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Guila Muir

Developing trainers, presenters and facilitators to make a difference

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: www.guilamuir.com

© Guila Muir.


8 Responses to “What is a Trainer? What is a Facilitator?”

  1. mentortraining says:

    Thanks so much for all the info.

  2. Rebeccareyes04 says:

    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.

  3. guilamuir says:

    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.

  4. Shelter says:

    This is a great piece. Thank you.

  5. Nchenge Eyong says:

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

  6. Guila says:

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

  7. […] A thought­ful look at impor­tant dif­fer­ences that impact YOUR prac­tice. […]

  8. Coach Sherri says:

    This is a great article outlining the differences between a facilitator and a trainer. I am a workforce development specialist and, although it is called “training”, I facilitate many workshops to the unemployed and underemployed who are entering the workforce through apprenticeship or internship programs. I always refer to myself as the facilitator because I facilitate the process that they need to evolve, create new habits, and make better choices that will support them in the workplace.

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