The very best professional development programs

The very best professional development programs contain all of the following components: training, coaching, mentoring, on-the-job practice, and peer teaching. Training conveys basic and multi-faceted knowledge to students so that they can develop skills. Coaching tailors such knowledge to individual situations and help students achieve specific goals. Mentoring provides experiential insights and wisdom to students from experts or elders who have themselves worked in similar areas or on similar issues. On-the-job practice offers students the chance to hone their skills, make mistakes and develop competencies and confidence. Peer teaching solidifies a student’s knowledge base by forcing them to teach peers everything they know.

Training has specific purposes

Training combines the transfer of knowledge with opportunities to build skills associated with pieces of knowledge. During training knowledge is conveyed to a learn through a teacher (e.g., formal teacher, peer or supervisor), who uses a variety of methods and tools to transfer the knowledge to the learner (e.g, lecturing, story-telling, reading, group sharing, watching videos, demonstrations, etc.). The student then has the opportunity to build skills through practice; using the knowledge (e.g., planning, problem-solving, testing, building, role-plays, etc.).

Training can take place in a traditional classroom, in the field of work, during a supervisory or monitoring encounter, over-the-phone or online. When a learner enters a training session he or she is trained by a subject matter expert; someone who has experience on a project or is an expert in a field of study. Trainers/teachers usually have vast experience in a particular subject matter. They teach students all the aspects of a particular subject.

For example: when a trainer teaches about Leadership, the trainer may include many topics pertaining to leadership such as:

  • How to create a vision, a strategy and a plan
  • How to lead a project
  • How to lead people through change
  • What are the three types of leadership styles and how can leaders change their styles to suit different situations
  • How to communicate effectively as a leader
  • How to persuade and influence others as a leader
  • How culture impacts leaders and followers
  • How generation impacts leaders and followers
  • What type of challenges do leaders face from others and how can they prepare to address these challenges
  • What type of challenges do leaders face within themselves and how can they confidently face their own challenges
  • How to lead-up and manage your boss
  • How to resolve conflicts
  • How to lead volunteers
  • How to motivate and inspire others

The trainer will help the students identify typical problems that they may encounter and then help the group or the class generate solutions to general problems. During a training session many topics will be covered; some briefly and others in depth. The students will receive broad categories of knowledge about a subject.

Coaching personalizes the developmental experience

Coaching is typically a one-on-one encounter in which a coach works individually with a learner or other professional. Coaching targets a person’s goals and helps the client achieve goals that are either specific to her/him or to her/his project or job. Coaching can be conducted in a small group format but is typically a 1-on-1 encounter. During coaching encounters, coaches tailor their work, assessment and support to an individual’s needs. Coaches work with individuals to diagnose challenges and then facilitate the development of solutions and strategies that will best support a client’s success.

There are many types of coaching

The focus of coaching can include:

  • Contextual problem-solving coaching (e.g., assessing the client’s problem-in-context and discerning, with the client, possible solutions)
  • Performance/skills-application coaching (e.g., focused entirely on supporting a client’s performance improvement goals or the real-world application of skills)
  • Visioning and achievement coaching (e.g., assessing the client’s vision, values and goals, then helping the client formulate a strategy and action plan to achieve her/his goals)
  • Empowerment/motivational coaching (e.g., helping the client build confidence within her/himself)
  • Developmental/career coaching (e.g, helping the client assess her/his professional strengths and developmental gaps/weaknesses and creating a plan for on-the-job developmental growth)
  • Psycho-educational insight-oriented coaching (e.g., assessing the struggles the client has in relationships with others and providing the client with brief educational insights about intra-personal and inter-personal relationship dynamics and psychology, then helping the client to develop a specific action plan for changing the dynamics of relationships)
  • Cognitive-behavioral coaching (e.g., helping the client understand and get past specific thoughts, attitudes and behaviors that are stopping her/him from succeeding, and facilitating an action plan for goal achievement)
  • Personal/life coaching (e.g., supporting the client’s management of personal life issues)

During a coaching session

During a coaching session, the coach and client will generally target one or two specific goals or challenges. The goal is to decide upon a goal(s), assess current strengths-opportunities-possibilities, diagnose trouble-spots, generate solutions, and develop an action plan. The coach is a facilitator of this entire process. They are not a lecturer, nor do they take on the role of a teacher during the entire process. The coach asks many questions and provokes new thought to help the client gain new insights and develop new solutions. The coach doesn’t just offer the client solutions. Using questions, the coach helps the client see themselves and their situation from all points of view and help the client develop an action plan that is right for that particular client; not necessarily for all clients.

There are some similarities between training and coaching

Both trainers and coaches should be:

  • Motivational and inspirational
  • Quality facilitators of learning, inquiry, visioning, solution-generation and planning
  • Quality communicators: they should be able to convey questions and insight to clients in an easy, understandable fashion
  • Mentors: imparting wisdom, empathy and knowledge based on in-depth experience

There are many trainers who integrate coaching activities (trainer-student coaching, peer coaching, inter-generational coaching, etc.) into their seminars and classes; and there are many coaches who engage in on-the-spot momentary training during their coaching encounters. A quality trainer and a quality coach will have both sets of skills at their disposal and know when to use which skill set during a class or encounter.

However, the rule of thumb is that coaches use 1-on-1 encounters to focus on goal setting and action planning; and trainers use 1-on-1 or group sessions to convey large, often multi-faceted pieces of knowledge then create opportunities for students to practice using their new knowledge on projects, in discussions or in planning.


Bob Schout is an Organization Management Expert specializing in human behavior in organizational systems, group dynamics, personnel development, and personal growth & development. He is President of PowerSkills Training & Development Inc. and Owner of Schout It Out, LLC. Schout It Out offers the world inspirational and educational products and literary works to promote beauty, peace and justice in the world. PowerSkills offers professional development seminar, consultation, coaching, provocative speaking, and mediation services to business, government, nonprofit, professional association, and faith-based organizations.

Photographs by: rawpixel

Receive our FREE Guide:

6 Ways to Beat Back Burnout!

Join our list and be the first to know when fresh content is posted! 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Receive our FREE Guide:

6 Ways to Beat Back Burnout!

Join our list and be the first to know when fresh content is posted! 

You have Successfully Subscribed!