If you guessed something digital or futuristic - read on, the answer is way more interesting than that! It's also way more simple. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication they say.

Being part of the Learning & Development (L&D), HR Development (HRD), training industries, I can undoubtedly say that there is a general sense of doom lurking around the perception of training as an effective education method. Training is considered almost obsolete, a remnant of the old, inefficient times.

One side of this coin of which I've talked about in my previous article, is doing more rigorous analysis of the training effectiveness. Of course, having a startup doing exactly that, I'm biased. That being said though, there is a different, more fundamental question that isn't often paid attention to.

Training is dead. Alternatives?!

Big question is: what if training is dead? What if it's just not a good method for the adult education and empowering individuals to achieve corporate goals in the 21st century? Many professionals in the industry on the client side rush into seeking the answer on the other side of the "pendulum" - learning culture.

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In itself, I think it's a great initiative. Paying attention to the learning culture is something that opens a whole new dimension in corporate learning. The challenge of it is the fact that we don't yet have many tools to shape the learning culture, especially as L&D and HRD professionals. Shaping environment is a relatively easy fit, aside from approving the budget. Companies like Google have pioneered this approach a dozen of years ago. Yet, it's by far not the whole picture. Leadership has a huge influence on the culture development. Ironically, training is the most effective tool we have for developing leadership qualities in our people. For these and other methods, whatever they may be, the problem though stays: how do we measure the effectiveness of the culturally-oriented interventions?

I think progress in the domain of learning culture development is very important. Yet, I would claim that training is not the only method in the dimension of "direct interventions" or "classical education".

Alternatives exist!

Many of you have heard about the concept I'm going to talk about next. Yet, how many have really explored it in-depth?

Facilitation.

Training is dead. Long live… Facilitation! Well, and not only. Perhaps, also tools like hosting and coaching could come in handy. Too many words that sound familiar but don't occupy a solid ground in your memory? Let's neatly categorise them!

As you can see, the main difference I'm outlining between these methods is what, for a luck of a better word, I called "guidance". In its classical sense, training is something quite prescriptive and it is usually used for delivering very concrete information and hard skills. It rarely leaves much room for improvisation and due to its nature doesn't have to focus on group work or any other methods except lecturing.

Facilitation, on the other hand, while providing a certain guidance, leaves room for the participants themselves to co-create their learning. I will explore facilitation and its methods further.

Hosting minimises the amount of guidance even further and often just leaves in place the framework and the host who can change between the hosting frameworks. I don't have much experience with hosting spaces and can only observe that they are not really popular among the practitioners. The reason might simply be the fact that, since companies have specific goals in mind behind their corporate education programs, a certain level of control of the learning direction is important.

Coaching, which is a great and widely applied methodology, is often interwoven with other methodologies. While coaching seems to be, like training, semi-guided, the defining characteristic of coaching is, of course, that it's mostly used in 1-on-1 manner.

It's worth mentioning that quite often all of these methodologies are called simply "training" for convenience, using the word training as an umbrella term. Quite a bit of today's training in companies already are, in fact, facilitated experiences. That being said, it seems to me that many L&D and HRD professionals don't necessarily make a clear distinguishment and thus often equate training's pitfalls with pitfalls of facilitation methods. My claim is that training can be different, it doesn't end at boring to death classroom lectures and can be very effective. Training (or facilitation) is possibly the most efficient tool any company has for developing its people. Now, let me tell you more about facilitation and why it is effective.

Facilitation methods

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I know that it might be shocking but it seems to me that it's quite realistic to think that many L&D and HRD professionals have never experienced truly transformative training programs. Therefore, just in case that's true, I will try to pain the main methods and tools used by facilitators in order to open the "black box" of magical facilitation methodology I so praise. I have experience as a trainer and facilitator in various leadership and personal development conferences and mostly draw the methodologies and their descriptions from my own experience.

One of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of a facilitator is simulation. Facilitators are aware of the power of learning by doing as well as the power of emotions in learning. That's why they follow the golden rules of storytelling: "show, don't tell". Do you want to illustrate your point? Make people experience and feel it. That's why team building exercises can be very powerful, if done skilfully. The way we act in games often reveals how we act in real life.

Simulation experience isn't complete without debriefing. Even if the learners experienced and felt what you wanted them to understand, they need to reflect on their learning. That's why reflection is so crucial. Trainers even joke that "it is all about the debriefing" meaning that whatever happens in the training session - we can always learn loads from it. On the other hand, if people don't reflect on their experience, and it's related not only to simulations done during training, they hardly learn.

Lastly, homegroups. In many leadership and personal development conferences that I've been to learners have been purposefully divided in small groups of 8-12 people. Quite often the requirement is that those people don't know each other. It's done because it's usually easier to open up to strangers. This group of strangers is then purposefully guided through exercises that allow them to get to know each other better and build trust. Homegroups are powerful because they create learning communities. A lot of learning, especially that which requires personal change, is a challenge of personal nature, not the problem of remembering facts. And those kind of challenges are best solved with the support of others, often in dialogue.

Setting of the environment, the mood and the tone of such an endeavour is crucial and the best trainers are good at it. They make people feel that this is serious and that they need to pay attention and focus, that "simple reflection exercise" can pay off amazingly in the long term. As you can see, so-called workshop can be way more than just a facilitated discussion between people, which seems to be representing 70% of many corporate "workshops" I attended (with lecturing being the other 30%).

Why facilitation?

I believe just by reading through some of the methods that are used in facilitation you could start understanding why it's so effective. I believe the primary reason is the changing nature of work in today's world. Digitalisation, automation and the fourth industrial revolution are driving that change. We are slowly moving away from the world where acquiring hard skills is a challenge to a world where we realise that our soft skills are essential as a glue that holds everything while being often awfully underdeveloped.

In the spirit of facilitation: this is how you can try it!

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Lauri Paloheimo, a co-founder of Panda Training, previously volunteered to help with organising a podcast about learning for Dare to HRD community (see the Facebook group with the same name). We created a poll to ask the members about the most important topics for them. Learning culture came up as the winner. It seemed that many are interested, yet few have the tools to create and shape the culture in their organisations. Thus, we decided to organise a workshop and hit two birds with one stone: (1) deepen the community's understanding of the tools in both the learning culture (via it being the topic of the workshop) and (2) facilitation (via it being the delivery methodology for the event)! We were lucky to be able to invite over Kevin Groen who comes from The Netherlands and who was previously a Head of Training Strategy of Booking.com. You can find more about the event here.

Thank you,

Dima Syrotkin, CEO Panda Training

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