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Supercharging Human Skills: Combining AI and Coaching in All Stages of Learning and Career


This is a session recap from the 2024 ASU+GSV Summit, featuring WGU’s Jennie Sanders. Watch the full session below. 

In a world of rapid change, both higher education and talent development teams seek strategies that build human connection and capacity at scale. The powerful combination of skillful coaching and artificial intelligence (AI) tools can unlock new possibilities for learners and workers at any career stage.

Experts from leading institutions shared their insights on harnessing the power of coaching and AI to pave the way for a brighter future in higher education and work. Jennie Sanders, vice president of faculty experience and academic services at WGU, Sheila Rotelli, global head of coaching at BTS, and Karen McGregor, executive director of student success at Purdue Global joined in a conversation moderated by Michael Morris of InsideTrack. They discussed the transformative potential of combining the humanity of one-on-one coaching with the advantages of AI to give higher ed learners more personalized support.

Jennie Sanders (third from left), vice president of faculty experience and academic services at WGU presented at the ASU+GSV Summit.

A Holistic Approach to Unlocking Potential

Coaching—distinct from advising, mentoring, or career navigation—offers a holistic approach to helping individuals succeed on their terms. It draws on the coach's expertise to guide and empower the individual, fostering self-awareness, goal-setting and personal growth.

As Sanders said, "There will always be a place for some of that human connection. Part of what makes a coach powerful is their presence and the fact that they are spending part of their one precious life with you."   

The panelists shared how coaching has been pivotal in their careers and how they are now working to bring this powerful approach to their respective institutions. WGU, for example, teaches program mentors and faculty how to coach individual students toward academic success, and WGU Academy students are assigned Success Coaches

Overcoming Barriers to Access

While coaching is widely accepted for executives and elite athletes, the panelists acknowledged that it has not always been as accessible in learning and work contexts. Sanders shared, "Ideally, it would be fantastic if coaching was universally available to everyone." However, practical constraints often necessitate prioritization, leading to the perception that coaching is either a validation of potential or a sign of deficiency.

The panelists emphasized the importance of shifting this mindset and making coaching a more integral part of the learning and career development experience. McGregor explained, "It's really about thinking about how we can unlock the potential of everyone. That's how we frame coaching at Purdue Global." 

Complementing and Enhancing Coaching 

As the conversation turned to the role of AI, the panelists explored the various ways this technology could be leveraged to support and scale coaching efforts. They discussed the potential for AI to serve as a triage tool, directing individuals to the appropriate coaching resources, as well as a data collector and analyst, providing valuable insights to human coaches.

Rotelli cautioned against the idea of "AI coaches," emphasizing the importance of maintaining the human touch. "I never call it AI coaches or an AI coach because it's not a coach. It's a virtual facilitation assistant or virtual reflection facilitator." The panelists agreed that while AI can enhance certain aspects of the coaching process, human connection and lived experience will always be integral to the most transformative coaching experiences.

Ensuring Equity and Inclusivity in AI-Powered Coaching

The panelists acknowledged the inherent risks of perpetuating inequities through AI-powered tools, as these models are often built on data that reflects the biases and inequities present in society. Sanders emphasized the importance of critical thinking and maintaining a human-centered approach, stating, "I actually think one of the greatest risks, not just with AI but maybe in some ways technology generally, is if you are the one using some of these tools, are you still being as present as the human?" 

The panelists discussed strategies to combat these risks, such as leveraging coaching's emphasis on empowering individuals to draw on their own experiences and perspectives and ensuring diverse representation in the development of AI-powered tools.

Unlocking the Future of Learning and Work

Ultimately, the panelists expressed optimism about the potential of coaching and AI to transform the learning and work landscape. They highlighted the opportunity to create more equitable and accessible pathways, empower individuals to reach their full potential and foster a culture of kindness and connection.

By embracing the synergy between coaching and AI, institutions and organizations can unlock new possibilities for learners and workers, paving the way for a brighter future of work.  

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