Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.
We are all accustomed to thinking of teachers as the leaders in the classroom. Essentially, these are the people who tell us how to think and what to think about. They show us how to relate to subject matter and give us examples to understand their messages. While this is a common view that we have when considering the role of teacher in a classroom setting, it is not accurate when we hear about a teacher as a facilitator of learning.
More and more schools and colleges are advising teachers to shift their roles from that of sole classroom leader to one who aids students in leading themselves. They are recognizing that the most powerful kind of learning does not come from being told what to think but in learning how to think about it for oneself.
A facilitator of learning, therefore, is a teacher who does not operate under the traditional concept of teaching, but rather is meant to guide and assist students in learning for themselves - picking apart ideas, forming their own thoughts about them, and owning material through self-exploration and dialogue.
Imagine that you are walking down a hallway in a college psychology building. There are two classes across the hall from each other, both about to learn about positive reinforcement. To the right there is a classroom where the teacher is operating in the role of a typical 'teacher.' 'Positive reinforcement,' she begins, 'occurs when a person receives a reward after behaving a certain way, and they are then inclined to repeat that behavior. For example, if a child is crying in the grocery store and his mother gives him a cookie in order to stop his crying, the child will then be encouraged to cry in the future in order to get a cookie again.'
You take a break to glance over at the other classroom, where the teacher is acting as a facilitator of learning. She says to the class, 'Think of your favorite candy bar. Got it? If you knew that every time you answered one question in class I would give you your favorite candy bar, would you then try to keep answering one question every time we meet?' Several of the students agreed. 'Well, that is an example of positive reinforcement. In a few minutes, I am going to put you in small groups and you can try to come up with other times you have noticed or used positive reinforcement in your daily life.'
Do you see how the first teacher explains the definition of positive reinforcement, while the second makes it an experience for the student? What about how the second teacher encourages students to look for and share how positive reinforcement is applicable to their own lives? There is still guidance and assistance from the teacher in the latter example, but it isn't the same kind of sole leadership held by the first. Instead, the latter is about collaboration and student exploration.
A facilitator's role is to bring up subjects for discussion, encourage sharing of thoughts, and enable students to take responsibility for learning. Dividing the class into small groups with an agenda of topics to cover is a common method for encouraging learning. So is introducing concepts and sharing with students why they are important, as well as getting their feedback to how this or that idea relates to their lives. Outside assignments may be given where the teacher gives certain guidelines for a project and the student picks out the rest of the details. The results of the project are then more personal to the student and will have a more lasting impact.
The reason many educational institutions are now desiring their teachers to take on the role of facilitator of learning is that they know the benefits it holds for students. When students are asked questions and given the chance to figure things out for themselves, they are taught how to take responsibility for their learning. They learn how to think critically and are more likely to absorb what they learn. The lessons become personally relevant as they apply the topics at hand to their daily lives.
From Teacher to Facilitator
Michael Sunnarborg, a philosophy professor at the University of Phoenix, said this about changing roles from a teacher to a facilitator of learning:
'To make the transition to facilitator, I had to change my mindset. I realized that it's not all about me and my understanding, it's about leading my learners to a new understanding within themselves. My job was not to tell; my job was stimulate thinking, encourage exploration, make associations, and be a connector. I discovered the teachable moment occurs in their minds, not in mine. When you move from teacher to facilitator, you leverage the shared experiences and wisdom of your learners to provide an environment where applied and 'real' learning can take place.'
Let's review. A facilitator of learning is a teacher who does not operate under the traditional concept of teaching, but rather is meant to guide and assist students in learning for themselves. Many educational institutions are now desiring their teachers to take on the role of facilitator of learning because they know the benefits it holds for students. When students are asked questions and given the chance to figure things out for themselves, they are taught how to take responsibility for their learning. This method differs greatly from the teacher as the director of the classroom approach.
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