Founder How to Accelerate Learning
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The second secret of accelerated learning: facilitate don’t train

In part two of this content series on the five secrets of accelerated learning, Krystyna Gadd, founder of How to Accelerate Learning, explains why L&D’s role isn’t always to deliver learning experiences, but rather to create the right conditions for these to take place. 

9th Oct 2019
Founder How to Accelerate Learning
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young people learning at work writing on a whiteboard
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Last time we looked at business focused and learner centred objectives, the most important of the five secrets. It’s the most important because without it, there is no focus, engagement or follow up. This time, we’ll look at the second of the five secrets, ‘facilitate don’t train’.

the five secrets of accelerated learning

At the time of first publishing these five secrets in 2013, my thoughts were about the classroom and thinking about the differences between training and facilitation in a face-to-face setting.

As we know now, this is quite a narrow field of vision and how we can facilitate learning has grown much wider in its definition over the last few years.

Before we expand on my original definition, let me just give you a little more background on my thinking.

In the late 80s, as a VM instructor for IBM I was sent on a week-long facilitation skills course.

My opinion before going on that course was that there was no place for facilitation in IT training. I simply had to explain things clearly and concisely and the delegates would get it.

As L&D professionals we want to make the process of learning easier, but with the amount of information that is available we cannot ‘deliver’ this all ourselves.

On that workshop though, I had probably the biggest light bulb moment of my career, I realised that if you ask question rather than tell the learners something, they stop and pause and think. You can see it in their eyes.

When you ‘tell’, the learners’ brains do not even have to engage. They could be looking at me while thinking about the next break, their dinner or what they were going to do that weekend.

This observation, that people engaged more when asked a question, is borne out in Stella Collins’ book, Neuroscience for learning and development, and there is a bit of brain science that is key to this.

When we are curious, dopamine is released into our bloodstream and this activates our reward systems and controls how engaged we are.

So asking a question, even when the participants do not know the answer, will engage their reward system. Not only that, it provides ultimately richer encoding of the learning itself.

What is facilitation?

Facilitation is about ‘the process or fact of making something possible or easier’ (according to the Oxford English dictionary).

The Cambridge dictionary describes it as, ‘the act of helping other people to deal with a process or reach an agreement or solution without getting directly involved in the process discussion yourself’.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia says, ‘a facilitator is someone who engages in facilitation—any activity that makes a social process easy or easier. A facilitator often helps a group of people to understand their common objectives and assists them to plan how to achieve these objectives; in doing so, the facilitator remains "neutral", meaning he/she does not take a particular position in the discussion’.

As L&D professionals we therefore want to make the process of learning easier, but with the amount of information that is available we cannot ‘deliver’ this all ourselves.

What skills does it require?

Some commentators suggest that in the future, AI will facilitate learning, not L&D.

If you look at the definition (to make something easy), then this seems like a good use of the technology.

I am not certain how close that is, but in the meantime we have a myriad of ways that learners can access learning.

When I started my career as an IT instructor we were only concerned with delivering good training.

Nowadays, there is much more that L&D professionals need to be concerned with, as evidenced in this graph from Towards Maturity’s Preparing for the Future report.

This all comes under the umbrella of ‘making the learning easy’ and also improving performance, which I never worried about when I first stepped into the world of L&D.

table illustrating the proportion of sample with priority skills in house
Towards Maturity and CIPD (2016), Preparing for the Future of Learning

Source: Towards Maturity and CIPD (2016). 'Preparing for the Future of Learning.'

The graph also highlights which skills people are most deficient in:

  • Facilitating social and collaborative learning
  • Supporting ongoing workplace performance
  • Live online learning
  • Digital content development
  • Performance consulting

This echoes the top give challenges for L&D leaders, as identified by the Learning & Performance Institute – see below.

graphic illustrating the top five challenges for L&D leaders
Learning and Performance Institute (2019)

Source: Learning and Performance Institute (2019).

It’s clear that digital transformation is one of the top challenges, but having the right people with the appropriate skills to deliver this is still a challenge, according to the Towards Maturity research.

Building a learning and coaching culture requires more social and collaborative learning, where again there seem to be a skills shortage.

Only 20% have the facilitation skills they need to facilitate social and collaborative learning.

L&D cannot possibly deliver all the learning that needs to take place, and so AI may well have an important role to play.

In the modern workplace, there are many different ways in which learning can happen (watch my video series 100 ways to learn for more on this).

L&D therefore has to facilitate – to make learning easy – by:

  • Curating resources
  • Bringing learning at the point of need
  • Helping to promote a learning culture through encouraging social and collaborative learning

Sometimes this may even involve face-to-face learning, but in a way that engages and includes participants so that:

  • The facilitator focuses on learning process.
  • Participants work with the facilitator to determine what information and skills they need to obtain.
  • Real-life problems are addressed.
  • The facilitator identifies and draws on expertise of participants.

Making the magic happen

In my first article I mentioned an aspiration of mine to unify all the great thinkers in L&D to bring together current thinking, so that collectively we know what to do to accelerate learning through organisations.

A popular ‘model’ out there that could be incorporated into the approach is the 70:20:10 model.

Created by Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert A. Eichinger in the 1980s, this model has grown in popularity.

We need to ignite the desire for learning and, on many occasions, not even be present when it happens.

It was originally seen as an observation of how people learn: 70% of the time on the job, 20% with peers and 10% formal learning.

Now people strive to see how they can achieve a good mix and which of their activities fit into which category.

Most management training does not work as it does not consider the 90% after the formal training.

The best tools to close the gap are coaching and on-demand learning, as well as social and experiential learning: the exact areas in which L&D is missing skills.

This is where we in L&D could facilitate, bring people together and make the magic happen.

Our skills lie in understanding how people learn. What hinders us is thinking we always have to be there to make it happen.

Why not give people some simple tools for collaborating and coaching? They do not need to be experts, but they need to know how to make the best use of their valuable time.

the facilitator illustration

In my opinion this is where our skills should lie in L&D - facilitating, empowering and curating rather than just delivering.

We need to ignite the desire for learning and, on many occasions, not even be present when it happens.

In the next article I will be looking at the third secret of accelerated learning, which is all about variety in learning.

How can we repurpose those learning styles to actually deliver variety in the learning that we want to accelerate?

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