Helping Online Students Reach Their True Learning Potential Via Coaching

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session Blended HBCU Research Leadership Equity and Inclusion

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Brief Abstract

Coaching is an effective learning tool for Students and Faculty. Coaching Sessions have provided Students with opportunities to focus on specific skills – as a compliment to the real-life application of the course material. Coaching results in a greater sense of community, and has improved Student persistence, retention, and affinity. 

Extended Abstract

Coaching as a Service in Higher Education

Though often misunderstood for mentoring or advising in higher education, coaching is uniquely different by design.  To differentiate, Dr. Barry Butler, President of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, authorized the following definition of coaching to guide planning, implementation, and monitor efforts:

Coaching is a partnership that refers to those relationships that are performance or task driven and are started with a specific outcome in mind. Coaching relationships begin with the expectation that the relationship will end or transform once the challenge at hand has been successfully completed.

Coaching is a process of self-discovery that, through reflective questioning, allows Students to expand their thinking, stimulate growth, and acknowledge self-limiting behaviors.  Students initiate the process with an agenda – a goal, need, or challenge – in mind.  The Faculty Coach serves as a thinking partner to unlock possibility and solutions from within the Student.

Why Coaching?

Coaching is a means of advancing student success and has been shown to positively impact retention in higher education.  Bettinger & Baker (2014) conducted a study involving over 13,500 students enrolled at eight post-secondary institutions. They found that 66% of the students who were coached were still enrolled after 12 months, whereas only 51% retained from the non-coached group during that same period (Bettinger & Baker, 2014).  Another study found students that were coached had an 8% higher GPA than their non-coached peers, and were 11% more likely to persist into the second year of college (Linkow, Gamse, Unlu, Bumgarner, Didriksen, Furey, Meneses, Sami, & Nichols, 2017).

Beyond the institutions interests, the true benefit of offering coaching to post-secondary Students lies in the opportunity to help them realize their true potential and overcome obstacles during their academic journey and throughout life.     

Our Coaching History

The Worldwide College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University began offering Coaching Services in early 2018. The initiative was designed to help Students remove obstacles to success and achieve their goals – in effect, to prepare a more whole student.  Toward that end, thirty faculty were trained by the Coach Training Alliance (CTA). Faculty undertook this training commitment and were CTA certified following an immersive 22-week course.

The initial proposal offered pro-bono coaching to Students enrolled in the graduate and undergraduate Leadership programs.  The original idea was to require graduate Students to participate in Coaching as a required part of the curriculum. A similar Coaching service for undergraduate Students was started soon after. Today, the curriculum has evolved, and coaching is no longer mandated, but rather an optional service.  In addition, all Students in the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - Worldwide campus are welcome to request coaching services.

The typical coaching engagement spans a period of three months with most sessions taking place via phone or video conference (Zoom) on a bi-weekly basis.  At the conclusion of the coaching relationship, 98% of Students reported that their coaching expectations were met and the majority - 83% (very likely) and 15% (likely) – would recommend coaching to other Students. 

While coaching conversations are private, common themes center on life and academic goals.  Feedback from Students suggest that Coaching has addressed diverse topics such as career progression, communication, relationships, professional growth, leadership development, interview preparation, time management, and skill development.

Given the diverse scope, an effort was undertaken to explore a targeted method of coaching designed to improve a specific skill.

A Coaching Pilot

In August 2021 a new form of our Coaching Program was piloted. The pilot involved an undergraduate leadership course. At the beginning of the semester Students were asked to introduce themselves to the class. Besides the routine introductory topics, the Students were also asked to identify a specific leadership skill they would like to work on during the semester. 

The latter point served as an opportunity to incorporate a coaching session to proactively address the student’s stated need.   In the August term two leadership courses were selected to participate in the pilot taught by a Faculty member, CTA Certified Coach, who had coached over 130 Students over the years.

The Faculty member made note of each Student’s specific leadership skill that needed work. The next step was to inform the Students that Coaching Sessions would be available, on a volunteer basis. More than 40% of the Students in the two courses registered for a Leadership Skills Coaching Session.

The Leadership Skills Coaching Sessions on averaged lasted an hour in length. A wide array of leadership skills were discussed to include: delegation, communications, trust, confidence, and empowerment. The one-on-one coaching sessions resulted in a lively discussion and interaction between the Faculty and Student.  As part of the Coaching process, the Certified Faculty Coach did not make any recommendations, but rather used reflective inquiry and shared personal experiences related to the leadership skill being discussed. 

Results of the Coaching Pilot

Following the Skills Coaching Session each Student was asked to email the Faculty member feedback. The comments from the Students reflected positive sediment. In addition, the many Students mentioned that they will begin implementing some of the leadership skill pointers as soon as possible.

At the end of the semester the Students that participated in the Coaching Sessions evaluated these sessions. The overall score was 96% as been very effective or effective. 

Next Steps for the Coaching Pilot

Curriculum content in an online course can be overwhelming (Fawaz, Al Nakhal, Itani, 2021). A proactive approach to identifying a skill-based need ensures that Faculty are not only addressing the learning outcomes of the course, but also being responsive to the individual student and providing them real-world skills they can utilize on the job. 

Following the original pilot, the Worldwide College of Business plans to expand the Skills Coaching Service to more courses.  Continuing the proactive approach, the initiative will target courses where Students can identify a specific skill they may wish to focus on.  Besides management and leadership courses, this includes the disciplines of project management, human resource management, engineering, and business analytics.

To support expansion of the Coaching effort, a pipeline of coaches must be established.  Opportunities include the utilization of current Certified Faculty Coaches, as well as volunteer groups of Peer Students, Adjunct Faculty, and Alumni to support instructors teaching the courses.  A training program is needed to highlight what coaching is all about, as well as the roles both Coach and Coachee play in the Coaching process.  Certified Teaching Faculty serve as a resource for developing coaching competencies through a train-the-trainer program. 

Achievement of skills obtained through Coaching could be documented through badging, another feature Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is currently pursuing.


Coaching services are commonly used in business as a means of professional and personal growth.  Incorporating the use of coaching methodologies into the online curriculum provides multiple benefits to the Student, as well as the institution of higher education.  Students exposed to Skill-based Coaching walk away with a skillset customized to their individual self, as well as an expanded network of connections and sense of community.  Furthermore, coaching supports an enhanced learning experience from which retention, persistence, and affinity are positively impacted.


Bettinger, E. P., & Baker, R. (2014). The effects of student coaching: An evaluation of a randomized experiment in student mentoring. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 36(1), 3–19.

Fawaz, M., Al Nakhal, M., & Itani, M. (2021). COVID-19 quarantine stressors and management among Lebanese students: A qualitative study. Current Psychology, 1–8.

Linkow, T., Gamse, B., Unlu, F., Bumgarner, E., Didriksen, H., Furey, J., Meneses, M., Sami, M., Nichols, A., (2017). The power of coaching: Highlights from the interim report on the impact of success Boston's transition coaching on college success. Abt Associates.