Coach vs. Expert / Consultant / Mentor / Trainer / Tutor (6105 Module 1, ISTE-CS)

This quarter we are tackling the role of coaching. We have touched on specific ISTE Coaching Standards in past quarters, but this quarter we are really digging into what coaching is. And over the last two weeks, some of my peers and I have been thinking really hard about the distinction between a coach and an expert. In Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, Les Foltos talks about how, as a coach, you typically do not take on the role of an expert. After talking a little more about this idea, I realized that I was personally characterizing the role of “an expert” differently than what was meant. …But what was meant? Even after more discussion, the idea wasn’t clear in my mind and I decided that before I can really dig into coaching this quarter, I need to know what others mean when they use these words. So my question became:

What is the difference between a coach and an expert?

In my search for an answer, I found that the dichotomy being described shows up under different names depending on the field (e.g.: education, finances, business, exercise):

  • coach vs. expert
  • coach vs. consultant
  • coach vs. trainer
  • coach vs. tutor
  • coach vs. mentor*

*In my search, the coach vs. mentor dichotomy didn’t seem to describe the same dichotomy as consistently as the others.

To my surprise, despite the different names, many articles tended to describe approximately the same two ideas, and seeing the distinction described in so many ways across so many fields really helped me build the picture of what is being contrasted here.

I should note that I did an informal search to find these articles. Some of them come from organizations which are interested in selling you something (like coaching). But I don’t think that inherently makes the information they have to offer, or the insights I gained, invalid; it’s just something to keep in mind. I was interested in what information is “just out there,” and to my surprise it was pretty easy to find what I was after in a lot of places.

With that in mind, here are the articles that helped me shape a distinction between coach and expert (etc.):

The Coach vs. the Expert/Consultant/Trainer/Tutor/Mentor

Below are two “phrase clouds” that I created based on the articles (I’ll discuss how I created these a little bit later). It’s funny to me, because I feel like the ideas in the clouds are not all that different than what we said in the discussions leading up to my investigation, but my understanding is completely different. Perhaps what helped me the most was defining the role of an expert in a way that highlighted why/when you would want an expert, instead of defining an expert through a list of things a coach should not do. Doing this helped me strengthen my idea of what it means to be a coach. Since the focus for me was really about pulling out and shaping the picture of an expert, I think I’ll start with trying to convey my newly-constructed image of an expert.

There are definitely people in my life that I want to emulate. Whether it’s their subject matter knowledge, empathy, listening skills, critical thinking skills, studying skills, parenting, etc., they embody some thing I admire and would like to be better at. I know that in these kinds of situations, I learn a great deal about how to do the thing by observing them do it, and I try to channel them as I learn to do it too. They are being my expert. I am trying to align to them. I may deviate from whatever alignment, but at the start I’m working towards being more like them. This is essentially social learning.

There is nothing wrong with positioning someone this way and learning from them through that positioning, however it is not the goal of coaching. Instead, coaching is about bringing to life what’s already in you, and helping you discover your own path and solutions. You are the expert when you work with a coach. A coach will help you think about what things to consider, and then you make the decisions. A coach facilitates your growth by teaching you strategies and broad skills to help you succeed. This makes a coach more flexible in terms of who they work with, because a coach is not an expert in your subject area or students. An expert, on the other hand, is an expert only in their field of expertise; they have specialized information and a more narrow focus. It reminds me a little bit of the difference between Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) from the Next Generation Science Standards, where what the coach has to offer is like CCCs, and the expert might teach you DCIs. (The analogy breaks down if I think about it too hard, but the image of skills which are relevant across subjects vs. learning specific information is all I’m getting at.)

When you need someone to provide you with recommendations, advice, or solutions, you are asking them to play the role of the expert. I can think of many instances where Person A asks for advice, and Person B doesn’t feel like they should tell Person A what to do. So instead, Person B will frame their response as “Well, if it were me I would… because…” I now think of this exchange as a mini-negotiation of roles. Person A is essentially asking Person B to be the expert for a moment, but Person B is resisting taking on that role in full. I think a lot of advice happens this way, and I’m wondering how this scenario is related to expertise, if at all. By framing their thoughts in this non-advice way, Person B is sharing some sort of knowledge, but not really as an expert, and definitely not as a coach. The idea of expertise and its role in a coaching relationship are two things I would like to unpack in the future.

I want to reiterate that the role of the expert as the advice-giver or decision-maker is not a bad thing. There are indeed many places in life where experts are needed. When you want to share responsibility for a product, project, or event, you want someone to be comfortable making decisions and operating as the expert. For a brief moment I considered the idea that maybe when you are learning you want a coach, not an expert. But I don’t buy that in full. I think in some situations you want a coach and in some situations you want an expert. (Or maybe it’s more about what you get rather than what you want.) I’m a fan of social learning, which is essentially a “learning from the experts” model, so I don’t think it’s fair to say that learning can only happen with coaching, and I feel like when people are pushing coaching really hard, they sometimes say this (in a nearly identical way that sometimes people seem to say that students only learn from student-centered approaches compared to teacher-centered approaches). Instead, I think we need both types of learning. Sometimes we need to align to others, but we also need people in our lives who help draw the greatness out from within us, and that’s what a coach does.

The ideas here have led me, again, to other questions, including:

  • How does one become a coach for a person – i.e., how do you get others to position you as a coach instead of an expert? Especially when they have a tendency to position you as an expert.
  • Can you really exist in both roles for someone? I think it’s possible, at lease on some level, and indeed, a few articles mentioned how being able to operate as both is extremely powerful. So then how do you do that?

Additionally, I feel like I’m now ready to ask:

  • What is particular to digital education coaching, as opposed to “coaching,” broadly speaking?
Moving Forward

As I move forward with my growing understanding of peer coaching, it will be important for me to allow my understanding of the role of coaches (and experts) to adjust. I pulled from a variety of resources, so I’m sure that my understanding of what we mean by peer coaching in my program will change. But untangling my current ideas of a coach and an expert was a prerequisite to understanding our definition of coaching.

Coding for My Phrase Clouds

In order to develop the phrases for the phrase clouds above, I used a qualitative research program called Dedoose (not free) to code for ideas within the articles I read. What do I mean by coding? The process of “coding” as I have done here is similar to highlighting with multiple colors, where each color is highlighting only one category of thing. Then you could count the number of times you used each color to count how many times each category came up. That is essentially what the table below represents, but instead of using a color to tag an idea, I wrote a phrase. (I exported my coding information from Dedoose and put it into Google Sheets.)

This table represents the very first pass at any coding, which essentially means that the numbers don’t fully/accurately represent how many times any given idea came up across the articles. Looking at this now, I can see that the codes with the highest numbers are characteristics of the roles which I was already familiar with, and that may account for why the numbers are so high on the first pass (because I knew to look for those things right away). Codes with very low numbers have a higher chance of being too low because sometimes I didn’t code for it right away.

Despite the table not fully representing how often each idea came up, I thought I would share it with you anyways so you can get at least some idea of how consistently specific ideas from my phrase clouds were mentioned, and to help share my process.



501 Commons. (n.d.) What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Consulting? Retrieved from

Aguilar, E. (2017). What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring? Retrieved from

Big Beacon. (n.d.) A distinction between expert and coach: “I know” versus “I trust.”

Financial Mentor. (n.d.) The difference between mentoring and coaching. Retrieved from

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Heah, M. (2013). Coaches vs trainers. Retrieved from

Health Action Inc. (n.d.) Expert model versus coaching model. Retrieved from

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from

Levine, T. (n.d.) The difference between a coach and a consultant.

Mrooney. (2017). Are you a trainer or a coach? Retrieved from

Rosen, P. (n.d.) The difference between tutoring and academic coaching. Retrieved from

3 thoughts on “Coach vs. Expert / Consultant / Mentor / Trainer / Tutor (6105 Module 1, ISTE-CS)”

  1. Great overview, Orlala! We wrote on almost the same topic and you really laid this out in a clear, visual manner – the coding is particularly nice. It’s funny, I too tossed out the mentorship comparison. It’s a tempting comparison to make, but it just didn’t fit in this context. I think your second question, about being an expert (but not an expert) AND a coach is where the focus of my post lies. It was interesting to see our similar journeys here.

  2. Really like the research you have done as your grappled with this key question. This idea that your raised, “coaching is about bringing to life what’s already in you, and helping you discover your own path and solutions. You are the expert when you work with a coach. A coach will help you think about what things to consider, and then you make the decisions,” seems particularly powerful to you. Looking forward to hearing how your thinking progresses as we move through the semester.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post, there was a lot of thoughtful information presented in a clear way. I want to continue to think and talk about this idea you wrote about, “this makes a coach more flexible in terms of who they work with, because a coach is not an expert in your subject area or students,” because I know at times I’ve thought as a coach as an expert in some content, and often people think of a technology coach as an expert of technology. It seems much more accurate that they are a flexible learner with technology, able to integrate it into learning in a variety of subject areas and contexts. I also thought the idea of extrinsic (expert) versus intrinsic (coach) motivation was interesting. I would like to hear more about that came up in your readings.

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