From training to facilitation

Written by Barry Johnson on 28 December 2017

A question is how can we facilitate and improve facilitation if we don’t know how people learn? Is what we did as trainers valid? Hopefully, neuroscientists and psychologists will clarify this.

There are disputed theories about learning from psychology, sociology, education and policy studies, valued in different ways from various perspectives such as political ideologies, social norms and values, history and personal preferences.

The problem is compounded by the way in which researchers have stoutly defended their reputations against those from a different perspective. Some theorists and developers of instruments have tended to ignore, rather than engage with, each other.

The result is fragmentation of views, with little cumulative knowledge and cooperative research. The result has been that as professionals in L&D we have retained that which we learned to do or what has appealed to us.

Our habits then act as blockers to the enlightenment that is emerging in the move from past history and training practice to learning and learning facilitation based on neuroscience, biological research and the growing cooperation among psychologists and researchers.

Our habitual behaviours when imparting our subject matter expertise can be a barrier. The way off-the-job learning is assumed to occur by line managers is often inexpert, dictated by cost, the time the employees will be unavailable for work and then the failure to implement the necessary on-the-job follow-up to consolidate the learning into practical operations.

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Learning is a difficult concept buried in assumptions, beliefs and personal value systems. This is often compounded by a failure of the managers not to have changed their behaviour, and this acts as a reversion model to the employees in their care.

A naïve manager view is ‘tell them’, ‘they will know’, ‘they can then do’ whereas leaders recognise ‘asking’ is a foundation of most engagement and learning.

Many trainers use questionnaires to identify learning styles without a clear idea of why they have chosen a particular model with no valid explanation or rationale. Many more build lessons around logical content fact and not about the mental requirements of learners and their current content understanding.

Important is matching the learning facilitation to the target population. Assuming, three learning groups, perhaps a group of third-year technical apprentices, a group of highly experienced technicians and a group of newly appointed engineering graduates.

Here the learning facilitator can match the learning facilitation to the social, intellectual, experiential and academic foundations. The facilitation methodologies and learning time may be remarkably different for each group to achieve the same learning objectives.

We believe the shift of focus from training to learning facilitation means using what the neuroscientists are telling us and the building on learners previous learning is essential to choosing the learning facilitation methods used. Does that mean no two learning events are the same?

Our experience is yes, because the learners tell us different things. Now our profession is advancing.


About the author

Barry Johnson BA, Chartered MCIPD, MCMI is the co-founder of Learning Partners. He has extensive experience in designing assessment events for development and selection and is an experienced facilitator and assessor.​


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