12 Attitudes, Beliefs, Habits and Practical Skills for Learning Facilitators by Ann Alder

What does it take to become an effective facilitator of learning?

Over the last 25 years, RSVP Design have been involved with the development of trainer training programmes for trainers and facilitators around the world. These have included:

  • Supporting corporate trainers to use more experiential learning methods in their in-house training programmes
  • Helping managers to offer more immediate, on-the-spot performance improvement
  • Developing instructional training skills for medical and technical professionals involved in international health programmes, such as the global drive to eliminate polio
  • Developing pure facilitation skills for those working to resolve conflict, develop strategy or support innovation in their organizations.

In all different types of ‘trainer training’ there needs to be a focus on a set of skills and practical applications. Trainers want clear answers to their basic question

 “What do I have to do to be a more effective facilitator of learning?”

They seek solutions for their problems: things they can practice and refine and add to their ‘toolbox’ of skills and techniques. Some of these are easy to offer. However, the most effective facilitators also demonstrate qualities and attributes that are more personal and may require a significant amount of self-awareness, reflection and behavioural change. As ‘trainers of trainers’ we aim to address both of these needs in our work.

So, what do we believe those who wish to develop their personal effectiveness as learning facilitators need to work on?

The first group of ideas here relate to attitudes and beliefs. These may be more difficult to process and to change but they underpin the learning culture that the trainer creates.

Attitudes and beliefs:

  1. An enthusiasm for life-long learning and a belief that everyone is capable of on-going growth and development
  2. A desire to engage learners in the learning process but without expectations that they ‘should’ learn: a respect for the learners’ right to learn or not and their responsibility for the outcomes
  3. A focus on process rather than content and a willingness to be flexible and creative if the process demands it
  4. An attitude of respect and empathy that creates a safe and supportive learning environment
  5. An awareness of a bigger picture and an ability to connect disparate issues and ideas
  6. A lack of ego and competitiveness: a trainer needs to be effective, not necessarily right!

The second group of ideas relate to habits and skills. These are more straightforward and can be practiced and improved rapidly once they become priorities for the trainer.

Habits and practical skills:

  1. An ability to maintain focus on defined learning outcomes and agreed goals, having ensured that these are the needs of the learners and that they are engaged with the learning process
  2. An ability to observe behavior, identify patterns and challenge those patterns to ensure that they provide the results that the learner wants
  3. An ability to listen – not only to the spoken messages but to the sometimes unspoken messages that lie behind them
  4. An ability to formulate effective questions, choosing and using questions that will challenge and focus the learners’ thinking and move them in their desired direction
  5. An ability to offer appropriate feedback in ways that are beneficial and acceptable to the learner
  6. An ability to move to action, giving learners practical solutions that can be put into action quickly in workplace or real life contexts

The most effective learning facilitators recognize that much of their success stems from the work they do in preparation for any learning intervention as well as in the delivery itself.
Using the ideas listed above:

Trainers can develop their focus on learning (rather than teaching/instructing/presenting) by using experiential learning activities that both raise awareness of a learning need and help learners to define where the gap is – i.e. the difference between what they are doing currently and what they need to do to achieve their desired results.These activities, such as RSVP Design’s Challenging Assumptions puzzle, explore the whole experiential learning process, the significance of the review and de-brief and the ‘personalisation’ of the learning to the needs of individual learners. (See point 1 above)

Close observation of behaviour and careful and accurate listening can be practiced and refined through observation of learners taking part in activities such as RSVP Design’s Colourblind activity. The debrief of this activity, perhaps supported by 1-1 coaching, can also be used to develop sensitive but challenging feedback skills (See points 2,3 and 5 above)

Questions are a facilitator’s most powerful tools and the ability to ask the ‘right’ question can be developed and supported through the use of imagery. The fact that images remain open to interpretation (and that they often elicit emotional as well as factual responses) means that they can  open meaningful dialogue between learners and learners and trainers. Images collections such as RSVP Design’s expresspack, Images of Organisations, Customer Experience and Resilience, or CCL’s ‘Explorer’ series provide a wonderful practice ground for crafting great questions. (See point 4 above)

Movement to action can be supported by training trainers in a range of different action and development planning techniques. Rather than simply asking for action points to work on, facilitators can learn to use a broader range of metaphorical tools such as RSVP Design’s Voyage Mapping activity, that offer both backward reflection and future visioning skills. (See point 6 above)

We hope this has given you some new ideas for your Trainer Training initiatives in 2019.

Please get in touch if you need help with your learning needs!

Ann Alder
Director of Training