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.

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.

L&D as a competitive edge

Learning and development (L&D) typically rank among the top five “wants” on employee satisfaction surveys. Employees are keen to develop both personally and professionally. Yet, when times get tough, the learning and development department is the first on the chopping block. This comes at the expense of employee engagement, being the employer of choice and commanding a competitive edge in the marketplace.

With the changing employee demographic – from Generation X and Y to Millennials – the current workforce looks for career development, career opportunities and continuous learning. According to a report from Aon Hewitt, 2014 Trends in Global Employee Engagement, the top drivers of engagement are: brand which includes company reputation and corporate social responsibility; leadership which includes senior leadership, and performance which speaks to career opportunities and learning & development.business competing

A company’s greatest asset is its people resources. Having an engaged, knowledgeable and skilled workforce is not only good for the bottom line but also good for competing for top talent.  Company loyalty is not what it used to be so employees today are looking for organizations that will invest in their success. This is a driver for retention. What is the ROI on this investment? Employees who remain – less turnover, employees who advance and become brand ambassadors and employees who are invested in the company’s earning potential. After all, a company is only as good as its people.