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How To Be A Good Facilitator

As a leader and teacher in the classroom and online for over 15 years, I still face the challenge of making content “real” for learners. Even with the help of the newest technology tools to communicate and educate including social media, wikis, and Google, we still need to transform our ILT classrooms and training sessions into integrated blended learning environments. So how do you keep it real? Move from being a teacher to facilitator.

It’s in your mind

One of the pioneers of adult learning theory, Malcom Knowles, explored the role of adult education and facilitation (andragogy) versus the traditional style of teaching children (pedagogy). Whereas the traditional teaching approach emphasizes the role of the teacher as the holder of the wisdom, facilitation puts the onus on the participants to become involved in their own learning process. The facilitator’s role is to introduce subjects of discussion, encourage a blend of perspectives, and integrate students’ shared experiences. This collaborative approach reinforces more of the 70% in the 70/20/10 formula — 70% of what we learn is on the job and through our experiences. To our learners, this is their reality. A good facilitator is one who is a connector to this reality – the glue that brings the collective "real world" experiences of the classroom together in a shared learning experience.

I had to change my mindset to learn not how to be a good teacher, but how to be a good facilitator. I realized it wasn’t all about me and my understanding of the information, it was about leading my learners to a new understanding within themselves. My job was not to tell; my job was stimulate thinking, encourage exploration, make associations, and help guide my learners.

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An example

I taught college Philosophy for eight years, and each time we discussed inductive and deductive reasoning I found many of my students responding like deer in the headlights. What did all of this logic mean? Why is it useful? How could I make the topic of Philosophy more interesting, engaging, and meaningful?

One night in the classroom I decided to use a relevant example from their reality: Coke or Pepsi. “In 15 minutes we are going to take a break. When you visit the vending machine you can buy Coke or Pepsi. Think about which beverage you’d choose and why.” Upon returning from the break students would explain their preferences and choices. I would align their process of choosing to an argument using deductive reasoning, and show them how their thoughts perfectly fit the formula. They would often say, “Oh, now I get it!” and the light bulb moment would occur. Something they had been doing unconsciously for years was now explained in a three-line syllogism. Huzzah!

I discovered the teachable moment occurs in the minds of my learners, not mine. Learning best practices in facilitation rather than best practices in teaching changes the playing field. Now the learner is responsible for helping create and shape the learning experience, and they share the accountability as well.

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Tips for facilitating

Here are a few tips you can use in a physical classroom, during synchronous online sessions, and even (with a little adaptation) with asynchronous applications:

  • Begin by asking questions. At the very beginning of any class or training session find out who your learners are — what is their background and level of knowledge and experience with the topic? Why are they in this training session? Explain to them what they need to understand and why. This opening answers the ever-present question WIIFM (What's In It For Me?), encourages participation, and creates the initial connection between you and your learners.
  • Introduce your information slowly. Try using a flow chart or visual mind map of the content to introduce creativity and make associations — perhaps even let the students select the order in which you discuss the information. As you speak, solicit experiences from the room, and add your own facts and stories as you move through the content.
  • Make the content applicable. Spend time asking your learners for ways in which they can apply the content to their current environment. This helps encourage direct application and prevents learners from leaving the session without an idea for how they’re going to apply their new knowledge.
  • Learners as Teachers. Allow your learners to actively share their experiences and effectively leverage the knowledge and experience of your learners to help them teach each other. Experience, truly, is the best teacher!

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