Leading-edge technology, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and virtual reality is reshaping the coaching landscape. Leveraging technological advancements can help coaches enhance coaching practice, streamline logistics, and provide an unparalleled client experience.
New technologies augment coaching practice to emphasize client growth
Rather than fearing the displacement of human coaches by emerging technologies, coaches can embrace the immense potential of these innovations. Trends indicate that gaining proficiency in emerging technologies can enhance coaches’ efforts to enrich the client experience. Deep human interaction lies at the heart of coaching, and by partnering with technology, coaches can streamline tasks, optimize their time, glean new insights into their practice, and focus on what really matters—the transformational journey of their clients.
The cornerstone of coaching rests on the power of conversation, where individuals gain new perspectives and achieve personal and professional growth. Coaches can use technologies like virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and advanced AI programs like generative AI and machine learning (ML) to devote more time to meaningful interactions. The goal of these tools is to streamline processes and automate logistical work, including client onboarding and administrative duties. Virtual reality may also enhance a client’s experience of coaching, while AI can provide real-time feedback regarding client-coach interactions and efficiently analyze session content. By learning to partner with these evolving tools, coaches can deliver optimal coaching experiences tailored to the unique needs of each client.
Learn more about the emerging technology trends and how these tools can replicate, augment, supplement, and inform human coaching practice:
- AI: Finding the Perfect Match
- Chatbots: A Valuable Supplement
- Virtual Reality: The Power of Immersion
- AI: Feedback in Real Time
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1. AI can help match coaching clients to ideal coaching partners
Artificial intelligence (AI), the art and science of crafting machines to understand and replicate human intelligence, is transforming industries from healthcare to education. AI can sort through data at a rapid pace, which allows it to match criteria among data sets in order to determine best fit. AI can then filter people based on particular data or skill sets and sort them for easier access for those wishing to use their services. In sales, machine learning can deliver personalized experiences that drive customer engagement by pairing customers with service providers who can best address their needs. In the healthcare field, AI matches patients with physicians who can provide them with targeted, specialized care. Machine learning can evaluate in greater depth what a patient is looking for from a physician and match patients to a doctor who will provide optimal care. The rapid pace at which AI can sort through datasets is transforming how humans access service providers, practitioners, and experts who can provide specialized services.
In the realm of coaching, AI can be a powerful assistant in matching clients with their ideal coaching partners. Using algorithms that identify and categorize niche expertise and shared goals, AI can match the specialties of a coach with the needs of a client. If a client comes from a particular background, they can seek out a coach who shares their identities and experiences. CoachHub uses AI to match clients with coaches based on certain pre-set interest groups, such as leadership and development. This allows clients with particular goals to match with coaches who have that expertise. As these technologies advance, matching will become more sophisticated.
In the future, AI will be able to use data to determine the best fit between a coach and client. By employing algorithms, AI will be able to look at a coach’s continuing education credits to determine whether they possess the expertise to meet a client’s particular needs. This process of sorting through a coach’s qualifications and a client’s profile allows AI to determine data sets that indicate an optimal match. As technology advances, technology platforms will be able to match on more specialized interests and subsets, allowing clients to find coaches with a unique constellation of similarities. For organizations looking to bring on internal coaches, AI will help HR identify skills gaps in an organization to create a customized learning plan for how employees can obtain key skill sets for the future of work.
What this means for coaches:
- AI algorithms can create efficiencies in the process of determining client-coach fit and support coaches to make personalized connections with prospective clients.
- While AI algorithms can facilitate the client-coach matching process, coaches should review AI recommendations to validate the fit of their qualifications and expertise with the client’s profile.
2. Chatbots can supplement human coaching
Chatbot technology relies on computer programming to simulate and process human conversations. Generating automated but conversational responses, chatbots are most popularly known in customer service realms, where they serve to assist online shoppers. In the HR sector, chatbot technology is used to streamline onboarding and employee training. Chatbots can manage administrative tasks, reducing the need for human interaction by resolving simple queries and issues. This automation allows businesses to scale and customize services. Beyond customer service, chatbots are evolving to assist on the front lines, automating onboarding in healthcare to provide real-time services for patients. Chatbot technology allows medical personnel to concentrate on patients with a greater need for support. As the world adjusts to the presence of AI, chatbots automate basic services, freeing humans up to provide targeted services.
As it applies to coaching, chatbots can streamline the intake, onboarding, and maintenance process, allowing greater resources for coaches to do more targeted tasks with clients. Coaching chatbots can help with introductory client needs, using algorithms to detect patterns of interaction requiring greater nuance, which is the point where a human coach would intervene. Chatbots are being used in the public health sector to aid in behavioral change. When used to support healthy lifestyles, smoking cessation, substance misuse, and medication adherence, chatbots can offer supportive, nonjudgmental spaces to assist with behavior change. In the education sector, chatbots are being used to provide coaching services for students who cannot afford a human coach. Similar to the function in public health and education, coaching chatbots can provide ongoing support to help clients achieve their personal and professional goals.
As coaching evolves to integrate emerging technology, chatbots will grow in their ability to support both clients and human coaches. One way chatbot technology can support the coaching process is by analyzing coaching conversations to continually prompt clients about their focus goals between sessions. By keeping the information present for the client, chatbots can serve an important maintenance function between coaching sessions, which will increase the likelihood of long-term behavioral changes.
What this means for coaches:
- Chatbots can support front-end and ongoing administrative tasks, such as intake, onboarding, scheduling and billing that allow coaches to focus on the personal process involved in building trust, creating rapport, and supporting goal-directed behavior in clients.
- Chatbots can effectively reinforce the content of coaching sessions by delivering information, reminders, or basic guidance between sessions, strengthening the likelihood of long-term behavior change.
- When financial resources make human coaching prohibitively expensive, chatbots can substitute for human coaches, democratizing the benefits of coaching and creating access to broader constituencies.
3. Virtual reality allows coaches to interact with clients in new ways and modalities
Using head-mounted displays, virtual reality (VR) creates a computer-generated, 3D environment through graphics and 360-degree video. Users are immersed into a responsive world that can be accessed by multiple participants. From education to healthcare, real estate, and recruitment, VR allows participants to immerse themselves into life-like and even alternate realities that simulate an actual experience. In the healthcare sector, VR is used for pain management among patients and as surgical training for doctors. VR allows users to travel the world and explore rental and sale properties. From a training and development perspective, VR can help in HR recruitment, hiring, onboarding, and employee training by helping prospective employees gain perspective on and prepare for the actual work of a position. Increasingly, VR will be used to simulate boardroom and workplace meeting spaces to build camaraderie and a sense of belonging among remote workers.
When applied to coaching practice, VR has the capacity to simulate real-world scenarios for clients, helping them envision and prepare for these scenarios and interactions. Executive coach and coaching psychologist Gary Buxton uses VR in coaching sessions with clients. Gary reports that despite being apart physically, VR allows him to be present with his clients, drawing graphics and timelines on digital whiteboards together in an organic, in-the-moment interplay. VR also allows teams to experience the coaching process together, uniting workers from around the globe to gather and problem-solve in a setting that builds camaraderie. Clemson University is harnessing VR to enhance meaningful connections with nature, opening up opportunities for people to experience life-centered learning through nature coaching. As VR technology advances, it will continue to expand the accessibility and intimacy of the coaching experience.
In the future, VR will transform coaching practice by replicating real-world simulation. As VR technology becomes more economically feasible and widely available, coaches will be able to utilize VR with clients to help them experience immersive situations. By practicing problem-solving scenarios with clients, VR can help coaches immerse clients into a situation versus simply role-playing. A simulated setting allows clients to practice the language, eye contact, and non-verbal cues of an organic scenario, desensitizing and demystifying situations that may cause fear or anxiety. VR will also simulate the boardroom or employee meeting spaces in 3-D, solving the problem of physical isolation experienced in 2-D video messaging platforms by bringing a level of sensory stimulation. By creating a real-life feel, VR will transform coaching’s ability to support clients and teams in achieving their goals.
What this means for coaches:
- Through VR, coaches can simulate real-life scenarios, such as job interviews, public speaking engagements, or challenging interpersonal situations, allowing clients to practice and develop skills in a safe and controlled virtual setting.
- VR experiences can foster empathy by allowing clients to “step into the shoes” of others, leading to increased compassion, improved communication skills, and a broader worldview.
- VR can strengthen relationships not only between clients and coaches, but also between coaches for collaboration and professional development purposes by creating a stronger sense of physical presence and intimacy than traditional video technology allows.
4. AI can give coaches feedback in real-time
AI is advancing in its ability to analyze, categorize, understand, and replicate human speech. Using advanced algorithms and text mining, AI can review large quantities of data at a rapid pace to locate new information and answer specific questions. AI’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) ability combines both Natural Language Understanding, which helps machines “read” text, and Natural Language Generation, which mimics the human ability to create natural language and dialogue. Using NLP, AI is growing in its ability to process large amounts of data without fatigue, discerning complex concepts and interpreting ambiguities of language. This ability to understand and replicate human language in a rapid manner is proving to be of great use across industries. Chat GPT, a large language model (LLM) of AI, processes images and text, allowing users to generate prompts based on visual input. In education, AI is used as a successful tutoring tool, serving as a useful resource students can use to request homework support in real-time, providing assistance to underserved students who cannot afford traditional tutoring.
In the context of coaching practice, AI is able to scan an entire coaching session transcript to provide the highlights of a session. Coaches can use this information to document progress and serve as a reminder of the work between coaching sessions. AI can also analyze conversations and provide information at the end of a coaching session to reveal how much time was allocated to a specific topic, coach-and-client speaking duration, or the use of keywords or questions.
As AI progresses, it will be able to provide feedback during a coaching session. If a coach becomes unsure of where to go next in the conversation, AI can provide useful prompts on how to proceed. AI can also help guard against human error by detecting patterns in speech or themes a client is expressing that a coach might have missed. AI will eventually be able to pick up the nuances of vocal tone and repeated comments not perceived by the human coach. This partnership between AI and the human coach will streamline the coaching experience by focusing the coach’s efforts to address the nuances of client needs.
What this means for coaches:
- AI algorithms can analyze coaching sessions, including audio, video, and text data, to identify patterns, trends, and areas for improvement. This real-time feedback can be invaluable for coaches to make immediate adjustments, fine-tune their coaching approach, and enhance their skills on an ongoing basis.
- By combining AI-driven insights with their own expertise, coaches can gain a more comprehensive understanding of their coaching performance and make informed decisions for improvement. AI can support coaches to track client progress, and remind coaches of content discussed in prior sessions, increasing coaching efficacy.
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Understandably, there may be strong sentiment in the coaching profession that technology and machines cannot replace the impact and function of human coaches, including their unique capacity to display respect for autonomy and hold key insights into client prioritization of goals. For the foreseeable future, human coaches will maintain a lead role in providing social support and the nuance of understanding, compassion and empathy in the coaching relationship. As artificial intelligence and technologies like virtual reality evolve, coaches can consider how these resources add new dynamics to the coaching experience.
The following questions can prompt professional coaches to think deeply about the impact and possibilities that technology can bring to their coaching practice, while also considering the ethical, human-centered, and practical aspects of integrating technology into coaching practice:
- How can coaches strike a balance between using technology as a tool to augment their coaching skills and maintaining the human connection and empathy that are essential in the coaching relationship?
- What specific challenges or limitations do coaches currently face in their coaching practice that technology could potentially address?
- How much time are coaches allocating to coaching vs. administrative tasks? How might technology and AI change time allocation?
- How can coaches leverage the immersive power of VR to create transformative coaching environments that surpass traditional methods?
- What if AI algorithms become more effective than human coaches in identifying clients’ underlying needs and patterns?
- Should coaches disclose the use of AI or virtual assistants during coaching sessions? What are the ethical implications of using technology to support or enhance coaching, and how can transparency be maintained?
Learn more about how technology is transforming coaching practice
- ICF Future of Coaching Study: https://coachingfederation.org/research/global-coaching-snapshots.
- Isaacson, Sam “AI & the Future of Coaching,” episode 165, Coaches Rising Podcast, March 7, 2023
- Valence Teams of Tomorrow Webinar Series: Initial Explorations On How Generative AI Is Impacting The Talent Function
- Graßmann, C., & Schermuly, C. C. (2021). Coaching With Artificial Intelligence: Concepts and Capabilities. Human Resource Development Review, 20(1), 106–126.