Divergent Thoughts

How to take what you know and share it…

Trainer? Facilitator? Both?

What is the biggest difference between a trainer and a facilitator? IMHO, a trainer provides specific information transfer to a group of people who want to learn something; it is often a one-way process. The trainer may even go further to share her know-how and provide a set of guides: the ‘how-to’ or ‘FAQ’. While these are useful, rarely does it strike a chord with people unless they experience the process. What does that mean?

Here’s where a facilitator comes in. A facilitator is a mediator of knowledge, setting the scene, taking information and piecing it creatively into content for participants to learn, experience and appreciate. When people are no longer subjected to hour-long powerpoint presentations, which has its place in the office setting, but not often, they tend to do one of two things:

  • they re-adjust their expectations and start thinking about the training content more actively – they engage and start asking questions, they see themselves involved in the process. To them, the training session becomes a journey of discovery, much the way we used to learn in childhood (outside of the traditional school setting, I must add).


  • they become very uncomfortable with the need to think pro-actively, and slowly withdraw (or angrily protest) -these are some ‘situations’ I have encountered in people in my past dealings with experiential learning sessions. These people are few and far in between though, and the reason for their discomfort, I believe, is perhaps their dominant learning style is markedly different. I hasten to add, these are merely my observations, and not a scientific-based analysis.

One thing is clear though, unless you are training IT professionals, a training programme or workshop brings together people of various education backgrounds with different learning styles and needs. Gone are the days of having a trainer stand up before a crowd and say “I’m the expert, do as I say”. While this may still be relevant in some traditional asian settings, this is slowly heading towards oblivion.

Trainers now need to think like facilitators. Step away from the role of teacher, and be more of a facilitator. Set the scene for learning, be creative, expect the worst and plan for contingencies. Be aware of the different learning styles of people, determine the best way to share what you know. David Kolb’s model provides a simplified look at the four learning styles and stresses the need for people to move between styles to make the most of their learning experience.   

To organise and plan a training programme or knowledge sharing workshop as I like to call it, several considerations need to be in place:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What is the content/ knowledge to be transferred or rather, shared?
  • How will it be shared?

Being creative is key. Expect that people will find it hard to wean themselves away from the classroom style training, where someone talks while showing hundreds of Powerpoint slides. Some participants listen and some don’t, but it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, they’re still getting hard copies of the slides to take home. Again, nothing against slides, I have seen powerful examples on TED talks. However, there needs to be a variety of styles incorporated into the sharing of know-how in training programmes (as seen in the Kolb Model above). There needs to be time built-in for reflection and experience.

Comprehensive facilitation skills in a trainer is a winning combination. These are skills that can be learnt over time. When I first started, there were very few facilitation programmes that were able to give me the confidence I needed, save one, VIPP*. I attended a VIPP workshop a long time ago and it opened my eyes. It challenged all my pre-held notions on sharing knowledge. I have never looked at workshops in quite the same way again.


*Visualization in Participatory Programmes or VIPP was conceptualised 20 years in Germany and Bangladesh when international development staff needed a more creative approach to working with communities through UNICEF. The VIPP team is conducting their Advanced Training of Trainers programme in Penang, Malaysia  for the Asian region this March.Asian_TOT_2012


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