During the Programme for Training of Trainers (ToT): Integrating the TAP Common Framework into African research and extension organizations that took place from 23-25 March 2022, APAARI delivered a session on what it takes to be an effective facilitator of functional capacity development. The session stressed that as the TAP Common Framework emphasizes, facilitation matters especially in delivering learning-oriented meetings, and engagement of multi-actors for practice-led innovation.
The principles of adults’ learning
The session kicked off by providing theoretical background of andragogy – adults’ learning. Best learning experience is consistent with the principles of andragogy (Knowles, 1980): Adults learn best when they are involved in diagnosing, planning, implementing, and evaluating their own learning. It is based on experience being a primary learning resource by building on experiences or others and enrichment of the learning process. Compared to younger learners, adults have more experience and, in most cases, they gather their own identity from this background. This implies on one side that adults learning can reach better results if it is based on previous knowledge and competences, with customized learning programmes. On the other hand, experience can lead to mental rigidity: therefore, adapting learning programmes to real needs of learners becomes even more important. The roles of trainers or facilitators of learning is to create and maintain a supportive climate that promotes conditions necessary for learning to take place. As such, they should not act as conveyors of knowledge and information but facilitators!
Adults’ learning also depends on readiness to learn. They want to know why it is necessary for them to learn something, how useful it is and what advantages it can provide to their work. These are highly motivating factors that require communication on the benefits of the learning programme before it takes place. Adult learners also have an inherent need for immediacy of application. They respond best to learning when they are internally motivated to learn. As such, trainers/facilitators should lead trainees to motivate themselves! Lastly, adults training should be focused on its practical uses, which is fundamental to present competences, knowledge and abilities in one package. Hence, not just the theory, but problem orientation.
Effective facilitation brings out tacit knowledge
Trainers and facilitators should bring out the tacit knowledge based on experience. It is difficult to codify as it is subconsciously understood or applied, difficult to articulate, developed from direct action and experience, personal beliefs, and values. Knowledge management (KM) plays a crucial role through facilitation of reflection, learning, and documentation that is part of the enabling environment for agricultural innovation. Facilitation needs to go beyond ‘conventional’ facilitation tasks of one-way communication with trainees and other stakeholders, information sharing, PPTs, and/or managing logistics. It needs to foster synergies that link people and resources, enhancing their ability to make collective decision, ensure strong implementation, and influence change. As such, all actors become potential sources of knowledge and change.
Ideal competencies of a trainer/facilitator
In an interactive session, the ToT participants explored what should be ideal competencies of trainers/facilitators in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes. It was agreed that technical knowledge is not as important as having more of a broader understanding of the subject and knowledge of KM processes and tools that facilitate engagement, as well as the language proficiency.
In terms of skills, it is necessary for a facilitator to support technical teams to develop and refine learning objectives; conduct training needs assessment and/or organizational and task analysis to determine performance gap, and learning needs; develop training agenda following the adult learning principles with different session objectives; use a variety of methods and visual aids in an integrating mode (e.g. experiential learning, role play); use general communication skills (e.g. active listening and asking of open questions); facilitate discussions (e.g. seting discussion objectives, encouraging questions and participation, summarizing and concluding); create a relaxed atmosphere with the group while handling cultural differences and concerns; have good self-management (e.g. acknowledging own limitation and evaluating own training skills); have a sense of flexibility (e.g. handling fast-changing situations and modifying training according to groups’ needs and abilities); evaluate the training; as well as provide follow up opportunities in discussions with the trainees.
Appropriate attitudes of a trainer and facilitator are quality important. For example, it is important to maintain constructive contact with the target group/participants whose needs are being met; attach relevant meanings to colours and shapes; relate own and participants’ experiences to the subject, checking of understanding; ask questions and handle silence; show enthusiasm, interest in ideas and opinions expressed, gender awareness, confidence; express doubts and lack of knowledge; use intuition; learn from mistakes; accept critical feedback; offer constructive feedback; evaluate own effectiveness as a trainer/facilitator; and show availability for post-training mentoring.
The session concluded with a group reflection of the participants’ own capabilities, especially their own functional capacities, as well as the knowledge of facilitation tools they have experience with. They particularly reflected on the skills they love to use, enjoy to use, are quite nice to use, which they rather would not use, and which they prefer not to use at all. The outcome of this exercise is a list of preferred competencies and facilitation tools for future reference.