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Adventures in Facilitation

Massage therapist

Growing up I had a cousin who seemed to have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so much so that whenever he came to visit us my Father would often remark “trouble just seems to follow that kid”. I feel the same way when it comes to attending an in-class training session…. if there is a bad facilitator out there, I seem to end up as one of their students.

Now, understanding that with the advancements in eLearning the need to attend a course or info session in person grows more infrequent by the day, these negative situations occur far too often. Case in point, recently I attended a 2-hour info session designed to provide training professionals the opportunity to hear from programmers and see first hand some new opportunities in e-learning design. While I was fine with the content of the program and actually thought the material was very well developed, the issue I had was with the person running the session. Let’s pause for a tip…if you are running a class and want to “warm-up” your audience, there are several ways to accomplish this goal that do not involve asking the class to stand up, turn to their right and massage the shoulders of the person in front of them. Tip number two…if a person is not comfortable groping the complete stranger they have been sitting beside for all of 5 minutes, do not call them out and ask why they are not participating…that discussion will in most cases be more than just a little awkward. Anyway…I could go on and provide a few more examples of the above mentioned train wreck but the point is this…I left the room (early) wondering who in their right mind thought this gentleman was qualified to facilitate training?

Consider the scenario above for a moment longer. Think about the hours, days, weeks and months a team of designers and programmers put in to creating slick pre-course materials and in- class activities that really showcased eLearning opportunities. Now imagine handing over the finished product to a facilitator who, based on his lack of understanding for the material was not part of the design, and watching in horror as your team’s months of hard work goes up in smoke while this same facilitator spends far too much time on ridiculous “ice-breakers” or fumbles through the agenda as opposed to presenting the material as designed. In these situations, do we blame the facilitator or the person that put them there in the first place? In my opinion there is no easy answer to that question as there are too many variables to consider, however I do know this…when a facilitator claims to have years of experience teaching a plethora of subjects my expectation is they should be very good at their job, and thus assume the project leader would feel the same way. I also know that in situations where the designer is also the facilitator OR the facilitator has instructional design experience, the chances of a successful program are increased drastically. The reasons for this are straight forward, if not obvious. A trainer’s familiarity with the materials, concepts, key objectives, timing, etc. are a given when a facilitator trains a program he/she designed, and as such there are far fewer opportunities for failure. Also, in situations where a facilitator did not design the program they are training however does have legitimate instructional design experience none the less, they are much more likely to focus on the key program objectives and consequently offer a greater opportunity for success. To this end I would offer a final tip, that being if you are looking to hire an instructional designer, ensure you select an individual that has experience in facilitation. The same recommendation would work in reverse. If you want to hire a professional facilitator, find one that has instructional design experience.

With regards to my own facilitation techniques I by no means have run a perfect session each and every time, and in fact am often reminded of a few of my “greatest hits” which include accidently slapping a student (a high-five gone horribly wrong) and setting a table on fire in class as part of a demonstration (that one is a story for another day). Having said that I do however pride myself on ensuring I cover the key objectives, pay attention to my students and do my best to send everyone home happy…and until the day I am hired to work in a Spa, will leave the massages to the professionals.

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