Moving away from boring facilitation

For many of us, a career in L&D was something we stumbled upon. Not for Lena.

For Lena, it was a calling she felt connected to from the very beginning. "I think it's very funny because, in a way, you can say I was born into it, literally born into it," Lena says, reflecting on her journey with a hint of amusement. Being raised in a home where education was part of daily life— her father's job as a teacher wasn't just work—was a lifestyle that greatly shaped her.

Lena's path from stepping into a teaching role, to pursuing her academic and professional career in L&D, felt like a natural progression. She embraced the challenges of facilitation, such as managing difficult participants and mastering the dynamics of large groups, with open arms. "But somehow everything felt very natural for me," she recalls, recognizing her fears but not letting them overwhelm her.

At the heart of Lena's facilitation technique is a simple, yet profound belief: to truly make a difference, one must love their learners. "The biggest quality of a facilitator is really loving your learners," she shares, revealing the core of her approach.

This fundamental principle has guided her through countless workshops and sessions, allowing her to connect with participants on a deeper level and create a learning environment that's both engaging and effective.

In this interview, Lena opens up about her methods and philosophies that have helped her transform the typical, often dull facilitation experience into something memorable and impactful.

Through her story, we get a glimpse into the art of facilitation done right—where understanding, empathy, and genuine passion for learning come together to create an environment where people thrive.

Essential mindsets of modern facilitators

Moving away from passive learning

Lena's perspective on the essential skills for modern facilitators paints the picture of a dynamic and engaging learning environment. Far from the traditional, static methods of teaching, she emphasizes a more interactive and learner-centered approach.

Central to her philosophy is the concept of active learning. Lena firmly believes in moving away from a one-way information flow, where facilitators simply unload content. Instead, she advocates for an environment that encourages participation and interaction.

"Facilitation is all about creating a space for active learning. So not about passive listening, just being there and listening to somebody speaking," Lena states.

Additionally, Lena underscores the significance of coaching skills in facilitation. It's not just about delivering content but about guiding learners to find their own answers.

"Nowadays, you see the shift towards asking questions, trying to elicit answers, trying to help people find their own solutions, instead of spoon-feeding them," she explains.

This approach empowers learners, making the learning process more about exploration and self-discovery, and supporting them in identifying how the learning experience connects with their context, helping with learning transfer.

Lena also touches on a less conventional but crucial aspect of facilitation: embodied presence, a topic often overlooked yet vital in her methodology.

Embracing embodied learning in facilitation

Embodied learning means integrating movement and physicality into the learning process, aiming for deeper, more impactful outcomes.

"I always thought that learning is very strict, very serious, and then I discovered embodied learning here in the Netherlands, and I was shocked," Lena shares, recounting her initial encounter with the method that would redefine her approach to facilitation.

Embodied learning, as Lena practices it, bridges the gap between the cognitive and the physical, tapping into the learners' unconscious to bring about a more profound understanding.

"It's a way of reaching the unconscious and making it so that the unconscious becomes conscious because your body never lies," she states, highlighting the authenticity and immediacy of learning through action.

This method allows participants to experience learning with their entire being, making the lessons not just heard but felt, leading to revelations that are both personal and powerful.

This approach also speaks to the holistic nature of learning, where the division between mind and body is blurred. Lena advocates for a learning environment that recognizes the learner as a whole person. "The cognition is not disembodied. So there's no cognition without embodiment, which makes complete sense," she asserts, citing the interconnectedness of thought and physicality.

Empathy and care as stepping stones of impactful facilitation

Yet, at the core of Lena's facilitation philosophy lies something else. A simple yet profound belief: the importance of genuinely loving and caring for learners.

"The biggest quality you can nurture for yourself, as a facilitator is really loving your learners," she states.

The impact of embodying a caring attitude is significant. It not only encourages participation and engagement but also nurtures a learning community based on trust and mutual respect.

Learners are more likely to take risks, ask questions, and deeply engage with the experience when they feel supported and valued.

Lena's belief in the power of love within the learning environment transforms the educational experience into a journey of personal and collective growth.

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Moving away from boring facilitation

Balancing content-delivery with active learning

A fundamental aspect of effective facilitation is crafting the perfect balance between sharing information and fostering active participation. Lena emphasizes the need to evolve from traditional, static teaching methods to a dynamic, learner-focused approach. "Facilitation is all about creating a space for active learning. So not about passive listening, just being there and listening to somebody speaking," she articulates. This transition from merely presenting information to facilitating meaningful discovery and solutions is essential for keeping learners engaged and invested in their growth.

  • Designing Dynamic Sessions. To maintain high levels of engagement, it's crucial to design sessions with the energy of the participants in mind. Lena suggests kickstarting sessions with activities that get people moving, talking, and engaging right from the start. Initiating sessions with interactive elements sets a vibrant tone, encouraging participation and making learners feel actively involved in their learning journey.
  • Aligning Exercises with Real-Life Contexts. Another strategy Lena recommends is tailoring exercises to fit the real-life contexts of the learners. This approach ensures that participants can see the relevance of what they're learning and how it applies to their own experiences. When learners see the direct application of concepts to their personal or professional lives, engagement and retention significantly increase.
  • Focusing on Minimum Valuable Information. In an age of information overload, we advocate  for a concise approach to content delivery, focusing on what we call, at Offbeat, "minimum valuable information." This concept revolves around distilling content to the essential information learners need to progress in their skills. By honing in on the most impactful insights and skills, facilitators can avoid overwhelming learners, making each session more digestible and actionable.

Managing difficult participants

Facing difficult participants is an inevitable part of facilitation, and preparing for these encounters is key to maintaining a productive learning environment.

Lena emphasizes the importance of recognizing and understanding the diverse types of challenging participants that facilitators might encounter:

  • Quizzy: The participant who always asks challenging questions that might stump you
  • Puzzler: The one who continuously struggles to grasp the concepts
  • Contrario: The participant who often disagrees or challenges the ideas presented
  • Wallflower: The one who is hesitant to participate or contribute
  • Ghosty: The participant who is physically, but not mentally present
  • Commander: The one who tends to dominate or take over the conversation
  • Silentia: Represents the silent ones who -usually collectively- stay quiet or uninvolved

By identifying these types, facilitators can tailor their strategies to manage each effectively, ensuring that all participants have a valuable learning experience.

Capturing the attention of participants

Capturing and sustaining the attention of participants presents a significant challenge. Especially in a world where our attention is traded as a currency.

What else doesn’t help? “The tendency to lean heavily on tutoring, lecturing... it's not really great,” Lena says.

One of the most effective ways to capture the attention of learners is through the art of storytelling. Lena believes in the transformative power of weaving narratives into the learning experience. Storytelling, when used effectively, can turn abstract concepts into relatable stories, making complex ideas easier to understand and more engaging.

Combining relatable content and exercises with storytelling leads to what can be described as "storytelling in context." This approach not only grabs people's attention but also holds it, facilitating a deeper connection with the material.

Managing our own anxiety, as facilitators

Facilitators often face their own set of anxieties, from worrying about participants' engagement to doubting their own abilities. Lena shares her journey of overcoming these fears, normalizing the feeling, and highlighting the importance of confidence and preparation.

"It’s also normal to be scared and afraid when you are very young, and you train people who are older and have more years of work experience than you do." she admits.

Managing this anxiety involves thorough preparation, a focus on the learners' needs, embracing the role of facilitator with confidence and empathy, and remembering to use the deliver - ask for feedback - iterate loop in your facilitation practice.

The Future of Facilitation

Advances in technology and evolving learner expectations are set to drive the future of facilitation, according to Lena. She sees a future where facilitators harness technological tools not only to deliver content but to create immersive, interactive learning experiences. "With technology evolving, there are all these possibilities for making learning even more engaging and personalized," Lena highlights, indicating a shift towards personalized learning environments supported by technology.

This evolution is also shaped by learners seeking more than just information; they crave engagement, relevance, and practical application. "The learners of today and tomorrow demand more from their learning experiences," Lena remarks. The future of facilitation, therefore, lies in meeting these demands by integrating practice and continuous learning into the fabric of educational experiences, ensuring learners can directly apply what they've learned in real-world situations.

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