Posted on: March 21, 2023
Author: Jennifer Lindsay-Finan
What is a Virtual Learning Coach™ and What Role Do They Play? image

This article was previously published by IACET Accredited Provider Insync Training, LLC  and is republished here with permission because IACET deemed it to be a resource that is relevant to IACET stakeholders.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) define coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership”. So coaching is NOT teaching, or advising or telling people what to do, it’s a partnership approach that enables the coachee to identify their own opportunities for improvement.

Perhaps coaching is already part of your organizations’ leadership approach however, according to this article in the Harvard Business Review, “managers tend to think they’re coaching when they’re actually just telling their employees what to do”. It goes on to say that with the right training, training managers can coach their training teams to excellence.

What is a Virtual Learning Coach™ and what is their role?

One of the most quoted definitions of coaching comes from Sir John Whitmore, “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them”. Therefore, a Virtual Learning Coach unlocks the potential of designers, facilitators and producers to maximize engagement and reach virtual excellence in all learning programs.

Their role is to form a partnership with the individuals in the Instructional Team and work with them to provide opportunities for self-reflection, goal setting and performance development on a continuous basis. The Virtual Learning Coach knows what excellence looks like in the virtual classroom and can unlock the potential within others to achieve that excellence. They do this through observations and conversations, rather than teaching or telling. They work with robust rubrics to assess achievement against set criteria and help the individuals use those same rubrics to identify their own development needs.

[Click here to Elevate Your Virtual Training Strategy: Enroll to Become a Virtual Learning Coach]

How do Virtual Learning Coaches work with the Instructional Team to impact learner engagement?

Virtual Learning Coaches work with the Instructional Team closely and regularly. They work with Virtual Designers to ensure their programs provide opportunities for engagement and that they include the detail needed by the rest of the instructional team. They work with Virtual Facilitators  to ensure they are consistently delivering engaging virtual classrooms that enable learners to achieve the learning objectives. They work with Virtual Producers to ensure they are consistently supporting smooth, engaging virtual classrooms. Virtual Learning Coaches not only ensure all three dimensions of engagement are being consistently met, but they help identify areas for continuous improvement so that no matter how experienced the individual is, there are always opportunities for growth and development.

Virtual Learning Coaches also work with L&D Managers or Quality Teams to set the standard for what great looks like at their organization. Anyone achieving the InSync Virtual Learning Coach designation can use our proprietary rubrics, saving a LOT of time and effort having to create their own. Even with robust rubrics, it’s important to work with others to ensure consistency when interpreting them and to prioritize the competencies in terms of what must be achieved versus what would be nice to achieve, especially with newer members of the team.

One of the other useful roles a Virtual Learning Coach can play is as a consultant to whoever trains your L&D Team. Since the Coach will be the one most familiar with what everyone’s learning intent is, it makes sense for them to work with those responsible for providing development opportunities for them. They’ll be able to identify any common themes and make suggestions about what the designers, facilitators and producers might find most helpful.

3 Key Competencies Virtual Learning Coaches Need To Develop
  1. Utilize Strong Coaching Skills - Virtual Learning Coaches must have strong coaching skills and must adopt a coaching habit in their everyday leadership approach. This means they need to be a great listener and have a questioning reflex, rather than a righting reflexThis article from Inc lists the five essential skills for successful coaching as, ‘Listen with curiosity; Take in what you hear; Reflect with accuracy; Questioning for exploration; and Provide feedback for development’. These coaching skills apply to all coaches, whether in the virtual classroom or not.
  2. Effectively Engage their Coachee - Virtual Learning Coaches use the InQuire Engagement Framework to engage their coachees. They consider how the environment they’re coaching in impacts the effectiveness of their discussions. When coaching remotely, they ensure there are no distractions, that they have a strong internet connection and clear audio and video. They discuss the importance of the right environment with their coachee so that they schedule their conversations for a mutually convenient time. Coaches will also consider how to stimulate intellectual engagement with their coachee by asking them to reflect on their own performance before even thinking about providing feedback. They’ll find out the coachee’s learning intent for the coaching session and build from there. They’ll also nurture emotional engagement with their coachee throughout their partnership to establish trust and a psychologically safe coaching environment. The coach-coachee relationship is important if candid conversations are to be had and real progress is to be made.
  3. Understand and Apply Learner Engagement to Coaching Interactions -  One of the key things that differentiate Virtual Learning Coaches from any other type of coach is the ability to understand learner engagement in the virtual classroom. Generally, Virtual Learning Coaches are already experienced learning practitioners and have experience in the virtual classroom, but some may not have experience in every role with which they coach. This is ok as long as they do fully understand that role and the importance that role plays in learner engagement. This is where the robust rubrics come in, but coaching to excellence is more than just knowing whether to check a box or not. It’s being able to identify missed opportunities for engagement, spotting when one learner is not being given the same opportunities to contribute as others, or when generally things could have been even better.
The 3 biggest challenges for Virtual Learning Coaches
  1. Keeping up with the instructional team. One challenge with coaching is that when you spend your time coaching, you’re no longer designing, facilitating or producing as much. It can be easy to get out of practice and therefore lose touch with how things actually work in practice. The roles of designer, facilitator and producer are evolving and coaches need to keep up! They need to keep up with discoveries around learner engagement, trends in L&D and changes in virtual platforms or other technologies being used.  
  2. Not falling into the trap of fixing things. Often people move into a coaching role because they want to help people succeed. With that, often comes the strong desire to ‘fix things’, either by doing them yourself or by telling someone else how to do it. Neither of these approaches align with a coaching philosophy or are in fact helpful to individuals wanting to be coached. Virtual Learning Coaches are skilled at motivating others to take action towards improvement rather than jumping in and taking over. This can be one of the toughest challenges for a coach and many describe having to ‘sit on their hands’ or ‘bite their tongue’ while letting their coachee identify their own areas for improvement and their own way to excellence.
  3. Understanding that coaching isn’t for everyone. In his famous Ted Talk, Bill Gates said “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn't matter whether you're a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player. We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve.” However, not everyone agrees with him. The University of Bath sums it up as “Most people are coachable some of the time, but not everyone is coachable all of the time. An important factor in coaching is the readiness of the coachee. If you really don’t want to be coached and aren’t engaged in the process, then coaching is not for you right now. Perhaps later, but not now.” It can be a challenge for Virtual Learning Coaches when an individual is not open to the idea of being coached.
The 3 greatest rewards for Virtual Learning Coaches

There are definitely personal benefits for the coach! There are my favorite. 

  1. Watching individuals develop. One of the greatest rewards as a coach is seeing the transformation in your coachees. When they start designing more detailed, engaging sessions or when they start facilitating or producing with more confidence, that’s all the reward you need. As a Virtual Learning Coach, we often get to work with the same individuals over a long period of time and when you reflect back on the progress they’ve made with you by their side, it can be really powerful – for both of you.
  2. Greater learner engagement throughout the organization. As a Virtual Learning Coach, you’ll observe many virtual classes and it’s so rewarding when you see and experience that learner engagement first-hand. Noticing the difference the instructional team are making for their learners and noticing how the learners are more engaged and are learning more because of the improvements made by your team is the reward. Seeing the results of the changes made in learner feedback is also proof that coaching has been effective.
  3. Seeing the business benefits. There’s also a reward for the organization! Improved learner engagement leads to improved learning transfer which leads to improved business results. That’s the reason for the training in the first place! Whether it’s training to increase sales, customer service or productivity or it’s to reduce mistakes or employee turnover, better training is only ever good for business.
Why do you need Virtual Learning Coaches on on your L&D team?

Alongside the rest of the Instructional Team, Virtual Learning Coaches need to be ready for hybrid learning environments. They will need to understand all the possible configurations of hybrid learning and the impact this change of environment will have on the virtual classroom. They need to be able to coach designers, facilitators and producers on how to engage everyone in a hybrid environment and ensure no one gets left behind.

As the roles of designer, facilitator and producer continue to evolve, so too must the role of a Virtual Learning Coach. They must be willing to continuously develop and work with the executive leadership team to promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement throughout the organization.

With the rise in hybrid working, comes the norm that coaches will work with people they’ve never met in person. This will lead to there being even more of a need to establish strong working relationships early on so that there is emotional engagement between coach and coachee. These relationships will have to be built more intentionally when working remotely to ensure a solid foundation for coaching conversations going forward.

To ensure continuous improvement in virtual content development, support, and delivery, Learning & Development needs a systematic process that monitors quality, and improves individual performance. Virtual Learning Coaches are a critical part of the quality cycle. 

There’s more to learn!

To master the role of Virtual Learning Coach, you need to learn to assist members of the training team in creating their own paths to virtual training excellence. Learn what virtual design, facilitation and production excellence is and use proprietary evaluation instruments to assess your team members and help them identify development opportunities. Learn all of this and more by completing our Certified Virtual Learning Coach Series.

About the Author


Jennifer Lindsay-Finan specializes in live, virtual, and blended learning.  She has been in the training field for more than ten years (with eight years in the virtual classroom) and has delivered leadership training programs designed to engage employees, elevate performance, and improve productivity. She has designed and facilitated on-boarding, leadership, and performance management programmes in organisations.  She has also designed and facilitated coaching, mentoring, unconscious bias and entrepreneurship training programs for business owners and business support advisors. 

Jennifer has a passion for training and enjoys sharing her knowledge with a calm and encouraging approach to help individuals and organizations achieve results. She also enjoys designing blended programmes to incorporate interactive elearning using Articulate Storyline or Rise.    

Jennifer’s L&D background includes working with coaches, call centre workers, solicitors and business support organisations.  Prior to that, she worked in various administrative roles and held a number of supervisory and managerial positions.  She is an Associate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development with a Certificate in Learning & Development Practice, a member of The Institute of Leadership & Management and also holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Business and Management.

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