I used to be an IT trainer and I was very good(so I thought) at telling people what to do and how to do it (in the IT arena that is). Whilst I was training with IBM, I was sent on a number of training courses and one of them was a week long facilitation skills course in a very lovely location in Hampshire. To say I was unhappy about the choice of course, was an understatement. I was fuming! As far as I was concerned, facilitation was for soft skills trainers, who liked to draw things out of their delegates. It was not for techies like me who had some serious knowledge to impart. Asking questions was only going to slow the process down!
So on the course, I took a very mature approach and sulked most of the week. On the Thursday afternoon we were given topics to either present or facilitate for the final session on Friday. That meant some evening work. I would be “happy” as long as I did not have to do any facilitation on the final day. But guess what? I was given the task of facilitating a discussion on “Power bases for trainers”. Not a subject I knew very much about, which firstly freaked me out a little. How would I stand up in front of a group of trainers and facilitate on a subject I knew very little (if anything) about? Panic!!
My second response was, okay so now that I have been landed with this, let me throw it back at them (they were not going to make a fool out of me!) and I will just ask loads of questions of the group and record their answers. In the 15 minutes it took me to prepare, I realised that I had the least amount of work to do in comparison to my other colleagues, but I was still not won over – it was about retaliation!
Starting the facilitated discussion, I was nervous (although I hid it well) but the more responses I got, the less nervous I got. The session, sort of ran itself really; a few questions, some nods and grunts in the right places, from me and a bit of flipchart recording. I was quite pleased with myself – I had really shown them! I was not defeated – I ran a facilitated discussion and did the minimum preparation I could get away with and spent the rest of the evening gloating with a gin and tonic while the others furiously prepared for their sessions.
By nature I am a pragmatist and hence the struggle – I could not see how this was ever going to apply to what I do as an IT trainer. Reflection was not a normal occupation for me. But as I did reflect on the experience I did take away something quite valuable:
- I could stand up in front of people and help them learn, without being an expert
- When you “tell” in a training session, even if the learners look like they are engaged, they could be dreaming about anything – dinner, holidays or the weekend
- When you ask a learner a question, even if it is rhetorical, the brain tries search for an answer
The last one has had the biggest impact on me, because I understand now that learner engagement can be boosted by asking (relevant) questions. It is as simple as that.
So the blog is called “Facilitator or Trainer?” and those people in knowledge heavy training areas such as IT, Financial Services, process, H&S etc may be answering “trainer” – because you have to do a certain amount of telling in these subjects. True, but consider Tim Gallwey’s model below:
During any learning/training the facilitator slips between these three roles:
- They have to be the trainer when they are setting out the objectives, instructing and getting the learners to follow the agenda
- They can be a facilitator by being neutral and asking questions to draw the learners to the conclusions they need to make and to engage them
- They should, themselves be a learner to observe what is going on in the room to adapt accordingly
So do we need to choose between the two? Or can we seamlessly glide between Tim Gallwey’s 3 roles? I will leave you to answer that for yourselves……..