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

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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.

Is training always necessary?

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To train or not to train. That is the question. Training programs can be very beneficial in either creating new knowledge and skills for the workforce or improving upon existing knowledge and skills. This in turn can make an organization nimbler and can increase the bottom line.

I have certainly been on the receiving end of training that I would consider a yawn fest. It was delivered poorly, the content was uninteresting and the worst point being that I was forced to go. All these negative emotions translated into being a hostile, captive audience. Very counterproductive.

So, how does a training specialist determine that training is the answer? Two words – needs assessment. The needs assessment determines the problem that needs solving which in turn leads to defining objectives for the program.  Imagine this scenario for a moment: the vice president of sales drops a huge, multi-page, cerlox report on your desk and tells you to create a training program.  You skim quickly and determine that sales are down and there is an absenteeism problem with the sales representatives. What’s next? Do you obey the powers that be and hastily draft a training program? After all, there is a problem that needs to be solved. Right?

But, there could be a myriad of reasons for the drop in sales and the absentee sales reps. The training specialist needs to get to the core of those reasons. The right antidote is needed to cure the specific ailment. When I have a headache, I certainly don’t put heavy metal music on blast. I take an aspirin and find a quiet place to recover. The right remedy for the specific problem.

Let’s go back to the scenario. As the training specialist, you conduct a survey with specific questions, conduct some focus group sessions to gain some insight and then you conduct some interviews to gather even more information.  Based on this analysis, you discover that the drop in sales and absenteeism is a result of poor morale rather than poor knowledge and skills. Instead of a training program, you recommend some engagement activities over a period of time. Sales and attendance improve gradually.

Training does not solve every issue in the workplace. Conducting a thorough needs analysis will provide insight into what plan to take to solve the problem. In the scenario: unnecessary time, effort, manpower and costs were averted because the time was taken to assess the situation and apply the right remedy to the problem. Needs assessment is key.

Is orientation a waste of time?

 

orientation

 

Picture this. It is the first day of your new job. You are all excited to get started and showcase your talents. You arrive at work bright and early and check in at the security desk as a new employee. The security guard prevents you from entering without an access card. You wait and wait but no one comes to greet you for at least one hour. Then you arrive at your desk only to discover that your manager is on vacation and there is no direction on what to do. This was my experience a few years ago on day one of my new job at a media company. I languished alone in the atrium of this building – a cavernous structure – watching people come and go. No one was prepared for my arrival, there was no one to greet me and show me around and worst of all, no orientation program which would have solved the first-day angst experienced by most new employees.

Needless to say, I could have walked out and not look back. Reason prevailed. I persevered and ended up working for this organization for five years. That whole experience tainted my view of the organization but created a development opportunity for me.  I saw an area that was lacking and made gains in introducing improvements. Also, I was able to calm the nagging voice in my head that kept telling me that a career in training and development was my next move.

Fast forward seven years later. I am now working at a financial services company that values being the employer of choice. It provides training and career development plus numerous learning opportunities. I was very pleased to have a two-hour orientation session on day one. This session gave me the tools and knowledge to navigate the campus, the corporate systems, get an overview of the strategy and structure and to know who to call for what and when. Armed with these nuggets of information, I felt I could just jump right in and start making my contribution to the company without wasting time. Now, orientation did not cover every little thing. I still had to do some research into my specific area –   for example, discovering my team; getting acquainted with the content etc.

Some people may argue that orientation is a waste of time. As you can tell, I disagree. If done right, it is a very useful and effective way to begin tenure at any organization. After all, the intent of a company is to retain its talent. The journey does not stop at receiving an offer letter – the audition process continues well after the three or six-month probationary period.

So yes, the orientation session is not only an effective tool for the company but also for employees. Use it to start the relationship off on the right track.

Empower yourself

“Knowledge is power”. Now I don’t know exactly who first coined this famous quote. There are varying opinions from Sir Francis Bacon in the 1500’s to Thomas Jefferson, but one thing is certain, it is a true statement.

I have utilized this quote both in my personal and professional life. In my personal sphere, I use the 5 W’s – who, what, where, why, when and for extra good measure – how. I am conscious about who I share my personal information with, what kinds of information I share, where I am when I’m sharing, why I am sharing, when do I choose to share and how I do the sharing. Remember, knowledge is power.

In my professional sphere, I am always looking for opportunities to learn and grow and I encourage others to do the same. I am so passionate about training and learning that I pursued training and development as a career choice. It is a fulfilling experience when you can impart knowledge and witness the transformation. In the corporate world, I use training and learning as an empowerment strategy. The more you know, the more training you have, the more knowledge and experience you have – the more control you have over your path which leads to being empowered.

empower

 

In this age of social media, it seems prolific sharing and oversharing of our personal lives has become the norm. But, I believe on that front, there is such a thing as too much information (TMI). However, when it comes to professional development, you can never have enough knowledge.

I was introduced to Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In the book, Daniel outlines the three elements of true motivation – autonomy, mastery and purpose. I will take this concept a step further and say that when you have autonomy over your path, when you can master your work and when you have a set course of action – a purpose – then the overarching behaviour is empowerment.

How does one have autonomy, mastery and purpose? First you need to be motivated to pursue new ideas, new concepts and different ways of thinking and doing.  There is no reward without work. One sure way to take control and ownership of your development is to increase your knowledge, skills and abilities. Remember, knowledge is power.

 

 

 

Learning on demand

The days of going to a classroom to take a course to upgrade knowledge and skills are long gone. Welcome to the age of learning on demand! Anytime, anywhere, any which way – you can increase your knowledge using a myriad of mediums.

As adult educators, this is a welcome pace thanks to the advancement of technology. One of the many drawbacks that adult learners usually cite as a hindrance to learning, is the time to do it. As adults, we juggle a balance of personal time with other commitments and responsibilities. The hockey practice, the dance lessons, the shopping, etc. – it’s always a balancing act. Learning on demand offers a solution.

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The learning marketplace has introduced platforms such as Lynda, Coursera, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), even You Tube. These options promote learning in your pajamas and at your fingertips. Log on – choose an interest and presto –  start learning!

I have certainly benefitted from this learning on demand phenomenon. I have always wanted to delve into the fascinating, fun world of e-learning.  First, I needed to get a handle on some of the e-learning authoring software currently on the market such as Articulate Storyline. Well, lucky for me, I saved a ton of dough and still got the knowledge and skill I needed, without putting one foot in a traditional classroom. Thanks to the Articulate E-learning Community. This online forum provided e-books, training videos and practice files. I was able to learn at my own pace, on my own time and in the comfort of my own home. Now that’s progress.

Using memes in learning

Videos can go viral in a matter of seconds – the more outlandish the better to create buzz and the fleeting 15 minutes of fame. With the phenomena of the internet and social media in particular, memes have gained popularity and notoriety as entertainment and distraction from the hum drum of daily life.

The concept of memes has been around for a while but exploded on the scene with the increasing popularity of social networking sites. So, what is a meme exactly? Basically, it is a behaviour or cultural system that is passed around by individuals usually via imitation. Think of a video, an image or text that goes viral on the internet because it is forwarded to many people who then create variations of the original.

Why not replicate the success of memes in the learning discipline? They share the same factors as some of the elements needed to deliver a successful learning program. Factors such as repetition, imitation and engagement comes to mind. A learning program is only as good as its design and delivery. Instructional Designers and Facilitators are tasked with the ability to dazzle, while delivering the practical aspects such as relevance, interest, and retention. Of course, as in any design, the audience and the need will be the driving force.

My most memorable teachers, while in school, were those who “coloured outside of the lines”. They were able to convey information in exciting and memorable ways. I have heard of high school teachers who have used the musical genre of rap to teach math, for example. The brain has a way of gravitating towards the unusual.

Pop culture has given us many tools and ideas that we can use to jazz up our learning programs. I think memes just might be the ticket.