At the beginning, eGuidance assumed that the chat medium would be used mainly to provide people seeking guidance with quick and concrete information about study programmes and jobs. However, data shows that only a little under half of the inquiries via chat involve simply passing information on. This means that a dialogue is developed in most chats, which focuses on how general opportunities match the abilities of the individual. People seeking guidance use the chat to ask about a wide range of issues, from open inquiries where they are in doubt about something, to factual requests about entry requirements and admission to a study programme. There is rarely just a need to receive a link to a relevant article on ug.dk, but more often a need for information in a personal context.
Anette Jochumsen, eGuidance counsellor
The availability of guidance on the most widespread and common electronic communications media, along with extended opening hours, has meant that eGuidance has been able to validate its ideas about the potential of the various media for guidance purposes in a relatively short amount of time. In eGuidance’s first two years, it had 160.000 inquiries from people of all ages seeking guidance. About half of the inquiries to eGuidance are via chat, a media that is still relatively new in the world of guidance counselling and which has proven to have great potential.
In this article, Anette Jochumsen, eGuidance counsellor, describes eGuidance’s experiences with the possibilities presented by using chat in the field of guidance with regards to choice of education or work.
At first, the fast pace of the chat medium meant that eGuidance counsellors were tempted to provide people seeking guidance with plenty of links without any explanation. However, the eGuidance counsellors recognized the dangers of them becoming simply a talking educational guide.
To support the professionalization of the chat guidance, eGuidance produced some internal guidelines with the main message; “chat properly”. These guidelines concern grammatical correctness, optimal duration, possibility of shift in medium, handling of abuse of the chat – pranks – and collegial sparring partners. The ethical guidelines: respect, equality, autonomy, openness and trust are also part of the background of eGuidance.
The ethical and internal guidelines help create a relationship with the person seeking guidance, which is the main prerequisite for starting a genuine dialogue. This dialogue generally concerns educational paths and job functions in relation to the client’s knowledge of themselves in order to enable the client to act, so their goals can be achieved.
eGuidance practices a learning-oriented approach to guidance, similar to many other areas in the Danish guidance community. This approach means that eGuidance focuses on examining the advantages and disadvantages of the opportunities together with the person seeking guidance, creating a space for reflection prior to the client’s next steps.
The eGuidance counsellor has three benchmarks for guidance regardless of the medium used:
- eGuidance attaches importance to the creation of good and respectful relationships with the people seeking guidance
- so, they can create a good foundation for a reflective dialogue, which the people seeking guidance enter into wholly
- to identify individual opportunities
For eGuidance, the chat medium has proven to be surprisingly ideal in relation to this guidance approach, since it is a written form of communication that is conducive to reflection. Even though the subject can be quickly changed, the replies and their formulation are considered beforehand. You could say that the people seeking guidance have a conscious dialogue with themselves before sending a reply or further questions.
Experience from systematic approaches to guidance shows the positive effect of actualizing a problem, so it can be viewed from the outside. The very act of writing allows the people seeking guidance to view their situation from an outside perspective. This exercise alone,, namely writing about your own situation, shows a lot of self-guidance.
eGuidance’s experience with the chat medium is that communication might be virtual, but it is not a false communication. The guidance chat is ‘real’ communication, characterized by mutual understanding, misunderstanding, exchange of information, joy, annoyance, etc. Despite the distance, a personal relation is possible.
Some characteristics of the chat make the medium especially suitable for guidance. The characteristics relate to 1) reduction in sensory impressions, 2) synchronization and 3) characters, language and the use of the keyboard:
Reduction in sensory impressions:
- Anonymity – attracts more young people who find it challenging to meet with a guidance counsellor in person
- Silence – allows the guidance counselling to take place anywhere, as it does not attract attention
- Concentration – no ‘unknown’ disturbances, since the person seeking guidance is in a safe environment
- Sympathy in advance – when appearance, voice, etc. are not taken into account, it promotes mutual sympathy and recognition
- Reduced intimacy threshold – great openness and thereby quick shortcut to the root of the issue
- Nearness, personal guidance – the medium is used in different situations, butby communication partners that consequently enter into a personal relationship
- Intensity – due to the simultaneous and temporary presence and relationship, which is constantly maintained
- Immediate feedback – that is attractive due to immediate solution and clarification
Characters, language and use of the keyboard:
- Possibility for large variation in characters when using the entire keyboard is conducive to communication
The act of writing leads to reflection:
- Presence can be signalled by using emoticons, such as smileys
- Immediate combination with relevant links (information and inspiration tools)
- Possibility of saving the session and potentially printing it out for later use
Many aspects of the guidance chat session are recognizable from face-to-face guidance.
However, the availability of guidance via chat for educational and work-related purposes has some other implications for this type of guidance. You could say that guidance via chat challenges the guidance stereotype. The people seeking guidance contact eGuidance when needed and are prepared for guidance in a safe and familiar space. The client’s co-responsibility for dialogue is made clear via the chat medium, where communication depends on a certain flow so as not to stall. There is a unique opportunity for establishing a genuine dialogue as well as a possibility for the client to end the chat when needed.
eGuidance can identify changes in the way that people take on various roles in the guidance session through shared responsibility and the guidance client’s control over the guidance situation. In other words, guidance via chat supports the increased tendency among guidance clients who have a desire to be subjects rather than objects in their own career planning.
Clients research and seek guidance in many places. Some use eGuidance just once, but many also return several times. As a starting point, the guidance can be characterized as one-stop guidance, although people seeking guidance may contact eGuidance several times and thus they themselves create a guidance process facilitated by eGuidance. One-stop guidance makes it necessary to rethink the success criteria that exist for guidance counsellors, as they are only a part of some of the decision-making and very rarely the full process.
eGuidance’s limited experience of chatting in a professional context and the massive search on the medium, quickly triggered a need for a common approach to guidance via chat in addition to eGuidance’s guidelines. The variable nature of the medium places great demands on the guidance counsellors as process facilitators if the chat is to consist of genuine guidance and not just a chat.
eGuidance therefore developed a communications model based on commonly known theories of communication and guidance, such as those from Gerard Egan, Carl Rogers and Gunnel Lindh. The eGuidance approach to guidance, which emphasizes creating a relationship, possibilities of reflection and opportunities, led to the development of the following model.
The 4C model is a four phase model: contact - contract - communication - conclusion. You can jump between the phases and each phase has different goals and content:
During the contact phase, the relationship is developed. In the contract phase, the common focus is determined. During the communications phase the problem is examined. And in the conclusion, the contract is evaluated and there is a focus on the readiness of the guidance client. The phases also encompass suggestions for appropriate conduct of the guidance counsellor; e.g. courtesy in the contact phase, summarizing in the contract phase, an investigative and challenging approach in the communications phase and an approach of testing in the final phase.
The model also offers a toolbox for the eGuidance counsellor in the form of concrete proposals for types of questions and phrases for each phase.
The 4C model is designed for guidance via chat, telephone, and e-mail, but is especially good for the more fluid chat medium. It creates structure and it focuses on the necessity of creating a contract with the client in order to get started with the guidance itself. The model causes the eGuidance counsellors to provide guidance rather than just chat. It can be said that eGuidance has gained ownership of the chat medium through the 4C model.
See the 4C model.
This article is a reproduction of the presentation 'Guide via chat - the virtual meeting' from the conference 'You cannot guide on chat and Facebook - or can you?' held by eGuidance, 24.9.2012
Translated by Euroguidance Denmark
Stefan Kühne et al., Handbuch Online-Beratung. Psychosoziale Beratung im Internet. Göttingen 2009
Bill Law, New DOTS