BEING AN EFFECTIVE FACILITATOR
There are many ways to help adults learn effectively. One of the most effective approaches is facilitation of learning, a central feature of the individualizing process described throughout this book. The term facilitation has a liberatory connotation. It refers to the process of helping learners achieve self-growth through self-evaluation and cooperation with others. Additional descriptors of facilitation include assisting, freeing, aiding, guiding, and empowering learners in the learning process. Put simply, facilitation is the process of helping adults learn.
Brockett (1983) views an educator of adult's primary role as one of facilitating learning. He bases this view on the assumption that adults tend to prefer settings in which they have primary responsibility for directing their own learning. Brockett lists three skills as essential for effective facilitation: attending, responding, and understanding. Attending involves the development of a physical and psychological relationship where full attention is given to the learner. Responding refers to a showing of empathy, respect, genuineness, and concreteness for the learner and the learner's needs. The third skill, understanding, involves the sensitive use of confrontation, immediacy, and self-disclosure. Taken together, these skills suggest ways adult instructors can build a foundation upon which good and meaningful learning can occur.
Another proponent of the facilitating approach is Knowles. He believes that adult educators should serve as facilitators of learning rather than content transmitters, and offers a seven-element process model designed to bring this about. According to Knowles (1984), the model consists of the facilitator "(1) establishing a climate conducive to learning; (2) creating a mechanism for mutual planning; (3) diagnosing the needs for learning; (4) formulating program objectives that will satisfy these needs; (5) designing a pattern of learning experiences; (6) conducting these learning experiences with suitable techniques and materials; and (7) evaluating the learning outcomes and rediagnosing learning needs" (p. 117). The main advantage of Knowles' model is that it provides a means for helping learners acquire knowledge and skills through mutual inquiry. It also emphasizes the provision of procedures and resources for the facilitator and learners to work collaboratively toward desired ends.
There are additional reasons for emphasizing facilitation of learning, especially for adults. As we noted in earlier parts of the book, adults are characterized by a special orientation to life, living, education, and learning. They have a rich reservoir of experience upon which to draw with different developmental needs and roles than children and adolescents. They also have varying amounts of stress and anxiety. These essential characteristics provide the adult instructor with some optimum conditions for learning and suggest a facilitating role.
According to Smith (1982), adults learn best when a facilitator can see that the following six conditions are met:
These six conditions demonstrate the essentiality of facilitation, since they emphasize responsiveness to individual needs and interests.
Effective facilitation does not happen overnight. It requires commitment and practice on the part of the instructor or trainer. Aker (1976) studied effective facilitators in detail and believed they were individuals who exhibited the following characteristics:
Such characteristics can be studied and emulated as you adapt the individualizing process to your own teaching.
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