Academic Coaching for Adult Learners


In the non-traditional world of adult learning, academic coaching is becoming more and more of a premium need to help our learners towards a path of self-reliance and growth mindset. Universities are needing to focus their degree programs on competencies while also ensuring the soft skill development decision making, critical thinking, and communication. Add in the complexity of relying on adjunct faculty to provide the deep real-life expertise that may or may not have fully understand the educational practices, and you may see the program director / chair implode!


There are two ways to help ensure the success of your adult learners; one is to provide excellent training opportunities for your adjunct faculty on understanding WHO the adult learner is, the context they are in, and how to coach them effectively in the learning environment. Too many training sessions are spent mostly on operational or procedural matters.

The second way is to provide an academic coaching program for the learners that is dedicated for soft skill and study skill development. While the coaching mentality from the facilitator is certainly important, a separate mentoring or coaching influence that is dedicated to helping the learner target improvement strategies for communication, grammar, and writing skills across a longer period of time is an important resource.

Thus begins the challenge of creating a coaching framework that is lightweight enough to respect the time needs of both coaches and learners, while providing structure and intent at the same time. My first attempt with the assistance of Dr. Buch-Wagler and Dr. Rose had some interesting results.

It’s important to have an organizational commitment to the process. If all stakeholders do not adopt the mindset of testing and adaptation, then the coach is potentially as isolated as the learner. With any kind of initiative testing, the process has to be adopted with a sense of expected failure combined with the desire to investigate those failures deeply and quickly.

The coaching role has to be sold to the learners for the intent and outcomes. If students are unclear as to what the role of the coach is, then the upfront energy for the coach is blown on explanation, leaving a sense of limitation to the student.

The learners need to be self-motivated and voluntary. Even if a learner desperately needs coaching from all outside perspectives, no coaching on the planet will be useful until the learner is receptive. Part of this reception can be increased by improving how the value of coaching is explained. However, learners have to want improvement along the lines of soft skill development and true study skills. Otherwise, the coach simply turns into an editor or content coach … which is a completely different ball of wax, and frankly, should be in the court of the facilitator. This is exactly why facilitators need coaching training as well.

Ultimate goal? Really, the ultimate goal is for the coach to help jumpstart the learner’s self-efficacy through intentional guidance. Educators love to focus on Knowles’ andragogy principle that students are self-directed. However, let’s remember it’s a journey for many adult learners to become self-directed. Getting an education is a step towards that, and it’s our responsibility to help them develop into that … not just pass out topic competency only degrees.

Bottom line? Degrees in whatever concentration are not enough for employers. They want the soft skills. They want self-starting employees. The days of jobs where people punch in and perform tasks is in our past, but our adult learners are not ready for the demand of self-discipline, self-motivation, lifelong learning, high communication and decision making found in careers today.

Academic coaching is a potential way to prepare them, but we, as administrators and educational consultants have to be ready to test, fail, and adapt. Again and again.

Crossposted in LinkedIn titled Academic Coaching for Adult Learners.



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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.