Facilitating, Moderating, or Teaching – is there a difference?

Way behind in my blogging this week – apologies to anyone who is reading regularly.  Had to jot down the first 20 pages or so of my comps paper so that I was progressing as I should be :).  This past two weeks has been spent exploring the topic of facilitation and teaching….what they are or aren’t, how they happen or should.  It has been interesting as a lurker on the discussion-board to watch as those who embody the traditional sense of learning (i.e. that which is structured, has a purpose, defined and directed) go about constructing a scenario where those needs can be met (i.e. setting up a meeting with someone in another time zone and keeping it).  While this appears to be meeting the needs of a group of our participants, I have noticed that another group that was once active has taken somewhat of a back seat to all of this.  What I find extremely interesting in this 2 week long observation is that it points out some of the differences in how people learn and what they expect from a teacher in a learning setting.

I happen to believe that teaching IS facilitating.  That learning is the responsiblity of the learner and that the role of the teacher is to guide, inspire, remove barriers, and provide feedback so that the learner meets his/her ultimate goals.  Now the problem with that statement is that we live in a traditional world where the role of teacher has been that of expert, dispenser of knowledge and leader…..almost to the point of the learner having to do nothing at all but complete the assignments.  I think that this world is changing due to the Web 2.0 revolution so that the newer generations are more comfortable with creating their own learning through a global process, understanding how to critique information and utilize it as their own, and participating in social networks to provide feedback, community, and growth.  The work of Henry Jenkins jenkins_white_paper-challenges-of-a-media-culture2 shows us that this requires new skills that we are not necessarily “teaching” in school….in fact, we tend to systematically provide barriers to the tools that facilitate this type of learning under the guise of “safety”.

I happen to hold the title of professor and my formal role at this time is teaching nursing students how to perform clinically.  I teach at the undergraduate level.  My previous role was as hospital administrator and I spent many hours teaching/facilitating in that job also.  This is because I feel my primary job is to help people learn how to think for themselves, how to reason through an issue to come to a conclusion that is grounded in theory, and how to develop a lifelong practice of learning.  I do this mostly through facilitation – by supporting what I call “a spirit of inquiry”.   I encourage difference of opinion – I see it as an open dialogue to learning.  I utilize tools and venues (i.e. discussion boards, second life, reflection blogs) that other teachers do not – which makes them think they are doing more work. Students who have me as an instructor work harder because I don’t just give them the answer, I ask them to understand what they are doing.  It doesn’t make me popular to begin with, but in the end they move forward with tools that will make them successful as nurses as well as people – or at least that is the feedback that comes back to me from former students.

The new role of teaching IS facilitator…….or has it always been and we’ve let the formality of structure and measurement get in the way?  These things are not mutally exclusive.  It is my belief that as teachers we are responsible for keeping up with new ways of learning and being so that we may inspire others to become the learners they need to be to survive in this new global world.


~ by cdeck77 on August 31, 2008.

3 Responses to “Facilitating, Moderating, or Teaching – is there a difference?”

  1. Cathy, I agree with you that teaching, and the processes and structures that are seen as teaching, are experiencing a shift. Web 2.0 is commonly cited as a reason for this, however I believe web 2.0 has simply released the creativity of today’s learners. It is this creativity that has caused the shift.

    Perhaps even more significant is Mezirow’s theory of Transformative Learning. Reading your blogpost suggests you practice this currently, where the power in the learning relationship is transferred to the learner. As you have suggested, the learner may need to work harder but the work is ultimately greater quality and of greater benefit. This is particularly important when we consider that learning no longer occurs within the time boundaries of a class, and that knowledge can be sought from a variety of sources.

    In my experience, the trick is managing the transfer. I like to begin emulating what is considered the traditional role of the teacher. In my context of secondary school this permits me to establish initial boundaries, processes and requirements whilst providing the required skills for participation. I then (in my opinion not yet very successfully) manage a progressive transfer of power to the learners. I allow them to break the initial boundaries if it increases learning or productivity, and depending on the course they are studying even negotiate assessment with them.

    You are correct that permitting the learner greater input into their learning is a better teaching approach, therefore facilitation may in fact be the new role of the teacher. I believe both roles require fundamentally different skills and abilities and unfortunately when I was studying it was the traditional approach that dominated my learning.

    Thanks for your insights.

  2. Hi Cathy

    I agree with your comments and those of Shane, that “teaching” is experiencing a shift and the trick is to manage the transfer. However I’m not so sure that both roles identified in Shane’s comments require fundamentally different skills. Yes, different skills, but very much still connected.

    Something to consider for reflection is the teacher’s preparation given to ensure valuable student learning. A number of years ago we started to recognise the value of understanding “learning how to learn”. Students at the tertiary institution I work at are given the opportunity to complete an online learning style analysis (LSA) (as well as a basic Maths and English test. The results are collated and a group profile of their LSA is made available to the lecturer. To enable the transition from teacher to facilitator to occur (for me) meant careful and creative planning – I follow the System 2000 learning cycle (Rose & Goll, Accelerated learning in the 21st century): State, Intake, Thinking, Storage, Show you Know, Reflect and Review. I prepared the resources for the learning from assessment to assessment following this cycle. Even today, this method of planning hasn’t changed for me, even though the technology and access to knowledge and delivery modes continually do. I have put together a template and aligned OTARA, (Objectives, Themes, Activities, Resources & Assessment), System 2000, the Learning Outcomes, Horton’s common learning activities and the LMS tools.

    The trick for me has been to find ways I can remain open to constant change and still meet the needs of all the learners.

  3. Hi Cathy, Kay recommended I look at your site, as you make a lot of sense! She’s right 🙂
    I completely agree with you that as a teacher you are a “dispenser of knowledge”. I have that problem at the moment where I have some students who just expect me to dole out the information and for them to regurgitate it all back to me – most of these students are “international” mostly from China or older students (who like myself – and Shane) were taught by this traditional method.
    Luckily there are many others who as you say are comfortable with taking responsibility for their own learning, and who use technology to further their learning pathway. Its the trying to meet everyone’s needs that I struggle with sometimes! I’m getting some great insights though by reading through other’s postings, I’m learning so much myself its great.
    I also have developed a course in the tourism and travel field where students are expected to find out the majority of the answers themselves, and I am constantly being questioned – when are you going to go over this and help us with the answers – to which I say “I’m not this is up to you to find out! It’s how you would do it in the workforce!” That response isn’t very popular either, but like you I have received excellent feedback from students who have completed the course previously who said it helped them immensely with their knowledge to find it out for themselves instead of it being handed to them on a plate.

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