Using your learning edge
Part 7 – Identifying your learning
Jeff Mitchell – Community Sport Advisor – Sport Auckland
Learning can occur in a range of settings: from observation, delivery, reading and research, through discussions, from competition, and even from analysing your mistakes. With each of these settings it is important that you are able to identify what you have learned and how you can use it. In this article we will look at how you can reflect on your coaching to identify what you have learned and how to then record this information so that you can incorporate it into your coaching practice.
You can tell that you have learned something when you know something that you did not know before, or are able to do something that you were unable to do previously. Our last article discussed the importance of retaining what you learn so that you can then reproduce it. A good way of doing this is by having some way of recording what you have learned. This information will be the product of working through the learning cycle:
In the learning cycle you start with a practical experience. This could be delivering a session, observing another coach, managing a competition or working through a problem solving task. Following this experience you reflect on it, comparing it to what you already know. You then think on what you have learned from the experience, and make plans for how you can incorporate it into your coaching. From here you actively experiment with the new knowledge to find out how it works and how to use it in practice. For this article we will look at how you can reflect on your coaching experiences, think about what you have learned, and then record this new knowledge.
Levels of knowledge
As you work through the learning cycle, you will gradually progress through the different levels of knowledge. At the most basic level you have your foundation knowledge, which is your basic coaching knowledge. This is the sort of technical information that is often covered in books and on sport-specific workshops. You then have your application of knowledge, where you use your foundation knowledge to solve problems and address coaching situations. This is practical learning and can be seen through the learning cycle above.
Applying your knowledge and reflecting on its application will reinforce your understanding, helping you to retain the information and use it again in the future. The learning cycle does not just help you to apply your knowledge, however, as it also helps you to work further through the higher levels of knowledge. These levels include integration (being able to apply the correct knowledge to the appropriate situations); the human dimension of learning, where you develop a greater understanding of yourself; the caring level, where you are invested in coaching and the coaching of your athletes, thereby developing a passion for learning; and finally learning to learn, the final stage where you are able to assess your own learning needs and work to improve your learning.
This series of articles is all about how you can improve your learning – working at the learning to learn stage. Your learning plan is focussed on identifying what you want to learn and then creating a plan for how you will learn it. The learning cycle can help you to do this by drawing out the learning from your experiences and then putting that learning into action. Let’s look at how you can reflect on a coaching session – or other learning episode – to identify what you have learned.
A debrief is a good way to review a session that you have coached, observed or simulated through problem solving. You could do this individually, through a series of questions, or you could have a mentor debrief you. When performing the debrief, it is important to be clear on what knowledge you are looking to learn and what it is about it you want to discover. If you are using a mentor, they should ask you a series of open questions tailored to what you were trying to learn during the session, or related to your session objectives. Their focus should be on how you performed relative to the targets you had set, and they should provide you with some positive reinforcement.
Exploring and recording your learning
A debrief can be a good way to review a coaching session and see what you can learn from it. There are several methods that you can use to draw out further learning from a coaching experience and then record it so that you can apply it in the future. These methods include:
- Session reviews
- Reflective journals
- Lessons learned forms
- Learning logs.
Each of these methods can be used to help you to learn from your coaching practice (active experimentation and practical experience). Combining these methods will help you to accelerate your learning, and can be applied throughout the learning cycle. Let’s look at each of these methods a bit closer.
A good starting point is to complete a review of each session that you coach. You could also review sessions that you observe or matches that you coach. The review should look at what you set out to achieve, what your actual achievement was, and what you did that contributed to this. You could record anything that occurred during the session that was noteworthy or that you feel you could learn from.
Session reviews can often be completed on your session planner. It is a good idea to finish with a reflective comment, recording how you felt during the session and how you reacted to anything that happened. This can help you to relate the facts of the session to how you felt and reacted to them. Keeping a record of your sessions will allow you to view trends across time and can be a good resource to look back over and view with ‘fresh eyes’.
Session reviews are good for keeping a record of what has happened and looking at how well you are achieving your coaching objectives. To really learn from a session, however, you need to reflect on what has occurred in greater detail. Keeping a reflective journal can help you to dig deeper into your session reviews and take out some of the learning that has occurred. Reflection on your coaching is one the best ways to learn through experience, but you need to be prepared to change based on what you learn through it. In this way your learning can inform your practice.
Reflective journals can be really useful in helping you to identify your learning edge – examining questions that will progress your coaching as you come to understand them. Many people fail to keep a reflective journal as they are more difficult and take more time and effort than just a session review. This can be made easier by having a process in place for writing in your reflective journal; a good, simple process to work through is as follows:
- What happened?
- So what does it mean?
- What next?
Using this process you would start with what occurred during the session. This is often the content of your session review. Having described the situation (e.g. correcting an error by a player) you then examine it in more detail. What does it mean? Why did it occur? What can you take from it? Once you have developed an understanding of the situation and what its implications are, you then need to reflect on what you will do next. This could be actions that help you to become more skilled in the area, tasks to complete to prevent the situation from occurring again, or steps that you will take if you do find yourself in the same situation. An example situation might help to make the three steps clearer:
Keeping a reflective journal is a good way to examine what occurs in your coaching and what you can learn from it. A weakness of reflective journals is that it can be difficult to pull out all of the key points that you have learned when looking back over a number of entries. To address this you could record what you have learned in a lessons learned form.
Lessons learned forms
Lessons learned forms are used to identify and record what you have learned – things to repeat or things to avoid. They are completed by thinking over a session for something that worked well or something that did not work so well. You then complete three sections on the form: situation, resolution, and learning.
You start the form by describing the situation – what occurred? This can be taken from your session review or reflective journal. The idea is to provide the context for the learning, and to help you to identify similar situations in the future. You then discuss how you resolved the situation – how did you address it? You finish by stating what you learned from the situation – the key points for you to take away. A lessons learned form for Gary could look like the following:
A learning log is another way of keeping track of what you have learned. These could be developed through a weekly review of what has been learned. This would involve summarising what has been learned during the week, possibly in bullet form, and what conclusions can be made. If no learning has occurred, then it is a good idea to examine why this was. Were there any blockages preventing you from learning from your practice? What can you do the following week to ensure you continue learning?
A learning log could be as simple as a book you write in or a text file you update. It should allow you to look over what you have learned and to pull out any key themes from your reflection. It can then be a resource that you refer to when you are updating your learning plan, helping you to identify areas to develop further. This might be through research or problem solving.
Linking to your learning plan
Examining the learning cycle shows that real learning occurs when you use your knowledge in practice. One of the best ways to do this is to apply your knowledge to solve problems that you face in your coaching. Some examples of how to do this include:
- Applying a questioning approach to help a player address a weakness
- Using a demonstration to assist a player to learn a skill
- Using video analysis to assist players to develop decision making skills
- Using an analogy to help a player to understand a technique
- Applying an understanding of attacking principles to develop a team strategy.
In each of these examples you would take some new knowledge that you have learned and then use it to try and solve a coaching problem. Following the session you would review what you did, reflect on the experience, and identify any new learning that has occurred. You could then put this into a lessons learned form so that you have a record of your knowledge.
You can use your learning plan to identify the actions you will take to implement your new knowledge. This could be a matter of identifying the coaching problems that you are going to address and what steps you will take to use your knowledge in practice. You could have an action point around developing a resource bank of lessons learned, or you could set yourself a task to research in more depth an area that has come out of your reflection.
Reflecting on your coaching or any development tasks that you complete is a good way of identifying what you have learned. Using a lessons learned form or keeping a learning log can help you to collate what you have learned, and allows you to then incorporate this information into your learning plan. From here you can identify actions to take to keep building on what you have learned. Often you will recognise that you need to learn more about a particular area, so in our next article we will examine how you can research topics as part of your learning plan.