Even though Straightaway provides an online curriculum, we are, at heart, educators ourselves. As educators, we know that a blended learning approach – one that combines the best of instructor-led sessions with digital learning – is hands down the best way to learn.
To that end, we recently published a series on education innovation. In that series, we covered the flipped classroom concept, simulations and storytelling, among others. We thought it might be a good idea to offer a companion series on best practices in instructor-led learning events so our readers can have at their fingertips some examples of solid facilitation techniques.
This is the first in our seven-part Facilitation Tips series. We will examine the role of the difference between instructors and facilitators and the role of the facilitator in today’s fast changing environments.
As educators, we are responsible for learning experiences that influence behavior – this is key in recognizing the difference between instructors and facilitators. Believe it or not, our armed forces are known for having some of the education offerings, bar none. Success depends on raw recruits being molded into functioning actors in an unfamiliar environment where instructions must be followed to the letter. An engineering firm in the armed services by the name of LifeCycle Engineering has a great explanation for the differences between and instructor and a facilitator:
“An instructor is a content resource. Most content experts share their knowledge through writing or lectures. When they instruct, they appear as the “sage on the stage” imparting all knowledge to a passive participant. They control what is taught and when. It is up to the participant to adapt their personal style and prior knowledge to learn new skills and knowledge.
A facilitator, on the other hand, is a process manager first, a content resource second. Facilitators use their knowledge of how people learn to create an active environment that embraces participants’ prior knowledge and unique learning style. They engage the participant in taking charge of their learning. When they facilitate, they appear as a “guide by the side” encouraging the sharing of knowledge by and with an active participant.”
So, which of these definitions is more closely aligned with your teaching style? Would you like to know how to incorporate more facilitator behaviors in your classroom?
Let’s start with the basics. Process manager and the knowledge of how people learn are two important parts in the above definition of facilitators. Productive facilitation means managing the process of learning. An effective facilitator can read a room to see who is struggling, who is with them and when it’s time to stop and do something different, and can adjust on the fly.
A competent facilitator is also an expert at using the four major things we know about how people learn:
- People will learn when they feel the need to learn. This can be complicated, especially with any required compliance training versus training that they voluntarily learn. A good facilitator will figure out a way to tap into this motivation by how they present the reason for instruction.
- They use their own prior learning as a way of making sense of new learning. New learning is put through a lens of “what else do I know that this pertains to?” It is what our brains do by default when faced with new material. The opposite can also sometimes be true. Prior learning sometimes must be invalidated as a way of increasing understanding. For example, someone who believes or has learned an old way of doing things will have to “unlearn” that paradigm to accept the new way.
- Learners need to control their learning, not the facilitator. It helps to have an active dialogue in classroom that the eagle eye facilitator can rely on to help pace topics. If you aren’t aware of where your audience is, they may “check out” and then nobody is learning.
- Lastly, learners who apply new knowledge and skills to the learning environment are more likely to practice what they’ve learned on the job. One of the most important jobs for a facilitator is to design methods that allow learners to experiment with and apply new concepts. A great example is a technology course that teaches tech failures of various types. As an activity, the facilitator had all the learners leave the room and she took their tech pieces and disabled them in various ways. Then the students were called back in and asked to figure out what was out of place, what was missing. They really had to remember and apply.
While it is not a motivator for learners, a corollary to Point Number 4 is that impressive facilitators actively influence behavior change outside the classroom. This will involve working with the managers, supervisors and students themselves to determine if training is working. Don’t be lulled by posttests. They are important, sure, but they don’t give you a clear picture of what is happening after they leave your care. If it isn’t happening on the floor, find out why and correct your instruction or fix the operational problem that is stopping them.
As the pace of our world changes, operational outcomes with our people are more important than ever. Teaching will increase in importance and our effectiveness as teachers will be examined more stringently.
In this series, we’ll provide practical tips on how to open a session, close a session, follow up, change gears and manage disruptions.