Guila Muir and Associates

What Is a Trainer? What Is a Facilitator?

by Guila Muir

A thought­ful look at impor­tant dif­fer­ences that impact YOUR prac­tice.

Recently, I've noticed that some cor­po­ra­tions call their train­ers "facil­i­ta­tors." I can only assume this is meant to be short­hand for "facil­i­ta­tor of learn­ing." How­ever, is "facil­i­ta­tor" really an appro­pri­ate term when the "facil­i­ta­tor" exclu­sively lec­tures and uses Power Point? Are facil­i­tat­ing a strate­gic plan­ning ses­sion and teach­ing some­one how to do that really the same thing?

Even the roots of the two words inter­play. "Educe," the root of "edu­cate," lit­er­ally means "to bring out." That is what the best train­ers do…but isn't it also what facil­i­ta­tors do? The root of "facil­i­tate," of course, is "facile," or to make a process "easy." The best train­ers seem to make learn­ing easy, don't they?

It's no won­der con­fu­sion exists. The great­est train­ers and facil­i­ta­tors do share many char­ac­ter­is­tics and behav­iors. How­ever, I believe the role of trainer and facil­i­ta­tor are ineluctably dif­fer­ent and that it's impor­tant to dis­tin­guish between them. This will not only help reduce con­fu­sion about the terms, but (more impor­tantly, to me-) ensure they retain real meaning.

Let's Talk Terms

Even though the term "train­ing" is broadly accepted for the field of adult edu­ca­tion, some in our field argue that "train­ing" itself is an unac­cept­able word. They argue that the word con­jures up "dog train­ing" or other poten­tially de-humanizing acts.

Oth­ers dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the terms train­ing, instruc­tion and edu­ca­tion, but con­clude that all are nec­es­sary to help peo­ple learn. (Stolovitch and Keeps, 2002.) Most adult edu­ca­tors use "train" as an umbrella term for what they do.

4 Major Dif­fer­ences Between Facil­i­ta­tor and Trainer Roles

Great Facil­i­ta­tor Great Adult Edu­ca­tor (Trainer)
Is not nec­es­sar­ily a con­tent expert. Is a con­tent expert.
Is an expert in many forms of group process (includ­ing inter-and-intra-group con­flict res­o­lu­tion, strate­gic plan­ning, team build­ing, etc.) Is not nec­es­sar­ily expert in many forms of group process. Instead, con­tin­u­ally devel­ops new meth­ods to help par­tic­i­pants achieve spe­cific learn­ing outcomes.
Often helps the group to define and ver­bal­ize its own out­comes (e.g. to solve a spe­cific prob­lem or develop a new procedure.)When out­comes are exter­nally pre­scribed, helps the group develop, imple­ment and "own" action steps to achieve the outcomes. Most often in cor­po­rate, orga­ni­za­tional or higher edu­ca­tion set­tings, the trainer does not help each learner group estab­lish its own learn­ing out­comes. (That's a whole other approach, called Pop­u­lar Edu­ca­tion.) How­ever, the trainer may be involved in imple­ment­ing and/or ana­lyz­ing the results of train­ing needs assess­ments. These should include input from rep­re­sen­ta­tive (poten­tial) par­tic­i­pants as well as other stakeholders.
Sees facil­i­ta­tion as a process to help achieve spe­cific "bits" of broad orga­ni­za­tional goals. Often focuses on training's impact on actual, dis­crete job per­for­mance or tasks. Trainer may eval­u­ate training's effec­tive­ness long after the train­ing event takes place.

Ele­ments the Two Roles Share

Both great facil­i­ta­tors and the best trainers…

  • Help the group achieve spe­cific out­comes through the use of
    active, par­tic­i­pa­tory, participant-centered methods.
  • reg­u­larly eval­u­ate the process in real time, and can mea­sure how well the par­tic­i­pants achieved the stated out­comes at the end of the process.
  • have made them­selves famil­iar with the orga­ni­za­tional cul­ture and con­text in which they are work­ing, and ensure the processes "fit" that culture.
  • stim­u­late dia­logue and inter­ac­tion between par­tic­i­pants, not just between them­selves and the participants.

In this arti­cle, I've tried to scratch the sur­face of sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between facil­i­ta­tion and train­ing. I believe pas­sion­ately in the value of each. Both can help us under­stand our­selves, each other, our work, and the world bet­ter. Beyond that, they play dif­fer­ent roles in the work­place and community.

Read more arti­cles about Train­ing Devel­op­ment and Facil­i­ta­tion Skills. Learn about Guila Muir’s Trainer Devel­op­ment Workshops.

Guila Muir is the pre­miere trainer of train­ers, facil­i­ta­tors, and pre­sen­ters on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1994, she has helped thou­sands of pro­fes­sion­als improve their train­ing, facil­i­ta­tion, and pre­sen­ta­tion skills. Find out how she can help trans­form you from a bor­ing expert to a great pre­sen­ter:

© 2007 Guila Muir. All rights reserved.
You may make copies of this arti­cle and dis­trib­ute in any media so long as you change noth­ing, credit the author, and include this copy­right notice and web address.

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  • men­tor­train­ing

    Thanks so much for all the info.

  • Rebeccareyes04

    What would you say is the dif­fer­ence between an Instruc­tional Sys­tem Designer and a Train­ing. What I've noticed in our indus­try is that ISD pro­fes­sion­als are usu­ally respon­si­ble for design­ing train­ing pro­grams that con­sist of sev­eral courses. They are more like school admin­is­tra­tors. Whereas, train­ing pro­fes­sion­als are instruc­tors. They are more like teach­ers. ISD pro­fes­sion­als, at least in the cor­po­rate world, are usu­ally paid more. I'd like to know your thoughts.

  • guil­a­muir

    ISD pro­fes­sion­als are like archi­tects, but most use a pretty stan­dard approach to how they build their houses. They do NOT have to be con­tent experts. Because they are not, they must spend a lot of time gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion from sub­ject mat­ter experts and other stake­hold­ers so that they can build a rel­e­vant training.

    Most train­ers don't have a clue how to design a train­ing effec­tively. That's a HUGE miss­ing link. If they knew more, they'd be bet­ter trainers.

  • Shel­ter

    This is a great piece. Thank you.

  • Nchenge Eyong

    it cer­tainly helped me for my pre­sen­ta­tion. thanks ma'am

  • Guila

    I am so glad it was help­ful to you. Keep up the good work!

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