Coaching in Adult Education

In my mental preparation for Agile Coaches Camp in Minnesota, I am excited to talk to coaching practitioners after a couple months of research and study of current coaching practices. My research is about exploring the adult learner’s ability to enact personal change using coaching techniques within formal education that inspires a growth mindset. For the scope of coaching I am inferring, I discard terms of mentorship, training, and consultancy and rely on the definition of Jatkauskiene, Jatkauskas, and Jovarauskaite (2008), who explained that the “coach does not advise, transmit any methods to the client, but only helps to create individual tactics of problem solving” (p. 139) as well as as well as Moen and Allgood (2009) who said “coaching is a method which aims to achieve self actualization by facilitating learning and developmental processes to promote the resource base of another person” (p. 32).

While coaching and adult education seem tacitly related, let’s actively connect them. Below is a small excerpt from my draft thesis I am writing for implementation of coaching into the formalized adult learning process. I selected this particular section for a window into my thinking as I enter into the coach camp mindset.


Moen and Skaalvik (2009) provided a strong theoretical framework for discovering the effects of certain psychological variables also found in adult learning theory on external coaching. These variables included self-efficacy, causal attribution, goal-setting, and self-determination. Self-efficacy is a core feature in social cognitive theory where “individuals are viewed as executors proactively engaged in their own development and who actively control their own actions” (Moen & Skaalvik, 2009, p. 33). As self-efficacy is so strongly connected with behaviorial outcomes, it is an essential variable in both coaching and adult learning theory for building competency. Although goal-setting falls under competency developed from self-efficacy, Locke and Latham (2002) listed specific elements of developing goals that are important for positive performance (as cited by Moen & Skaalvik, 2009). These included goal specificity that allow observability and measurability to the desired outcome, identified difficulty for achieving the goal, and effective feedback cycles for the goal achievement progress. Again, these theories apply across both coaching and adult learning.

Adult learning theory spends a great deal of time on both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, which are directly related to causal attribution theory and self-determination theory as theories of motivation under the umbrella of social cognitive theory, although self-determination theory is not traditionally connected to performance motivation. Moen and Skaalvik (2009) used both of these motivational theories as variables for measuring improved performance within coaching. As developing self-efficacy is important, it is necessary to understand how an individual is influenced to improve self-efficacy, which was largely explained through causal attribution. Weiner (1985) explained that the three major causal influences of why a person fails or succeeds is based on whether it is internal or external, whether it changes over time, and whether is is within the individual’s control.  Deci and Ryan (1985) provided the self-determination theory of motivation that encompasses far more than intrinsic motivation. However, intrinsic motivation is the scope for connecting coaching practices with adult learning theory under the umbrella of social cognitive theory, so this discussion concerning self-determination is limited to intrinsic motivation. The three psychological needs for intrinsic motivation according to self-determination theory include the need for competence, self-determination, and relatedness. The presence of these two motivational theories in both coaching practice and adult learning theory provides a positive indication for the application of coaching techniques within adult learning practices.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum.

Jatkauskiene, B., Jatkauskas, E., & Jovarauskaite, A. (2008). Coaching and its application opportunities in the sphere of adult education. Teacher Education, 11(2), 136-156.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practical useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychology, 57(9), 705, 717.

Moen, F., & Allgood, E. (2009). Coaching and the effect on self-efficacy. Organization Development Journal, 27(4), 69-84.

Moen, F., & Skaalvik, E. (2009). The effect from executive coaching on performance psychology. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 7(2), 31-51.

Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92,  548-573.

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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.