In our 2018 trends report, Training Industry’s Doug Harward and Ken Taylor wrote, “As the classroom size continues to shrink, the role of the instructor is changing from a facilitator for a large audience to a personal coach or tutor.” In order to help trainers personalize instruction, we must encourage them to develop coaching and storytelling skills that will make content relatable to learners and put them “at the center of the story and the training experience.”

As consumers, learners are now used to personalized experiences when it comes to shopping and entertainment. Perhaps as a result, they’re also looking for personalized experiences when it comes to learning at work, and the benefits are obvious. Learners receive instruction that’s tailored to their learning needs and goals, reducing time wasted on content they already know and ensuring that they develop the skills they need to succeed at their individual jobs.

Technology is supporting more personalized asynchronous learning through such methods as adaptive learning. Organizations are also increasingly focusing on the “70 percent” and “20 percent” of the 70:20:10 model using on-the-job and social learning, which are also more easily  personalized.

However, instructor-led training (ILT) is still an effective and common method of training, and likely will be for the foreseeable future, especially when combined with those other methods. Given the benefits of personalized learning, and the popularity of ILT, how can we ensure that classroom training is providing the individualized attention learners need?

Coaching is a training technique often used with executives or developing leaders and managers to help them develop specific skills and accomplish goals. It’s a personalized one-on-one approach in which coaches understand the individual needs of the person being coached and tailor their feedback and guidance accordingly.

Sound familiar? This type of personalization is also what learners are looking for in training.

The International Coach Federation (ICF), a global coaching accreditation organization, identifies several core competencies of an effective coach, many of which can be adapted by instructors to deliver personalized training. Let’s take a look.


While it’s more common to think of developing relationships as something that’s more important for managers or coaches than for instructors, a key to effective training is building a rapport with learners. The relationship between instructor and learner should be based on trust, which is developed when an instructor demonstrates respect for learners’ perspectives and learning styles, creates a safe environment for taking risks, and provides continuous support throughout the training as learners demonstrate new behaviors.

The ICF also identifies “coaching presence” as a competency. Presence, which can be defined as “the ability to make authentic communications through dynamic communication,” is also a critical skill for instructors, who must be authentic communicators in order to connect with – and thereby effectively teach – learners. Being fully present in the classroom means instructors can identify learner needs and adapt accordingly, choosing the content and facilitation technique that’s appropriate in the moment.

Effective Communication

Instruction is, essentially, a form of communication, and so instructors must also be excellent communicators. First, that means active listening, or focusing on what learners are saying and asking throughout the session or workshop, understanding not just words but also tone and body language, summarizing and paraphrasing to check for understanding, and using what is heard to adapt instruction.

It also means being able not just to answer questions but also to ask them. Questions are a powerful learning tool, and effective instructors tailor questions to individual learners based on what they are hearing and observing in the classroom. Effective coaching and instructional questions are open-ended and, as the ICF says, “evoke discovery, insight, commitment or action.”

Communication in both coaching and instructional relationships is also clear, direct and impactful. At the beginning of a session, effective instructors clearly state the goals and objectives of the session so that learners can prepare. When teaching new concepts or providing individual or group feedback, instructors should break down information into clear and simple pieces (refraining from using jargon or technical language whenever possible), reframe what they say based on questions and comments from learners, and use metaphors and stories to help paint a picture of complex or abstract ideas.

Facilitating Learning

The final competency area identified by the ICF for coaches is the most obviously applicable to instructors: facilitating learning. Based on these competencies, here are some tips for instructors to personalize learning:

  • Integrate a variety of perspectives and learning styles into instruction to reach each learner.
  • Use questions and activities to help participants learn for themselves rather than simply listening to a lecture.
  • Apply what you learn about participants to provide examples that are meaningful and useful to them.
  • For workshops or programs that take place over time, use observations, performance and learner feedback to identify goals and applications that learning learners can use on the job between sessions. Then, celebrate successes and help them improve based on individual performance.
  • Adapt the learning plan or curriculum based on learner competence as well as bumps they experience along the way.
  • At the end of a program, acknowledge and celebrate what participants have learned, and help them develop a plan for reinforcing and applying their new knowledge and skills.

“Learners do not want a regurgitation of facts and information from required pre-work,” Harward and Taylor conclude. They want instruction that’s relatable to them. Organizations want that, too – after all, that relatable content will help ensure that learning has the greatest impact on individual performance and, then, business goals. By helping instructors become coaches in the classroom, learning leaders can make sure everyone gets what they need from instructor-led training.