One-on-one mentoring, or online course – which is right for me?

Use these seven criteria to choose the best coaching option for you.

With each passing day digital technology makes it easier for personal and professional coaches to connect with people who seek coaching for help in navigating the major life changes and formative moments that call for their best selves. Digital technology has also given life to a new model of coaching, the online coaching course. Consumers of coaching (identified in this article as coachees or coaching clients) now have a choice between the more traditional private coaching model and an online course. This article is for people who want to compare coaching models to make an informed decision about which path is right for them.

Coaching has been gaining popularity ever since it became a “thing” in the 1980s. But even with coaching icons like Tony Robbins and Stephen Covey (or maybe because of them) most people lack clarity about what coaching actually is. Unless you know someone who has directly benefitted from personal or executive coaching through formative moments (the really important choices), you also may not know. In understanding what coaching is, one is empowered to choose the best coaching model for himself and the outcomes he seeks. QUOTE BOX

Are coaching courses better for the coach or for the coachee?

You’ve probably seen some sponsored content about coaching in your social media feed lately, offering a digital, self-paced “course” laser focused on formative moments all humans may encounter. These technology assisted “courses” are the newest modality in coaching and they are showing up all over your social feeds as part of a popular business strategy taught to those striving to grow a private coaching practice. By packaging their skills in an off-the-shelf product coaches can break free from the business limitations imposed by a 24-hour day on an hourly fee model, thereby serving a much broader audience unbounded by calendar or time zone.

Make no mistake. These coaching courses – and other digitized material – do offer value to those who want to maximize their relationships with their careers, loved ones, makers, bodies and souls by meeting their formative moments with the curiosity, courage and clarity necessary to grow forward.  This model is accessible for many reasons described in this article.

But as part of a new formulaic approach to automated sales funnel marketing, coaching courses should not be understood to represent the coaching experience on whole today. A framework to compare coaching models will help consumers better understand what coaching may entail in order to make an informed choice and facilitate maximum benefit.

How to choose the best coaching model for you

Consider these seven key areas when you compare coaching models: communication model, process, focus, facilitation, perspective, outcome, convenience and affordability. A detailed description follows the summary table below.

Compare coaching models

One to One IntimateCommunication ModelOne to Many Anonymous
Accountability PartnerFacilitationSelf-directed
Self-DiscoveryOutcomeSelf Help
Scheduled in advanceConvenienceAccessed on demand

Communication Model

In private coaching, the exchange is between two people, real-time. Whether meeting face to face or virtually, coach and client are interacting with each other using full benefit of all communication tools – verbal and non-verbal – to facilitate rich understanding through an intimate and confidential exchange.

Courses use a one-to-many approach. The exchange is one-way. In this scenario the coach draws upon his experience to deliver content designed to evoke new awareness for a broad variety of people seeking support in a specific, relatively universally encountered formative moment. The client learns ways to move forward while remaining essentially anonymous.


Private coaching is a dynamic process, responsive to the new awareness it is designed to create as the engagement proceeds. Tailoring methods and tools to the coachee’s situation, degree of urgency, pace of awareness and so forth is nearly always a game-time decision. The private coach relies on experience and intuition to spontaneously create a process for each client during each session.

Courses offer a static process drawn from that coach’s best practices in experience with a particular formative moment. It doesn’t consider the specifics of any one coachee’s circumstances, beliefs and feelings but may explore multiple facets of a particular challenge or opportunity. These courses typically present a process honed over time through trial and error in the broader subject area. Because courses are by design offering “something for everyone” course clients usually do draw something of value from them.


Inherent to a dynamic process is the ability to zoom in on the distinct textures that make up the different fabrics of our existence. Within the subject of deciding whether to leave a bad marriage, for example, are the nuances of passive aggressive behavior, gas lighting and emotional or physical abuse – known areas where clarity can be difficult to achieve. And while such dysfunctional patterns are common to some degree, each coachee’s understanding of how those affect her reality is unique. Private coaching facilitates the deep dives often necessary to fully and fairly assess the individual’s situation before charting a course of action.

In a situation where a coachee is unwilling or unable to break the confidentiality of silence, courses may help a client explore an issue, achieve a sense of validation and find her voice without ever having to speak of her situation with another person. Courses can effectively answer many of the coachee’s burning questions about her potential break-up and this is a crucial value. However courses can’t address coachee-specific variables, and therefore often leave important unanswered questions which prevent new awareness and forward motion.


In the one-on-one model, the coachee has an accountability partner to support all phases of the coaching exchange from identifying focus through discovery, solution finding, action planning and implementation. The coach is aware of the coachee’s ability to move through the process and guides her accordingly and accountably.

Courses rely on self-directed implementation. The coachee has the ability to modulate the process based on their personal needs and abilities. The success of this approach is dependent on the coachee’s ability to persevere when the going gets tough. On the flip side, by drawing on the commonalities that exist for many people at a formative crossroads, the course instructor can still hold a mirror up to the problem so each coachee can explore it in her reflection.


A coach provides an outside, objective perspective, looking in on the situation as if from the exterior. A coach is not encumbered by limiting beliefs, assumptions and relational patterns when solutions are being developed. A coach will challenge her client when hearing incongruence between intent and action, for example. Not all of these challenges will hit the mark, due to the extemporaneous nature of this mode of exchange. But they will push the coachee outside his comfort zone and into new ways of thinking about his reality.

The course approach depends on a subjective perspective. The coachee is on his own to interpret the course messages without succumbing to personal, unchecked bias in the situation. On the other hand, only the coachee knows his entire truth, including things he might not disclose to any outside party including a private coach.

Whether guided or not, the coachee who approaches his formative moments in earnest will gain value from coaching.


The goal of private coaching is self-discovery. Provocative questions, informed by deep listening, lead to new awareness that catalyzes meaningful change. This intense approach has an indelible effect – the process equips a coachee with new tools they can apply to future formative moments.

The goal of coaching courses is self help. The journey is self-guided. Certain growing points lend themselves to the course approach, especially when the coachee is newly aware of an issue and lacks bearing for where to begin.


Private coaches have a finite number of hours in the day. It may take some patience for a coachee to work themselves into their ideal spot on the coach’s roster. With virtual meeting technologies, traffic and other challenges of commuting are diminished or eliminated. Even so, the more popular a coach is the more their clients experience the market laws of demand.

Coaching courses offer the ultimate convenience of any self-directed program, trading the constraints of market demand for the boundlessness of an on-demand model. Coachees can incorporate the coursework into their schedules with a great degree of flexibility, pausing or forging ahead as their needs and energy dictate.

In summary, in general

It’s important to compare coaching models. But there is also a “showing up” factor; the most important factor in formative moments is forward motion, and coaching in any form can catalyze powerful transformation.

When navigating a crossroads, choose coaching courses if you are looking for a metaphorical GPS to provide immediate orientation and multiple options as to how to proceed most efficiently toward where you want to be AND/OR you want or need to fly under the radar, not sharing your truth out loud. Choose private coaching if you want to bring some metaphorical trip advisor and personal travel agent insights to the journey for a more personalized, enriching experience.

Above all else, ask this.

Is the coach ICF-certified? This is by far the most important criteria a coaching client must consider before choosing any coach, regardless of the coaching model. She should insist that her coach or course creator is certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or seeking certification through a coaching school accredited by the ICF. ICF certification ensures that the coach has received up to date, peer-reviewed, best practices training and can apply their knowledge effectively in practice so that clients have the greatest potential for maximum coaching outcomes.

Many coaching schools offer a “certificate”. But having a school certificate does not certify the coach with the ICF. To earn initial certification, ICF Certified coaches have satisfactorily completed a coaching curriculum accredited by the ICF as well as demonstrate their coaching knowledge by achieving a minimum passing grade on the ICF exam and logging a minimum 100 coaching hours (three certification levels exist, with increasing requirements for coaching hours). The ICF certification is globally recognized as the gold standard in coaching.

ICF coaches and certificate candidates will proudly mention the ICF standard on their website. It is easy to research. Choose an ICF certified coach.

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