastly different meanings. The term “virtual” has frequently been used in online coaching and online learning articles to provide the feeling of being able to free to do this where you want and when you want. As such, it is often interchanged with other terms such a remote or distance in defining this form of coaching in a geographical manner. There is also perhaps an inference that this form of remote coaching has a visual experience and is conducted over a web-based video call.
Recent developments in technology have pushed the world of virtual reality technology into the coaching sphere. The proposed arguments for benefits of virtual reality coaching are that it is able to combine the benefits and visual cues of a physical face to face meeting with the benefits and simplicity of a video call. Certainly the ability to embed very concise coaching tools, to enable realistic simulations or “felt” experiences in a virtual world, make the development of this technology very exciting although it is still very much in it’s infancy.
Once again, in the same vein of thought as eLearning or e-Learning, industry does not appear to be able to agree on the naming convention. eLearning and e-Learning appear to have similar results attributed to them through Google Search, however a look at trends shows that eLearning is very much in the ascendency. In comparison when using Google search for eCoaching or e-Coaching, the latter is very much is winning the battle over the former.
Does it really matter and isn’t it just an argument over semantics? Probably. Often with new hyphenated words, such as with e-learning, once the word become ubiquitous in society it eventually loses the hyphen. This appears more pronounced with the advent of the Internet age as shown in 2007 when the Oxford English Dictionary eliminated 16,000 hyphens from that current edition. E-mail becoming email, E-books becoming eBooks are yet other obvious examples where the compound origins of the word are forgotten and treated as words in their own right.
As a result while eCoaching is probably technical incorrect, it is likely to be the way of the future and what people will be searching for.
It appears clear that while the use of eCoaching in the coaching world in either a pure or blended (mixing face-to-face with online coaching) form is accelerating, the terminology that comes behind it is still lagging behind. Clarifications by the various coaching bodies would help in this matter but there are steps by a number of parties to help in this process and this post is one such instance of that. Whatever the final definitions of eCoaching may be, the clear benefits of location and time independance will continue to see evolution in this area.
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