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Guila Muir

Developing trainers, presenters and facilitators to make a difference

The Myth of the Facilitator

imagesHere’s a pet peeve of mine: Adult educators who call themselves “Facilitators”…and then go on to give a traditional, one-sided, PowerPoint-heavy training session. I estimate that 87.5% of trainers who call themselves “facilitators” are lying. Why? Because they model few skills of facilitation.

Well Then, What is a Facilitator?

A facilitator is content-neutral. Because of this, the most appropriate role for a facilitator is that of meeting leader. In this role, he or she can extract insights and enable collaboration.

The trainer is a content expert. The trainer’s role is to elicit behavior change in participants. This behavior change is called learning. A trainer’s role is to ensure that learning of specific content takes place. (That’s why so many trainers just tell, tell, and tell!)

So What About “Facilitator of Learning”?

This term is less popular than plain old “facilitator”, but to me, it is the gold standard for which all trainers should strive. A trainer can be considered a “facilitator of learning” only when he or she:

  • shuts up (a lot),
  • asks meaningful, provocative, open-ended questions, remaining aware of group dynamics at all times, and
  • provides many opportunities for participants to figure things out for themselves.

Put most simply, a facilitator of learning ASKS. Asking creates disequilibrium and curiosity in participants. Disequilibrium requires participants to adapt, to question themselves, and ultimately to change. Learning IS change!

How to Be a Facilitator of Learning, not Just an Authority Who Spews Content?

If you strive to see behavior change in your participants and are willing to drop the more comfortable role of constantly “telling”, and  these guidelines will help.

  1. Ask questions.

Plan and integrate questions that will spur not-so-easy thinking and feeling.

  1. Be provocative.

Be willing to name dynamics, factions, or hidden assumptions in the group…with the positive intention of causing disequilibrium and curiosity.

  1. Encourage experimentation.

Balance your “Telling” role with opportunities for participants to explore, create, and make mistakes.

When trainers facilitate learning instead of staying on the safer shore of “telling”, we often feel more vulnerable and closer in status to our participants. This unpredictability may not feel comfortable. Each of us must decide for ourselves what type of adult educators we want to be…and be honest in what we call ourselves.

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