Journal of Coaching Education

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Applying Kolb s Theory of Experiential Learning to Coach Education Ashley E. Stirling University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada ABSTRACT Coach education is the key to improved coaching. In order for coach
Applying Kolb s Theory of Experiential Learning to Coach Education Ashley E. Stirling University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada ABSTRACT Coach education is the key to improved coaching. In order for coach education initiatives to be effective though, the conceptualization of those initiatives must be developed based on empirical learning theory. It is suggested that Kolb s theory of experiential learning may be an appropriate learning theory to apply to coach education. This paper outlines how Kolb s theory of experiential learning was used in the development of Canada s National Coaching Certification Program coach education module entitled Empower +: Creating Positive and Healthy Sport Experiences. The module is summarized briefly, and Kolb s six key tenets of experiential learning are reviewed. Applications of each tenet within the coach education module are highlighted, and recommendations are made for future evaluation and research. Key Words: coaching, evaluation, learning theory Volume 6, Issue 2, Fall 2013 Page 103 of 208 Applying Kolb s Theory of Experiential Learning to Coach Education Coach education, understood as the process by which coaches acquire coaching and sport-related knowledge, can take many forms, including coaching experience, observation of other coaches, apprenticeships, coaching seminars and conferences, and more traditional classroom-based coaching courses (Cushion, Armour, & Jones, 2003). Literature on the development of coaching expertise has explained that coach education is the key to improved coaching and is essential for coach development (Côté, 2006; Sullivan, Paquette, Holt, & Bloom, 2012; Woodman, 1993). Partly in response to emergent research highlighting the importance of effective coaching in sport and the need for lifelong coach learning, a number of coach education initiatives around the world have recently been launched (Trudel, Gilbert, & Werthner, 2010). To ensure that coach learning is optimally facilitated, it is important that the content of coach education programs derives from empirical sources and that the conceptualization of these initiatives is based on empirical learning theory. This recommendation is consistent with current views on the importance of competency-based coach education (Banack, Bloom, & Falcao, 2012; Demers, Woodburn, & Savard, 2006) and the application of learning theory to coach education development (Demers et al., 2006; Jones & Turner, 2006). One learning theory that may be applied to coach education is David A. Kolb s (1984) experiential learning theory. This theory is frequently cited and drawn upon by educational practitioners and researchers, and it has even been referred to as a bible for practitioners (Moore, 2010, p.4). Kolb used the term experiential learning to describe his perspective on learning in order to link his ideas to their roots in the work of Dewey (1938), Lewin (1951), and Piaget (1971) and to emphasize the central role that experience plays in the learning process. Within Kolb s experiential learning theory (1981, 1984), learning is described as a four-stage cycle consisting of concrete experience (CE, feeling dimension), reflective observation (RO, reflecting/watching dimension), abstract conceptualization (AC, thinking dimension), and active experimentation (AE, doing dimension). Each stage, also referred to as an adaptation of learning mode, provides the basis for the succeeding learning stage, and learners need the abilities represented by each stage in order for learning to be most effective (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010; Kolb, Boyatzis, & Mainemelis, 2001). Despite its popularity, experiential learning theory has been criticized for overemphasizing the learning of the individual and failing to consider the broader social context of learning, power, and experience (Holman, Pavlica, & Thorpe, 1997; Vince, 1998). Kayes (2002) provided a thorough review of these critiques and addresses these criticisms by proposing a poststructual approach to experiential learning. More specifically, Kayes suggested the important role of language in the experiential learning process and proposed its integration through specific methods such as storytelling and conversation. Volume 6, Issue 2, Fall 2013 Page 104 of 208 Application of Kolb s tenets of experiential learning may help address some of the shortcomings of formal coach education and contribute to improving the effectiveness of coach education programs. Reported limitations of formal coach education include an overemphasis on theory presentation (Lemyre, Trudel, & Durand-Bush, 2007), lack of consideration for practical applications (Gilbert, Dubina & Emmett, 2012; Lemyre et al., 2007), inability to address the complexities of real-life coaching situations (Côté, 2006; Demers et al., 2006), and lack of interaction among coaches (Côté; Demers et al., 2006; Lemyre et al., 2007). At the same time, coach education has been criticized for a declining emphasis on sports science (Stone, Sands, & Stone, 2004). Furthermore, although formal coach education courses may increase the knowledge base of the coach, required knowledge alone may not improve overall coaching effectiveness (Abraham, Collins, & Martindale, 2006; Gould, Giannini, Krane, & Hodge, 1990). Further supporting the use of Kolb s theory of experiential learning in coach education, a wealth of coaching research (Armour, 2010; Bell, 1997; Côté, 2006; Cushion et al., 2003; Gilbert & Trudel, 2001; Jiménez, Lorenzo, & Ib ez, 2009; Nelson & Cushion, 2006) has indicated the importance of experience and reflection, key concepts in experiential learning theory, (Kolb, 1984). Werthner and Trudel (2006) proposed a theoretical perspective for understanding how coaches learn to coach, which includes the influences of personal experiences of the coach, structuring knowledge through reflection and critical discussion, and the variety of potential formal, nonformal, and informal learning situations that may exist in the sport environment. Trudel et al. (2010) also stated, coaches, like any adult learner, learn how to coach through various learning situations across their lifespan (p. 149). Similarly, experiential learning theory suggests that learning is a lifelong process whereby knowledge is continually modified and recreated within each individual based on the ongoing experiences of that individual (Kolb, 1984). This is consistent with certain assumptions about adult learning (androgogy), specifically that adults come to an educational activity with a wealth of previous experience and that tapping into these experiences through experiential activities benefits adult learning (Knowles, Swanson, & Holton, 2005). In addition to the andragogical benefits of experiential learning, the use of this approach to coach education may evoke coach interest in the formal education program. Coaches have been found to be highly receptive to the practical application of reference materials that include case studies and examples that apply sport science theory to practical situations (Wright, Trudel & Culver, 2007). Looking at previous competency-based coach education, Jones and Turner (2006) applied a problem-based-learning approach to a coach education undergraduate course at the University of Bath and used realistic, problematic scenarios and subtle tutor questioning to challenge and instill in students critical ways of thinking, to be subsequently transferred into practical situations (p.185). This problem-based approach shares several common features with experiential learning theory, such as the use of critical thinking and applied theorization. The major distinction of experiential learning is the emphasis on the lived experience a factor previously reported as enhancing coach learning (Armour, 2010; Bell, 1997; Côté, 2006; Cushion et al., 2003; Gilbert & Trudel, 2001; Nelson & Cushion, 2006). Interestingly, previous research has reported the combination of problem-based learning and experiential-learning- Volume 6, Issue 2, Fall 2013 Page 105 of 208 theory methodology as highly beneficial to student learning within a sport pedagogy module (Bethell & Morgan, 2011). While Kolb s four-stage learning cycle has not been specifically referenced in relation to a particular coach education program, a recent review of coach learning and development outlined the potential application of this experiential learning theory (Cushion et al., 2010). The application of experiential learning to coach education has also been previously discussed in relation to the implementation of coaching internships and reflective practice within the Baccalaureate in Sport Intervention (BIS) at Laval University an undergraduate program in which the professional competencies are closely aligned with those of Canada s National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP; Demers et al., 2006). Banack et al. (2012) also articulated the importance of measuring the translation of knowledge to practice as an indicator of learning and coach education effectiveness within Canada s NCCP. Accordingly, Kolb s experiential learning theory was used as the guiding theoretical framework for the recent development of Canada s NCCP coach education module entitled Empower +: Creating Positive and Healthy Sport Experiences. The purpose of the current paper is to review the use of Kolb s experiential learning theory to inform the development of this coach education module. The module will be summarized briefly, and key tenets of experiential learning will be reviewed. Based on previous recommendations for assessment in experiential education, recommendations will be made for evaluation of the educational module. The Coach Education Module: Empower + Consistent with the core competencies of Canada s NCCP, the Empower + coach education module was designed to help coaches develop competencies in problem-solving, valuing, critical thinking, leading, and interacting, with a focus on how these competencies pertain to enhancing athlete welfare in sport. It is a thought-provoking, 4-hour, professional development module that teaches coaches how to enhance the well-being of athletes in their care and be a positive role model in the world of sport. It is intended that coaches, after finishing this module, will have an enhanced ability to apply a problem-solving approach to making ethical decisions related to maltreatment in sport. In particular, they will be able to (1) critically reflect on their own experiences in sport, (2) recognize the potential for and presence of maltreatment in sport, (3) determine when and how to intervene when they observe or suspect maltreatment, (4) apply the six-step NCCP Decision-making Model to make ethical decisions related to maltreatment in sport, and (5) identify the conditions related to creating positive and healthy sport experiences that enhance the well-being of athletes in their care (Stirling & Wheeler, 2012). This module is designed as a professional development module for all coaches, regardless of sport and coaching context (community, competition, and instruction). Although the module is delivered in a classroom setting, consistent with the overarching problem-based learning approach of Canada s NCCP, it follows this problem-based design and moves past typical lecture format to more experiential-based education, incorporating interactive experiential activities and Volume 6, Issue 2, Fall 2013 Page 106 of 208 drawing on previous coach experiences and critical reflections. The development of this module was based strongly on the tenets of experiential learning as described by Kolb (1984). Application of Kolb s Basic Tenets of Experiential Learning Kolb (1984) outlines six basic tenets of experiential learning. In this section of the paper, each tenet is reviewed and is discussed in relation to the development of the Empower + module. A summary is provided in Table 1. Volume 6, Issue 2, Fall 2013 Page 107 of 208 Learning is a process Journal of Coaching Education Table 1. Applying Kolb s Six Tenets of Experiential Learning to Coach Education Tenet Coach Education Strategy Application in Empower+ Module Coaches need to acknowledge previous Coaches chart reflections on previous positive experiences in informal and formal learning. sport to develop a coaching philosophy, values, and goals as a Coaches learning should be viewed as coach. ongoing. Coaches are provided with take-home exercises. Learning is grounded in experience Learning involves mastery of all four learning modes Learning is a holistic process of adaptation Learning involves transaction with the environment Knowledge is created through learning Learning experiences should be introduced at an appropriate pace. Coaches preconceptions need to be challenged in light of new experience, theory, and reflection. Coaches need to have opportunities to experience, reflect, theorize, and apply their learning. The coaches feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and actual behaviors should be addressed through the coach education. Coaches require experience in the wider realworld environment (i.e., hands-on coaching experience). The actual learning should be specific to each individual coach. Learning activities are strategically organized to not overwhelm the coach with the topic of maltreatment. Interactive case studies and role play exercises are used to facilitate new learning experiences. Experience: Interactive case studies and role play exercises are used. Reflect: Coaches complete a self-reflection chart. Theorize: Reference materials and mini-lectures are presented. Apply: Coaches problem-solve and create an action plan for enhancing athlete welfare. Feelings: The harmful effects of maltreatment and inspirational messages encouraging the coaches to make a difference are presented. Perceptions: Coaches engage in reflection exercises on the positive impact that coaches can have on athlete well-being. Thinking: Coaches decide best options for maltreatment intervention. Behaviors: Role-playing exercises and goal planning are facilitated. Reflection exercises draw upon real-world sport experiences. In-person delivery and group work exercises are used to facilitate interactions and advocacy among coaches. There is an expectation that coaches will experiment in applying their action plans in practice and will complete the take-home exercises. Opportunities are provided for coaches to draw on personal experiences and develop individualized action plans. Tenet 1: Learning Is a Process. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes. Distinguishing experiential learning from the more traditional approaches of lecture-based classroom education, Kolb (1984) explains, The theory of experiential learning rests on a different philosophical and Volume 6, Issue 2, Fall 2013 Page 108 of 208 Journal of Coaching Education epistemological base from behavioral approaches of learning and idealist educational approaches (p. 26). Consistent with postmodern epistemological assumptions, Kolb postulates that knowledge is constructed as a person forms and re-forms ideas through individual experience. In this view, No two thoughts are ever the same, since experience always intervenes (p. 26). Accordingly, learning is understood as a constant succession, and knowledge is continually modified and recreated based on previous and ongoing experiences of the learner. Applying this tenet to the development of the Empower + module, we recognized that coaches will bring with them a wealth of previous experiences, which will contribute to the knowledge produced by the coach within the educational session. During the first activity in the module, the coach is asked to reflect on his/her previous experiences, both as a coach and potentially in other roles such as athlete, parent, or administrator. The coaches are asked to record in a chart their reflections on previous positive sporting experiences, the strategies used to create these positive experiences, and the stakeholders involved. Coaches are asked to return to this chart at several points throughout the module to continue to add experiences as they are remembered. After coaches are introduced to reference materials on positive athlete-development strategies, the coaches return again to their reflection charts and are asked to re-reflect on their previous experiences based on the new information provided and to develop a list of key strategies for creating positive sport experiences for their athletes. In this way, the learning is individualized to each coach, and the knowledge and specific strategies produced for enhancing athlete welfare relate directly to the coaches own experiences and critical reflections on these experiences. Not only is knowledge produced as coaches reinterpret previous experiences in light of new information, but it is expected that the coaches learning will continue as they continue to have and reflect on future experiences. Accordingly, in addition to the classroom exercises that occur during the course of the module, the coaches are purposefully provided with a take-home booklet of reference materials, including a list of self-reflection questions they should pose during practices and competitions (e.g. Do my words or actions enhance the athlete s enjoyment in sport? ) and follow-up questions (e.g. How can I be an even better coach tomorrow than I was today? ) for after practices and competitions. These exercises are intended to encourage ongoing critical reflections, link these reflections back to the intended learning outcomes of the module, and promote continual learning. This tenet also has had important implications for coach evaluation. There is no formal coach evaluation that coaches have to complete in order to gain credit for finishing the module. This is because, consistent with experiential learning theory, it is suggested that coaches learning and achievement of the intended learning outcomes is not complete at the moment that the educational session ends. Instead, it is the intention of the module that the coaches gain new insights and resources that will help enhance their learning of the intended outcomes during participation within the module as well as following module completion. Applying this tenet to general coach-education evaluation, it is suggested that the timing of evaluation measures should be cautiously considered. Consistent with the continuing nature of coach learning, it is recommended that a long-term and ongoing evaluation scheme may be most appropriate. Volume 6, Issue 2, Fall 2013 Page 109 of 208 Tenet 2: Learning Is Grounded in Experience. Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience. Kolb (1984) emphasized that learning is a process that occurs from and is continually tested through experience. More specifically it is the difference between the expectations and experiences of the learner that facilitates the learning process. An optimal balance is needed, however, in this interplay between expectation and experience. If a person is too focused on continuity and certainty, this has potential to lead to rigidity and impede learning. On the other hand, to have continuity frequently disrupted with new experiences can lead to insecurity and skepticism, also not conducive to learning. As such, Kolb called for an attitude of provisionalism, also referred to as partial skepticism, which is created by presenting a learner with new learning experiences that are appropriately disparate from the learner s expectations and at a pace that still allows for a degree of stability within the learner. Furthermore, because all learning is grounded in experience, All learning is relearning (Kolb, 1984, p. 28). Everyone enters a potential learning situation with a preset knowledge base and set of expectations based on their previous experiences. Education therefore, cannot strive to merely implant new ideas on a bl
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