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.