If the world is changing faster than ever before, and if we are rapidly moving towards a world where your competitive advantage increasingly depends on your ability to attract, retain and get the most out of the talented individuals in your industry, leaders cannot ignore the need to be able to adequately develop and prepare their people for the future. But how should we train people for a world that doesn’t yet exist? Which knowledge and skills should we focus on if current skills and knowledge might be obsolete tomorrow? Or should we rather focus on attitudes? How do you train someone that has all the information in the world at her fingertips already?
In the first article I outlined seven attributes that are widely regarded as essential for success in the future workplace. The second article highlighted the way in which you should view the learner if you hoped to have any significant impact on her development. In this article I will take a closer look at the role of the facilitator of the learning process. As I mentioned in the previous article, I will use the terminology ‚learner‛ and ‚facilitator‛ although these terms also refer to leaders/followers; managers/staff, trainers/trainees etc.
Facilitator vs teacher
The role of the facilitator is aptly described by the name: facilitator. Someone who facilitates learning. Someone who makes learning easy. Please note that I did not use the term ‚teacher‛. Where a teacher gives a didactic lecture which covers the subject matter, a facilitator helps the learner to get to his or her own understanding of the content. In the former scenario the learner plays a passive role and in the latter scenario the learner plays an active role in the learning process. The emphasis thus turns away from the instructor and the content, and towards the learner and her context. This dramatic change of role implies that a facilitator needs to display a total different set of skills than a teacher. A teacher tells, a facilitator asks; a teacher lectures from the front, a facilitator supports from the back; a teacher gives answers according to a set curriculum, a facilitator provides guidelines and creates the environment for the learner to arrive at his or her own conclusions; a teacher mostly gives a monologue, a facilitator is in continuous dialogue with the learners. A facilitator should also be able to adapt the learning experience ‘in mid-air’ by using his or her own initiative in order to steer the learning experience to where the learners want to create value.
Why this change of role?

  • Because you don’t have all the answers anymore. We live in a world where there are various answers to the same questions. Why should your answer be superior to mine?
  • Because I learn better when I discover things for myself. Of course it’s easier if you just give me the content â€? but that’s boring! And I don’t need you to give me the content, just give me my internet-connection and I’ll dig up the content myself.
  • Because the content alone is not what it’s about. Things change. The content you give me now is old by lunch-time tomorrow. Rather excite me about the topic and help me to master the foundational concepts â€? as well the skills to continuously master new ones.
  • Because my questions are more important than your answers. Respect my questions, don’t smother them with quick answers. I’d rather live with the ambiguity.

What does this mean in practice?

  • Rather think of creative ways to help the learner explore and discover the topic than spending hours and hours on developing slides and slides of content.
  • Develop your facilitation skills. Don’t tell them the answers â€? ask them the questions that will lead them to the answers. Usually when we get nervous, we tend to convert to teaching mode. Resist this temptation.
  • If you are a leader, these principles should be applied in your everyday interactions with your people. Facilitate their development: do not try to teach them in YOUR ways â€? help each person to discover her/his own way.

Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper is an Organisational Alchemist at TomorrowToday.biz, a dynamic organisation that is assisting both large and small companies navigate the rich steams of the new economy. Jean completed two Masters degrees in 2004, both cum laude (an MPhil and MComm). He is an Industrial Psychologist and team dynamics expert, with a passion for helping companies get the best out of their bright young things.

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