Conversational frameworks and coaching

I wrote previously about my introduction to learning types [1.] and how these educational activities can be mapped onto coaching activities.

Learning types are defined in Professor Diana Laurillard’s model of how students learn, the Conversational Framework (see, for example, Laurillard, D (2012), Teaching as a Design Science, Routledge), describing learning interactions between learner and teacher and between learner and peers.

The Conversational Framework — Laurillard

Whilst working through another online course (Blended & Online Learning Design, UCL, hosted by FutureLearn), I was struck by how closely the framework itself could be applied to learning in sports coaching & player development.

Cycles of learning

One concept which immediately rang true was the use of the conversational framework to generate cycles of learning.

It’s not enough to tell someone what to do, or to show them how to do something. Rather, successful learning takes place over a series of activities and interactions.

And, as learners become more experienced with learning cycles, they begin to develop enhanced learning skills.

There’s an ambition for the coach — not just better players, but better learners.


When teaching a complex concept (working in the top-left quadrant of the framework diagram), the teacher begins by setting students a tricky problem to analyse, which requires some understanding of the concept. After the students have had the chance to think about the challenge, the teacher presents an explanation, before setting a quiz or test to check on the quality of understanding.

PracticeAcquisitionPractice, using the Learning Types.

Acquisition is “primed” by the first Practice — the learner has some idea of what it is that they don’t yet know, and is (hopefully) more receptive to being told the answer — and reinforced (and tested) by the second round of Practice.

Or, following Whitehead’s definition of learning, perhaps, initial Romance is the spark to Precision.

Now, this sounds remarkably like “whole-part-whole” for learning a technique in context — set a challenge in the form of a (whole) game, then coach a specific skill (part), before testing the skill by repeating the game (whole).


Another cycle of learning utilises the “teachback” model: one student plays the part of “teacher”, one is the “learner”, and a third observes and makes notes as to any misunderstandings.

Acquisition (teacher tells) – Practice (learner tries to follow instruction) – Discussion (observer presents analysis of what actually happened for discussion — was the instruction clear and appropriate; did the learner follow instruction; what outcomes?).

I have asked players (some as young as 7 years of age) to adopt the role of “analyst”, playing the role of of the Observer in a practice session. But to get more out of the activity, I would need to add the element of Discussion — perhaps facilitated by the coach for younger players, but with the intention, ultimately, of handing over the role entirely to the players, as they gain more experience of this mode of learning.

Backyard learning

Missing from most coaching manuals is any discussion of player-peer interactions, yet this is how many players learnt the game in the past — backyard cricket…but there are no coaches in the backyard. It is also how many are introduced to the game, even today.

The lower half of the Conversational Framework diagram perhaps relates to this “backyard” learning — learning in an environment moderated by interactions with peer practice (how peers play the game; how the player is challenged to play by peers.

Backyard learning

Whilst there might not be an obvious role for the coach in backyard learning, he can facilitate this player-peer interaction by “coaching” players to support their peers — it’s about developing Collaboration skills (Discussion, Practice, and co-Production), not (just) about telling your peers what they should be doing.

Peer-peer “coaching” is not the same role as mentor — “this is what worked for me”/“these are the challenges I faced” — but “co-learner”, perhaps. A role I have been learning to play in the online courses, in fact, learning with (mostly) teachers and educators.

Conclusion — the Conversational Framework for coaching

So it does appear (to me, at least) that the model of learning presented in Laurillard’s Conversational Framework is recognisable in coaching practice. And, perhaps, that the cycles of learning implicit in the Conversational Framework might usefully be applied in coaching.

Perhaps also something for coaches to learn about how we coach, and what our players are (could be) doing and learning when we are coaching — alongside techniques and tactical knowledge specific to the game, perhaps we can also begin to help the players to learn how to be better learners.

  1. Laurillard’s LTs are not the same as the VARK Learning Styles — Visual, Audio, Reading, Kinaesthetic — which have recently received fairly consistent theoretical de-bunking.

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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