Facilitating learning

facilitating

There are fundamental differences in how adults learn and how children learn. For one, we facilitate learning for adults rather than teach adults. When dealing with children, the “sage on the stage” approach is common. What does it mean to facilitate learning? Facilitating learning entails supporting, assisting or guiding the process with techniques and strategies. To facilitate means to make something easy.

Malcolm Knowles, a twentieth century leader in adult education, states that adults learn best when:

  • Their background and previous learning experience are taken into account
  • They can actively participate in the process
  • They feel comfortable – can ask questions and express feelings
  • There is context that is interesting and relatable – important to the individual
  • Clear goals and objectives are identified
  • They can apply what they learn immediately

The role of a facilitator is a powerful one. A facilitator is an agent of change. In order to be effective, a facilitator must begin the job long before walking through the door. Once the meeting begins there are a host of variables which come into play.

Be prepared. Gather the materials and become familiar with the content. It is often the case that the facilitator does not design the program and may not be an expert in the subject. In preparing, it is also beneficial to have background on the audience. Who is in the room? Why are they present? What is the business pain that need to be addressed?   Still in preparation mode, you need to become familiar with the room – the size, the equipment available and the room configuration. Although the room setup seems inconsequential, it becomes important for engagement, interaction and connection with the audience.

Connect with the audience. It’s all about the delivery. We all know that there are two ways to communicate – verbal and non-verbal. Even when our lips are not moving we continue to send messages based on our body language, facial expressions and our attire. If the facilitator is energetic, passionate, bored or tired this will be translated to the audience. Easy ways to connect are: use humour or anecdotes, walk around the room, make eye contact, use your hands to help with making a point, vary tone of voice, and choose words that evoke feelings.

Manage the session. Things can spiral out of control very quickly especially when discussing topics with strong opinions. Although it is important to have robust discussions, the facilitator need to be in control of the room. He/she need to know when to step in, diffuse conflicts, wrap up a segment or change the “temperature” of a room. Then we have those difficult personalities to manage especially if there is a captive audience. Difficult people can be very disruptive. Address the issue immediately and address the individual(s) to let them know you are aware. Ask questions to get to the root of the problem.  Establish a pact and make it clear that you are there to help them improve skills and knowledge.

Facilitation is a skill and an art with a big responsibility. It is so much more than reading slides from the front of a room. Actually, if you are consistently reading slides then you are failing at being an effective facilitator. Practice makes perfect.

It is said that learning occurs when there is a change in behaviour. This is the essence of facilitation – helping to guide the learner to experience that change.

The magic of good instructional design

ID

There’s an app for that! This exclamation is so common these days because there is an app for everything under the sun. Yes, apps certainly make our lives easier – efficient, accessible, handy and so on. However, there are instances when you just have to do the work and rely on your knowledge, skills and abilities the good old fashioned way.

Have you ever attended a training session or a workshop where you were inspired, you felt attuned with the content and most importantly the WIIFM question (what’s in it for me) was answered? I have. It’s a beautiful thing. What you may not have spent the time to consider is: who was responsible for that experience? There is a process that occurs before a facilitator actually delivers the content. There is the needs assessment, the audience and organization analysis, defining the objectives, assembling the content then designing the program.  Yes, there is a model.

Professionals who design training programs are instructional designers. They have the responsibility to align relevant content with objectives in line with the audience and the training need. The designer may be a subject matter expert (SME) or in many cases, not. The marriage of the instructional designer and the SME is a match that must be made in heaven. Although the SME knows the subject inside-out, he/she may not be knowledgeable about adult learning principles and instructional design techniques. Adults do learn differently than children and the design must reflect that.

When designing a program, there are many variables to consider. Let’s start with the different learning styles. There must be elements across the learning styles spectrum embedded into the design to appeal to the wider audience. This makes a difference when you have a room of 20 people but only 3 are engaged. We have visual, auditory, kinesthetic learning styles to name a few.

Designers also need to make the content relatable, consider the four-stage learning cycle and the learning domains when matching activities and content. For example, the learner need to be motivated, need to understand what’s required, need opportunities to practice the concept and then need to apply the new knowledge. Some learners respond to mental stimulation so things like statistics and figures, others respond to emotional stimulation – things that evoke feelings and others to activities that promote doing – manual/physical tasks.

Think of a 500-piece jig saw puzzle that illustrates a captivating picture of the Canadian Rockies. Before you can see and appreciate the picture, you need to assemble all 500 pieces then integrate them correctly piece-by-piece to form the picture. This is the job of an instructional designer.

Instructional designers can make or break a captivating versus a hum drum session. Now, a dynamic facilitator can work wonders in engaging and motivating an audience, even if the design is not up to par. But, that’s a topic for another blog post.

So, the next time you attend a training session and you leave feeling as if you could conquer the world, give two thumbs up to the instructional designer.  Time was well spent to ensure a great design by assembling all the pieces then integrating them precisely into a stunning, stimulating and memorable picture.