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Accelerating Coaches’ Learning

Executive Summary Accelerating Coaches’ Learning: An Examination of Resources and Learning Material Formats 1.

This project was focused on a particular aspect of coach education, that is, the design and formatting of learning materials that form part of coach education award programmes. The substantive element in the project is the extent to which materials used to support the coaches’ learning are designed in such a way that the basic principles of successful learning are achieved. This involved undertaking a review of the literature, a critical analysis and review of sport specific and generic coach education resources, gathering the views of a sample of coaches and tutors, comparing the findings to resources in other spheres, and providing recommendations for good practice.


A literature review was carried out with a focus on adult education and prescriptions for good practice in distance learning resources. This review was used to produce an analytical framework, with criteria organised into 11 principles (accessibility, attractiveness, contextualisation, feedback, handling, interactivity, layout & structure, operation; progression, reflection, and summarising). The framework was then used to analyse learning materials from courses at three levels in five sports, and also a set of five generic resources produced by sports coach UK/Coachwise. The analytical framework was also used to create a questionnaire on the strength of opinion and more general comments of a sample of coaches and tutors who had used these resources recently (n=60 responses). The gathering of qualitative data was complemented by a focus group and interviews with tutors and coach education managers.


The relevant literature is characterised by prescriptions of good practice derived from experience rather than empirical research into relative impact. However, adult learning is an appropriate mechanism for considering coach education and provides a clear set of principles for effective learning. There is sufficient information to act as a guideline for the design and evaluation of learning materials. The review and subsequent recommendations benefited greatly from the work of Race (e.g. 2005) and Rowntree (e.g. 1994).


Distance learning is an appropriate descriptor of much of coach education material (albeit the variation in use has to be acknowledged). The prescriptions on design and layout contain very similar messages from most sources, and there is value in distinguishing between presentational layout factors, and structural design factors.


The key words to emerge in presentational layout are: white space; headings and sub-headings; lack of clutter; diagrams and illustrations; colour; bolding; and emphasis. The key words to emerge in the structural design of learning materials include: clear objectives; signposting; feedback; activities/questions; a learning map; progression; remedial loops; summarising; and consistency of approach.


The project required a set of evaluation criteria that could be used to analyse existing learning materials in coach education. Although there were fairly extensive prescriptions from a number of authors, the information had not been sufficiently aggregated and no comprehensive framework existed that ranged across the learning structure and matters of presentation and layout. It was necessary to use the review of literature in order to construct a usable tool for analysis. The approach adopted was a pragmatic one, as it was considered important to have a workable framework for analysis. The framework consisted of a series of principles with accompanying criteria: accessibility; attractiveness; contextualisation; feedback; handling; interactivity; layout & structure; operation; progression; reflection; and summarising (see Appendix a).


The resources were judged to be strong in handling, contextualisation, accessibility and attractiveness, and less so in summarising, operation and layout and structure. Overall it was noticeable that some important (in relation to adult learning principles) features did not score as highly as might have been expected: interactivity, reflection, feedback and summarising. The analysis highlighted required practice in signposting, remedial loops, course maps, indexes, integration of study tasks into resources providing summary sections, contextualising learning into coaching roles, and creating uncluttered, visually appealing material.


The analysis of the generic coach education resources demonstrated an evident distinction between informational sources and open-learning products. The conclusion was that many of the resources were

well-produced, attractive, well-structured sources of information/knowledge, but less good on learning principles incorporation. They scored highly in: progression, attractiveness, and layout & structure, but less well in interactivity, accessibility, summarising, reflection and feedback. The overall conclusion is that the presentation was adequate or good, but the open-learning framework was often poor. 9.

An important element in the project was the comments from coaches and tutors. These were gathered both in a measure of their strength of response to a number if items reflecting the analysis framework, and by response to a number of open questions (see Appendix b). The comments proved to be a very valuable source of evidence.


The coaches/tutors in the sample gave very positive responses in terms of the learning framework design – emphasising activities, accessibility, and relationship to practice. The activities were relevant and enjoyable. On the other hand, there were less positive aspects of the learning ‘platform’, identifying the absence of model answers, lack of information on self-pacing the learning, and few examples and case studies. Negative comments were also received about the presentation; variety and lack of appeal were mentioned.


The lessons to be learned from this feature of the questionnaires are that: tasks and activities that are engaging and relevant are motivating, value is placed on examples and case studies, and feedback is very important. Coaches wanted the learning materials to be structured in such a way that it became a distance learning resource and encouraged own-paced learning. Respondents were able to distinguish what were considered to be visually appealing (and by inference stimulating) formats from those that were less so.


The comments from the respondents were generally positive in their evaluation of the resources. The richness of their comments, both positive and negative, is incorporated in to the text. It was clear that clarity of presentation, an easy to follow structure, practical application and good feedback were valued, as was obvious integration with other related learning materials. The coaches and tutors identified unrewarding activities as a significant disincentive. The overall tenor of the comments was supported by interviews. Tutors were very aware of issues about the quality and timeliness of feedback and the need to provide ‘meaningful’ learning materials to encourage adherence to the programme.


A number of factors related to the coach education learning context were also relevant. These centred on the relationship of learning materials to other elements of the coach education course/programme and to complementary resources, the degree of ‘distance learning’ intended, the scale of the learning experience, and to the production costs involved. A specific issue is that of generic versus course-specific design. There are learning advantages to a resource that is integrated with tutor delivery and other aspects of the programme. However, this may limit to some extent the utility of the resource.


There is a core of learning principles applied to materials, and these should be given some prominence in evaluation and design. This has emerged from being engaged in the project and to some extent has its rationale in the literature review. Nevertheless, this is subject to further discussion. Such a list might contain: Interactivity, Reflection, Feedback Summarising, Attractiveness, Accessibility, and Progression.


The recommendations are centred on a set of guidelines to be taken into consideration when designing learning materials (see table 1 below). In addition to these detailed and specific recommendations, we recommend that (a) learning materials should adhere to principles of good practice in both presentational format and learning framework design; (b) adult learning concepts provide a useful framework/rationale for post-compulsory coach education; (c) learning materials in coach education should adhere to the attached guidelines; (d) advice should be made available to Governing Bodies of sport to assist with the design and production of learning materials; (e) evidence of learning framework principles in associated learning materials should form part of the UKCC-endorsement criteria; and (f) coach educators should be made aware of the learning principles associated with learning materials.

Table 1: Design and formatting guidelines General Guidelines All learning materials should: Enhance the desire to learn, by relating to practice and improvement Develop knowledge rather than give information Recognise an essential aspect of learning is the availability of feedback Be designed to increase the self-assessment and self-evaluation of the learner Have a purposeful structure and design Recognise the distinction between reference materials (drills, technical materials) and the use of this information (for example, principles behind the design of drills) Enable learners to negotiate the materials in different ways Be user-friendly but challenging Invite further study Learning Framework Principles 1. Contextualisation All learning materials should: Be clearly related to the learner’s coaching role within the sport Establish the relevance of the content by reference to appropriate coaching competences Make extensive use of examples and case studies Exhibit no gender, racial or ethnic bias Make reference to current issues within sport (ethics, values) Assist the association of content by reference by directing the learner to external sources of information, and other learning materials Be clearly linked to assessment procedures and requirements 2. Feedback All learning materials should: Provide an opportunity to review progress by identifying ‘staging posts’ at relevant points in the resource Provide (a range of) appropriate responses for all activities and study tasks Provide guidance (evaluative comment) on the learner’s responses Make suggestions for recapping (remedial loops) at appropriate stages Assist the learner with self-evaluation of progress Allow the learner to work independently if preferred Provide learners with progression information via self-assessment questions and exercises Relate feedback to learning outcomes and/or practice Relate feedback to assessment Provide an appropriate blend of tutor feedback and likely responses to self-study tasks 3. Interactivity All learning materials should: Include activities that engage the learner (tasks, questions, exercises) in order to prompt responses, reflection, and further development of content Relate study tasks to key learning outcomes or the development of knowledge Provide clear instructions on the learner’s role in using tasks, questions, diagrams and photographs Encourage the learner’s individual input into activities and study tasks Promote communication within a coaching community of practice Encourage ‘deep learning’ through application and reflection Create activities/tasks that are clear, challenging, and discrete 4. Progression All learning materials should: Have learning outcomes that are clearly stated, and linked to the learner’s role and practice in coaching Cross reference learning outcomes and content at appropriate stages Establish the learner’s current status and thereby learning needs Show progression in content from theme to theme, and section to section Be structured so as to allow learners to control the pace of their learning Progressive steps forward in the learning materials that allows progression in a series of manageable stages Display ‘retreat points’ (checks on current learning) that are easily understood and provide links to more

simplified learning Link progression through the materials to the enhancement of role competences 5. Reflection All learning materials should: Facilitate reflection through effective self-evaluation skills Promote a consideration of learning styles by offering a range of activities Use decision-making and problem-solving scenarios to promote reflection Offer reflection exercises that require application to personal practice Encourage reflection on progress linked to completion of a personal competence profile Encourage a variety of perspectives and interpretations 6. Summarising All learning materials should: Introduce chapters/sections with concise summaries that stress the content’s relevance End chapters/sections with summaries that facilitate self-evaluation of progress, and establish ‘what has been learned’ Provide summary points in a learner-friendly format Short summaries of key points/findings throughout the resource Use bold, colour, simple formatting, and bullet points to highlight summary sections Highlight the key learning points in relation to learning outcomes Presentational/Formatting Principles 1. Accessibility All learning materials should: Provide information in a simple, concise, and jargon-free manner Present information in a style that is easily understood by the majority of learners Have an integrated contents, index, page number, section number system Have a clear ‘entry point’ to the resource that is relevant and relates to the course or the learner’s practice Position the learning/content at a level that is made clear and related to appropriate award programmes Be user-friendly (readable and understandable) by using ‘applied’ language and coaching-friendly language Provide complementary workbooks, logbooks, and other worksheets 2. Attractiveness All learning materials should: Have a pleasing/stimulating appearance, with an immediate attraction Increase interest through a variety of non-text means (photographs, diagrams, line drawings, illustrations) Use strong colour schemes to highlight key areas of learning Use modern, readable text with varied sizes of text to highlight and emphasise Have large amounts of white space to create a lack of ‘clutter’ Provide appropriate white space for responses to exercises Adopt a coherent design throughout the resource 3. Layout & Structure All learning materials should: Structure content and themes into appropriate, manageable ‘chunks’ or sub-divisions Have a design and layout with a visual appeal through a consistent approach Highlight the authors’ emphasis through headings, reminders, boxed key points Avoid repetition, but encourage remedial loops Have clear signposting – linkages, instructions, emphasis Have responses, summaries and key points boxed in, with bullet points or other concise presentation Be thorough and comprehensive in its subject coverage at that level Have relevant spaces for learner responses to exercises Have sections and notes pages to make the learner’s annotations 4. Operation All learning materials should: Illustrate a clear relationship to course provision and other related and complementary learning materials Incorporate flexibility in instructions to match learner needs, and relate to learning outcomes Be signposted with clear instructions for use, and links to external sources Provide information on how to contact tutors and relevant agencies Remind learners about ‘what has been learned’ and ‘what has still to be learned’

Provide a clear learning schedule, illustrating time to be spent on each section (where relevant) Clarify the relationship between the learning materials and the coach education course Be easy to handle, carry and store Be constructed in such a way as to be easily updated

Learning Materials Research: executive summary