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:

  1. They feel the need to learn and have input into what, why, and how they will learn.
  2. Learning's content and processes bear a perceived and meaningful relationship to past experience and experience is effectively utilized as a resource for learning.
  3. What is to be learned relates optimally to the individual's developmental changes and life tasks.
  4. The amount of autonomy exercised by the learner is congruent with that required by the mode or method utilized.
  5. They learn in a climate that minimizes anxiety and encourages freedom to experiment.
  6. Their learning styles are taken into account (pp. 47-49).

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:

  1. Have great empathy--i.e., try to see things as seen by their learners.
  2. Consistently use reward, seldom if ever use punishment, and never ridicule.
  3. Have a deep sense of their responsibility, enjoy their work, and like people.
  4. Feel secure in their own abilities, yet believe that they can do better.
  5. Have a profound respect for the dignity and worth of each individual and accept their fellow learners as they are without reservation.
  6. Have a keen sense of fairness and objectivity in relating to others.
  7. Are willing to accept or try out new things and ideas and avoid drawing premature conclusions.
  8. Have high levels of patience.
  9. Recognize the uniqueness and strengths of each individual and build upon such strengths.
  10. Are sensitive to the needs, fears, problems and goals of their fellow learners.
  11. Reflect on their experiences and attempt to analyze them in terms of success and failure.
  12. Are humble in regard to their role and avoid the use of power which is assumed by some educators.
  13. Do not pretend to have the answers and enjoy learning along with others.
  14. Are continuously expanding their range of interest.
  15. Are committed to and involved in their own lifelong learning (p. 3).

Such characteristics can be studied and emulated as you adapt the individualizing process to your own teaching.


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