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Multi-modal guidance and support: a metamorphosis of uses

The development of multi-modality in the guidance and support professions: an adaptation of circumstance or a metamorphosis of uses?

[Translation : EPALE France]


Multi-modal guidance and support: a metamorphosis of uses?

Multi-modality: a constrained mode? Future uses?

The health crisis, the end of which (or will it be the end?) is barely visible, has changed practices profoundly, both in work activities and in our daily lives. Despite numerous studies on the subject, we cannot yet appreciate all the consequences. A simple transitional adaptation due to health constraints? Lasting, profound changes in usage and even in the design of services. Some serious individual situations are only now coming to light, as the feeling of being prevented from living has affected everyone. Today, we can see that the relationship with the future and the feeling of not being able to control anything affect us all. In the field of training, many rapid and supportive initiatives have sought to guarantee educational continuity, particularly at the very beginning of the crisis. In the long term, the implementation of distance learning has progressed at great speed and multi-modal engineering has become an issue of development and maintaining a link. Professionals have adapted, with varying degrees of pleasure and reluctance, to conditions that might have seemed less than optimal to them. Less than optimal due to inadequacies and slowness of the platforms (which have improved considerably since then). Everyone has experienced this. But what appeared to be a constrained modality has undoubtedly opened up unexpected horizons, which had not really been seriously explored until now.

Guidance and support for professional transitions: what do professionals say?

In the field of support and personalised guidance (career guidance and development), remote methods have also been developed in response to urgent situations, with a view to maintaining links (the relational side) but also to guaranteeing continuity of service. Indeed, not everything could be put on hold completely, and plans for professional development or change have also been impacted or even amplified by the health situation. This is all the more true as the first lockdown occurred at the same time as the implementation of ambitious new advice and support systems (CEP, systems linked to the Skills Investment Plan). Unlike the field of training, where this modality was valued and supported, in the guidance professions, there was more reticence. The 2019 specifications of the CEP are an illustration of this. They state: professional development guidance is delivered face-to-face. However, depending on the nature of the service offer, the desires and the autonomy of the person, services can also be provided remotely (telephone or computer). These services meet the same requirements as those delivered in person. However, this is more of a concession than a desire for development.

The Kelvoa collective, which brings together consulting and support professionals from many organisations, held a webinar on this subject in February 2021. There was a shared observation about the speed of mobilisation of structures, professionals and also the public. Apart from questions of access or tools, the implementation of synchronous and asynchronous remote relations has become obvious over time. “If someone had told me a year ago that I would be coaching a company solely at a distance, both for individual interviews and for group sessions, I would not have believed them”, said a consultant who was surprised that this could be done without any real loss in the quality of the service. To make matters worse for some, several people wanted to continue this modality beyond the lockdown, notably by varying the modalities. During this exchange, we sought to identify what this unprecedented situation revealed about the challenges of the variety of modalities; but also what prospects it opened up in terms of personalisation of the advice and support service and access for all and everywhere.

 So what does multi-modality change?

Firstly, it is important to separate issues of digital technology from issues of modalities. Modalities can be varied without necessarily using a platform. Many advisors or coaches simply used their smartphones, either as phones or to send text messages or links to resources. Obviously, this makes a big difference First of all, the digital world increases the possibilities of interaction (SMS, chat, platforms, emails, etc.). But you don't do the same thing when you change modalities because it changes the essence of the interaction. Moreover, many professionals have noted that one can have preferences in terms of modalities and that distance learning is not necessarily an inferior mode. It is if you try to do the same thing as in person. Some colleagues note that the variety of modalities is likely to amplify and facilitate the processes of appropriation. Why? Perhaps because multi-modal learning, especially via distance learning, also makes it possible to exchange in another place, not necessarily a physical one: “a kind of relocation to a virtual, neutral place via a platform but at the same time one that is intimate, at home”, says a colleague. We all remember those funny interviews where children appear on the screen, or even the cat! The indicators are modified: sound is central (what is said, what is heard, what is experienced, etc.). And managing technical issues is also part of the process. It is also, and several advisers note this, the possibility of shorter working time due to the asynchronous link. In short, we develop the possibility of iteration, multiform exchanges that enrich links and make the physical meeting no longer the only space/time for co-construction but rather the moment of regulation par excellence. Is it always necessary? Is it sometimes possible to do without it when geographical distance is a problem? Many colleagues in the collective ask this question, but the answer is nuanced. In short, beyond personal impressions, more detailed studies on the impacts of this broadening of the modalities are needed.  But already, with this accelerated experience, we can note progress on a number of points:

 The relationship: if there are fewer physical meetings, then it is the link that counts: knowing that you are listened to, and that you can count on this professional. This requires a multiplicity of small gestures which cannot be physical but only verbal, and sometimes asynchronous (sending SMS or documents after the interview); the voice is a precious tool in remote work and document sharing is an interesting opportunity. It also requires the mobilisation of new professional skills.  Several observations have been made: there is a confidence-building process specific to multi-modalities. It is not so much about the intensity of the encounter or its duration, but the building of a bond that is regularly nurtured on both sides. There is a shift from an intense, sometimes top-down logic to a pathway that incorporates more reciprocity. It is rare for SMS messages to go unanswered. Exchanges are not only verbal: hyperlinks can also be exchanged. Moreover, the synthesis work is built up through interaction and continues asynchronously at a distance. This can give rise to formalizations co-constructed both in synchronous and remote exchange (diagrams, hyperlinks to testimonial documents or communities, exchange on these resources, co-constructed mind maps, and more). From this point of view, the coach can be seen as a support person in terms of managing complexity. But also to take into account the preferred modalities of each person. Because we have experienced this. We vary the way we communicate depending on the context, the person we are talking to and the purpose of the exchange. And so the question of the professional's approach is central.

Multi-modal guidance and support: a step forward in terms of real customisation?

While rigorous studies may (or may not) support these elements, the fact remains that guidance and support practices are now being impacted. What might have appeared to be merely an intuition or a response to an unprecedented situation now appears to be much more. If the issue at stake in these practices is personalisation, then the question of modalities appears central. It is as if personalisation could not be satisfied with a reflection on the articulation of demand/need/content but that it had to take the question of context in hand. However, multi-modality opens up perspectives in terms of a mobilising and learning environment. Because it allows new relations between link, place and time. It also allows the invention of other forms of relationships that are more nomadic, episodic and collaborative. The challenge is not only to allow the person to clarify their questions, but more broadly to find the right context. This may also lead us to develop more informal, less institutionalised guidance practices, enabling people who are tired of our imposed methods to become involved again. Thinking about multi-modality may also mean rethinking the question of "for all and everywhere". And in the counselling and support professions, return to the fundamentals of the encounter and the conditions that facilitate things for people. This cannot be reduced to a single place, a single approach, or a single modality. And one that allows everyone to feel involved. On Epale, we are opening a work group on multi-modality in guidance and support practices, in order to share, support and model initiatives in the field.

André Chauvet, EPALE France ambassador : professional transitions and guidance.


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