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  • Writer's pictureNeža Krek


Today I want to share with you my way of explaining what is facilitation. You will see that this is going to be quite a complex answer, because depending on who I talk to, that's how I shape my answer.

If I talk to somebody who has no connection to any type of process work or group work, then I say I help teachers move away from PowerPoint presentations. That lands pretty well. If I see that people are just asking for the sake of asking, I say I'm self employed. That's enough for them, and they don't really look further.

But sometimes there are people who I think have a deeper curiosity about what it is that I do. And then I tell them a bit more. But first, I ask them, what is it that they do? That gives me the opportunity to shape the story according to their skill set and understanding of the world.

The aim of today is really answering what is facilitation from my perspective. Because this is a question that I get all the time. Plus I will explain why it is important for the future of education.

If you are new to adult education - a new lecturer at the university, maybe you just started your PhD and began teaching, maybe you are a trainer or a corporate trainer, or maybe you are shaping a curriculum in one of adult education institutions that you work at. Or you're a facilitator yourself. Applications are different. I'm going to do my best to, on one hand, give you a map of different modalities that I believe are playing in adult education.

And on the other hand, if you're a savvy facilitator, I want to give you a glimpse through the lens of results what facilitation as a modality can bring. Because whenever I answer the question of “hey, what do you do?” and I would say that I'm a facilitator, people would be very confused if they didn't come from a facilitation background.

Almost 10 years ago I went to register my company here in the Netherlands. I sat down and I told them that I wanted to register a company. “Ok great”, they answered, “under which category are we going to list your company?” I told that I am a facilitator. And they wanted to put me in the category of facility management. But no, I'm not ordering toilet paper rolls and making sure there is enough coffee.

I had to explain what I actually do. So this time the answer was: “oh you do coaching?” But hey! Don't put me in a coaching box… I am very convinced there is a place for coaching and a place for facilitation. But they should not be mingled. There are very different modalities. Maybe you have noticed already that I am slightly passionate about these definitions.

In the end, my company is registered under coaching and communication because I don't think that till this day, there is such a thing as facilitation in the Chamber of Commerce. The reason why I live in the Netherlands is because in Slovenia people were saying that facilitation sounds cool but would never work here. So I understood that I needed to go find spaces and circles of people who would be open to facilitation as a part of education.

Facilitation as a modality is coming from the corporate world, or let's call it training or change organizational management. What I always wanted to do is bring all of the beautiful stuff that happens in facilitation in the corporate environment to adult education. And that is exactly what I am doing now and why I created this podcast. I want to be the vehicle to disseminate the message that facilitation is the missing modality in adult education.

Facilitation can bring faster change, more commitment and really engaged students which creates a possibility for a collective conversation and decision making. We need to be equipped with facilitation mindsets, skill sets and tools so that education as a process can be the change agent in the challenges we are facing as a society.

Maybe you are thinking right now: “you are so romantic, this will never happen”. But I do believe that education needs to contribute to the change that we need to make as a society. When I speak about adult education, I mean that your students or participants are over 18. I had clients who apply what they learned to high schools, elementary schools and so on. And it works. However, I do believe that adult education can benefit the most from facilitation as an approach.

In order to understand what facilitation is, we compare it to other modalities that we already use in adult education. So I made a map. If you are on my newsletter, you will get that map in PDF. Hopefully you can have a conversation with your colleagues about it later on and bring them into the conversation of what it is that needs to change. What is the education utopia that we want to create as a collective in this particular institution?

On one side of the map is lecturing, then facilitating and the third is facilitating transformative learning. All of these modalities make teaching of groups possible. First I like to dissect each and every modality on its own, so that in the end, you will be able to mix and match for the occasion. There might be a time where lecturing would be the best use of your time, energy and resources. However, there may be times where you need to have a different type of engagement from your students or trainees. That's when you want to use facilitation as a modality. Maybe you want to bring a different type of change, you want to bring transformation in through your teaching. Then you might use facilitating transformative learning processes.

It is extremely important to note that there is no better or worse. There can be exquisite lecturing and horrible lecturing. There can be exquisite facilitating and there can be horrible facilitating. One modality is not better than the other. It is for you to be able to cherry pick for the occasion.

What I see with my students, especially when I'm teaching transformative learning, is that first we dissect everything. Then you have a clearer understanding of which hat you are putting on when you are in front of the class. But eventually you will be mixing them throughout the class itself.

Lecturing is heavily dependent on you as the holder of the content. It's heavy on the content and very low on process. This also depends on your ability as a teacher. To storytell, engage people through stories, but in general it's very one way. You either need to have a really compelling knowledge, be a master in your field, so that you are able to attract your students. Its storytelling knowledge and also very reliant on your charisma.

I still remember when I was a student of Spanish and Sociology of Culture in Uganda University. I had to go through the module of didactics. And I thought it was awesome, I always wanted to learn more about that. I came into the auditorium. And there was this gentleman and a foil projector with his book printed on those foils. He turned off the light and put them on. Then he was reading about didactics from a foil off the wall. This made me so angry and frustrated. I could not sit there. This was a waste of everybody's time and energy. That's when I said to myself that I wanted to do things differently. I know that in many places right now in 2022, not many things are different.

Lecturing can be extremely powerful for things like TED talks, and all of these things. We all love lectures that are really well done. However, if we want to have engagement, we need to start using different methods. The question that I get most is how to engage students for real. The moment you want to have participation and student engagement, lecturing is probably not the way to go. But you can use tactics of facilitation.

Some people mention to me “but hey, I have 300 or more people in the classroom, that's not possible”. The way our universities and higher education is scheduled is not ideal. One of my students told me she was teaching in a cellar without any windows. And yes, that's very tough.

Facilitation for me, is to go back to the simplest way of explaining and making it easier for people to learn. If you are talking about corporate environments, it's making it easier for people to have meaningful conversations, easier for people to reach a certain decision result, you name it.

Education is the process of making it easier for your students to learn in a group. Because the group element is the key part here when we are comparing them to other modalities and facilitating. We need to compare it to facilitating of transformative learning processes. Or if you want to have them different, facilitating of participatory processes.

There is a question of ethics, a question of who am I to invite transformation for my students. But at the same time, if done well, you can create really highly engaged students. You have the ability to slow down, to go faster later and to really get things done as a collective. Not as a fractured group of people who are trying to tie everything they're doing together somehow in a coherent story.

It is possible as a collective, the more that you go from facilitating towards facilitating transformative learning. If you move from lecturing towards facilitating what also happens is that you bring back a sense of belonging and purpose. And that has been in my opinion missing for a really, really long time in higher education. Imagine what happens: you're 18. And you're just going to the university, you probably just moved from your hometown or somewhere, and you don't know anyone. It's exciting, but it's also super scary. So educators and teachers have such an amazing opportunity to seize that moment, and to create a learning community out of a group of complete strangers that came through their door.

Lecturing doesn't give you that opportunity. Facilitation gives you the opportunity to build a learning community out of a group of complete strangers. It's an opportunity to build a space of acceptance. We've all heard so much about how and maybe you've experienced that yourself. During the pandemic, there were so many teachers reporting, at least in my courses, how difficult it is for them to reach out to students. To be able to help them because they saw that they were suffering, the loneliness, the lack of belonging to a group and facilitation can make that happen.

For instance, very soon, there will be a conversation coming out in Fresh Forward with Megan Armand, and Anke de Vrieze from Waageningen University. And I remember Anke sharing with me after the course that we've done together. Her students, even though her courses were completely done online, she got feedback: dear Anke, you made it such a beautiful place of belonging, I really wanted to go there, even though it was a freaking screen. And I learned so much, I still feel a part of that learning community.

How awesome is that? What she did is, she moved away from lecturing toward facilitating transformative learning processes. And so if we look into the map, if you imagine there's lecturing, facilitating, facilitating transformative learning, there are moments where you want to choose a certain way. For instance, the difference between facilitating and facilitating transformative learning or highly participatory processes for me is that Facilitation is a very effective approach when people get together to shape a vision, create a strategy plan that has a high buy in. However, there is no transformation entailed in this type of facilitation.

Those are also techniques that are used in an agile approach to working in IT development. But there is no transformation there. There is no highly participatory approach there. But it can be if you want to. Eventually, it becomes blurred. But again, for the sake of the argument, first we're going to dissect them. Then see where you want to sit at which moment.

Also, let's look at what happens with participation and student engagement from lecturing towards facilitating transformative learning … Participation and student engagement hopefully goes up, higher, higher, higher, higher. Transformative learning process is not for everyone. So you should not expect people to follow a transformation, because maybe it's not their time. It's an invitation, you can only invite into a transformative learning process, you cannot force it.

What happens when it comes to teacher and student relationship is that when you're lecturing, the focus is solely on the teacher. There's very little relationship that we can actually talk about. The more you move to the other side through facilitating towards facilitating transformative learning, the more engagement and closer relationship between you as a teacher and as a student.

Sometimes many people freak out because they think they need to share stuff with them. No. For me, vulnerability is not a must. It's not about me telling everything that's happening in my life, that would be very irresponsible towards my students. Vulnerability for me means acknowledging that I'm not perfect, acknowledging when I make a poopie, and when I screw things up. It is also sharing what I am doing in order to change my behavior towards something that would be more favorable.

For me, that's vulnerability to show that I'm human, to show that I'm imperfect. And also, the vulnerability is to dare to show my emotions. This is me. There are people who don't want to do that. And that is totally fine. That is my way of explaining vulnerability to being true to whatever's happening in me right now. Right now I'm super joyful because I'm really passionate about it. But I can tell you that before I started recording this episode, I was crying because today is a very interesting and important day.

But it was crying of joy. It was crying of mourning of sadness, it was all the stuff together. And those who work with me, there might be moments where I will say, this is what I'm feeling. And it is okay. It depends on what type of a role you actually want to take. In a future episode I'm going to tell you what I think is the role of a facilitator and what not.

Back to the teacher student relationship, the focus goes from the teacher towards more and more focusing on the student. And that's beautiful, isn't it relieving that you don't need to be the person who knows it all. All of a sudden, you can actually ask the student what they already know. And let them talk about it and bring their knowledge into the group. That means that they all of a sudden have agency over the topic, they have their own thinking process.

Another line that I want to talk about is information and process. There's a line from going from lecturing to facilitating and facilitating transformative learning. Lecturing is really heavy on information. And the more you go to the other side, the more there is a focus on the process itself. That also means that the role of a teacher changes. On the side of lecturing, the role of a teacher is the one to hold the knowledge. The more you move towards the facilitated teaching, your role morphs into holding the learning process and enabling the safety of the learning to happen.

Another thing that I think is very important to notice is that when you are on the lecturing side, you need to be very strong in your delivery of information. But probably you will not be emotionally involved in the process.The more you go towards facilitating transformative learning, the more self knowledge you will need in order to pull it off. I understand why lecturing is such an attractive modality. Because the more you go towards facilitating transformative learning, the more you need to know yourself. The more you need to have an expanded skill set, you need to have an understanding of your emotional landscape.

I can tell you that it's not for everyone. However, the people who dare to go there are the most beloved teachers that I've ever met. They are the ones who make a really huge mark on the lives of their students, they are the ones who even years after they have finished working, still get messages. You changed my life, or you changed my perspective on life, which helped me develop into a healthy standing human being.

What I'm trying to say here is that there's a spectrum. And please, when you plan your next classroom, think about what it is that you want to deliver, what is the aim and then choose your modality of lecturing, facilitating or facilitating transformative learning appropriately. There are other ways to lecturing, there are other things that you can do instead of facilitating or facilitating transformative learning. All is okay, as long as you are willing to experiment and you are having fun.

One of the things that I've learned throughout working with educators from the universities and Applied Sciences and curriculum developers is that we've been so focused on frontal lecturing or delivering content. So many students started missing the connection. We gave them the wrong message that education should be an entertainment process. I do not believe in that. Learning is a relationship to your curiosity, it's relationship to what you want to make of your life. It's a doorway to change. It's a doorway to discovery, fun and playfulness and to yourself as a person.

The last thing that I want to share with you is where does group coaching and mentoring fit in all of this math. Coaching, the way I understand it, is a one-on-one process where a coachee sits there and talks about their things, and the coach is asking really clever questions that help me determine my own goals and shape my own path. It is one-on-one and there is no design of the process upfront.

Group coaching is just that in a group, if you compare it to facilitation, the difference is that coaching either in a group or one-on-one is all about in the moment. Being with the person and asking clever questions depending on what they want to achieve. Whereas facilitation has a deliberate design. And that's why I'm calling myself a learning process designer, because there's a way how I approach each single lesson or each training. Be it one hour or six months.

I've done it all, one hour workshop online, offline, four days, six days intensive leadership courses, or six months online and offline facilitation, teaching processes. There are so many ways you can do that. But there's always a design behind it. And that's why facilitation is such a beautiful add-on to what is already existing in adult education. Normally there are curriculums that you tap into. There is already an element of design. And it gives the educational system this very ingrained need for structure, which I think is a perfect match.

However, facilitators, or at least me, as a facilitator, I will challenge those plans. Sometimes they just do not make sense. Like you cannot cram so much information in 45 minutes and expect people to be super engaged and happy. So the big difference between coaching and facilitating is that facilitation has a deliberate design.

Mentoring is a very different modality. And I look for a mentor when I want to reach a certain network, or learn from somebody who has done it before me. And the mentors role is to help me out with a foot in the door. It's helped me out to give me either advice or give me tips on what to do and what to avoid based on their practice. It's also a beautifully two way street, you will inevitably learn by being a mentor. And if you're a mentee, you will learn as well. If somebody wants to be a mentor, because they want to graciously tell the other one what is really needed. But then close off and be completely unopened for any type of different perspective than they should not be a mentor.

This is the map that I created for you. And it will also be available in a PDF if you go to www.než I'm excited to hear from you. What is it that you are taking away from this? Would it be easier for you to explain what are the results that you're bringing in each modality or with each modality? Are you curious to infuse more facilitation in your work? Are you curious as to what else you can learn about participation and student engagement? Or maybe you are curious as to what would happen if you yourself went on a journey of becoming a facilitator or even facilitator of transformative learning? Because I can tell you that it is a very beautiful, juicy, also turbulent and rewarding journey towards self discovery, self knowledge and a greater impact in whatever you do. What burning questions came up for you during the episode? Connect with me Neža Krek on LinkedIn and ask away.

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