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Words such as teacher, trainer and facilitator have been used interchangeably for decades, to an extent that the true meaning of the words has been lost. I make this bold statement because the way in which teachers, professors, trainers, facilitators and others in this category of professionals engage with their audience is vastly similar – standing in front of the audience as they spew volumes of content, interspersed with a few activities here and there during a session.
Thus far, “facilitators” have done everything from program creation to technical training, soft skill training, leadership development, process training to life skill coaching and progress evaluation. Across the board, the term for individuals enabling this has been similar, if not the same. In the digital age, however, this is not the case.
Digital platforms and the needs of the modern learners have necessitated the “facilitator” to rethink and revamp the learning methodologies they currently employ. In avoiding this shift, facilitators will increasingly find themselves perishing. Why? Information is available at the fingertips and the volume of information increases every millisecond. Learners are increasingly taking to Google and platforms catering to learners’ need for self-directed, self-paced learning. Else, the modern learner receives his or her information from conversations with peers, colleagues, friends, family, and even acquaintances, making the need for a facilitator almost inconsequential:
- For learning that is heavy on knowledge development and retention, modern learners are turning to self-paced learning that allows them to learn at their pace and convenience, anytime and anywhere.
- For more complex skill development, modern learners seek hyper-personalized solutions catered specifically for their context, ability and pace.
Where does this leave the traditional facilitator?
Facilitators, in the digital age, must evolve beyond the constructs of their current roles and responsibilities. After all, the role of a facilitator is to “facilitate”, the very definition of which is to help another. Therefore, as a facilitator, ask yourself these questions:
“Am I helping my audience with what I do?”
“Am I catering to the needs of my audience?”
“Am I creating the impact and experience that my audience seeks?”
If you ask your audience, their immediate response is likely to be “yes”. On further thought, however, there will be a slew of recommendations in how facilitators can adapt themselves to meet the diverse needs of their audience. One thing is for certain – no matter how good a facilitator one might be, it is impossible to cater equally to every learner’s needs and expectations, unless the entire audience is on the same page. This is rarely the case.
So, what must be done?
In the digital age, the role of the facilitator will split into two:
- One part of facilitating learning requires great INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNERS.
- The other part requires great COACHES.
Facilitating through Instructional Design
With learners increasingly taking to self-paced learning, facilitators must learn to be great instructional designers. ATD describes Instructional Design as “the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills”. This requires an assessment of needs, designing a process, developing material and evaluating effectiveness, all of which caters to the learner’s needs, expectations, styles and experience. To do so, an instructional designer must develop the capabilities to:
- Coherently understand how learners learn
- Connect with the audience on a personal level
- Empathize with the learner
- Visualize the learning process and the outcome
…among other technical capabilities.
There are several instructional design models that exist to help designers create the experience and deliver the expected outcome. However, with the world rapidly changing, and inspiration being boundaryless, it is important for an instructional designer to keep learners at the centre of the design and do what is needed to cater to them. (Read: Lessons on Learning Design from Online Television)
Facilitating through coaching
Modern learners are like fingerprints in that no two learners are alike. A learner is a compound of his/her learning style, background, understanding, capability, needs and expectations. Therefore, to cater to the modern learner, a tailor-made solution is best. For whatever Google cannot give them an answer, learners look to coaches, mentors and guides who can make a positive difference in their lives and help them achieve their goals.
Rather than sit in a classroom going through various literature and examples of great leaders, the modern learner seeks someone who can coach them to become great leaders themselves. They’re willing to put in the work, they just need some guidance and a boost to accomplish their goals more effectively. To do so, facilitators, as coaches, must possess the ability to:
- Be patient and let individuals find their way rather than charting out an entire plan for them
- Inspire others to take risks and act on their dreams
- Understand everything about the individuals they coach better than they do themselves
- Be confident in themselves and the individuals they coach
- Consistently engage and motivate individuals (and understand that there is no shortcut)
- Be sensitive and support to the emotions and challenges of the individuals they coach
As fancy a term as ‘coach’ sounds, it is just as difficult to emulate the practices, habits and behaviors of a good coach. It is pertinent, therefore, for facilitators to have strong conviction in adopting the profession, and not treat it as a fleeting fancy or a natural next step.
More than anything, being a great coach means believing in someone – their potential, their dreams and their abilities (Read: Why expressing belief in someone is the secret ingredient to coaching).
There is no doubt that the role of a facilitator is rapidly changing, and with it, so must the facilitator. The question remains – in what direction do you choose to go?
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