NZDipALN: Module 1 Content – The Educator as Facilitator


The educator as facilitator

What do we mean by the educator as facilitator?

One of the characteristics of adult education is the idea of the teacher as learning facilitator. This means that as educators we need to go beyond traditional transactional ideas of teaching and learning and look to other models, such as the reciprocal tuakana-teina approach found in Maori education, for example.

Learning facilitators know how to draw on the existing knowledge of adult learners, assess what their needs are, and then find a way to bridge any knowledge and skill gaps. This fundamentally different to more traditional school-based approaches.

As facilitators we need to wear a lot of different hats. Here are just a few of them. In general, the ideal adult education facilitator is someone who is

  1. A lifelong learner themselves.
  2. A good communicator and a team player.
  3. An expert in their own trade or vocational training area.
  4. Able to use a range of different learning methods, styles, and techniques.
  5. A motivator.
  6. Able to deal with groups with people of different abilities.

As an adult literacy and numeracy educator and facilitator, there is also an expectation that you have another set of more specialised skills as well. This means that you are someone who can:

  • Understand different adult literacy and numeracy issues and contexts.
  • Assess adult learners literacy and numeracy needs including mapping demands and carrying out diagnostic processes.
  • Design adult literacy and numeracy skills development in the context of your subject area expertise, training programme, or work.
  • Deliver embedded literacy and numeracy outcomes using a range of adult literacy and numeracy teaching strategies and activities.
  • Assess learner gains for relevant embedded literacy and numeracy skill areas.
  • Evaluation the effectiveness of your embedded literacy and numeracy approach.

Watch the video

In our context in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have a number of unique frameworks to draw from the world of Maori education and learning.

Consider the role of the educator as facilitator as well as metaphors for embedding literacy and numeracy from weaving in this video describing how the participants work together to create the panel.

Professional reading

As a learning facilitator, it’s your role to support and guide your learners as they actively make meaning for themselves. We call this approach constructivism and it underpins many of our ideas about the educator as facilitator.

Review the questions below then read the excerpt

  1. What is the facilitator or educator’s role in the constructivist approach?
  2. Why is it important for the educator to get the learners thinking about how they are learning?
  3. What makes for better adult teaching practice? Trying to get learners to memorise or teaching them rules and processes?

Adult learners develop expertise by building on their existing knowledge, skills and experiences.

Research findings

Learners actively construct knowledge as they make sense of new information and experiences by extending or changing their current ideas and understandings (schema). A constructivist approach to teaching and learning focuses on supporting learners to develop expertise through meaningful learning experiences that build on their existing knowledge. (This is in contrast to a behaviourist approach where skills and knowledge are developed through reinforcement.)

Within this approach, the role of the tutor is to support individuals to actively construct meaning for themselves.

… taking a constructivist approach to building knowledge and skills focuses on helping students develop their understanding and make sense of the world (Bingman & Stein, 2001, p. 19).

Instruction is aimed at developing a “richly structured knowledge base” (Gillespie, 2002, p. 2) by activating prior knowledge and building on the schema learners have. The connections between areas of learning are valued and emphasis is given to the ways in which different areas of content are related.

Teaching is deliberately focused on supporting learners to develop control over strategies by ensuring they have a sound and secure knowledge base. As learners develop expertise in a field they become increasingly aware of the key concepts and/or strategies that help them to structure and utilise their knowledge.

As they develop expertise, learners can be supported to develop metacognitive strategies similar to those used by experts to monitor and control their own thinking processes. Assisting learners to develop and measure their success by reflecting on what they have learnt helps them to take responsibility for their learning and develop independent learning and study skills. It also assists them to adapt their knowledge and skills for different contexts or problems (transfer).

To support adults to learn by building on their existing knowledge and experiences, tutors require a sound conceptual understanding of their subject area and an appreciation of the ways in which different aspects of learning within their area are related. Effective teachers of literacy and/or numeracy possess deep knowledge of the ways in which expertise in these areas is developed and, in particular, of how learners build metacognition that enables them to become independent and to transfer their skills to new contexts.

Implications for practice

Teaching and learning approaches that effectively build on adults’ existing knowledge and skills:

  • acknowledge and value learners’ existing knowledge by supporting them to identify
  • their current understandings and investigate these in the process of building their
  • expertise
  • are focused on the development of conceptual understandings and flexible strategy
  • use rather than the memorisation of facts, rules or procedures
  • develop reflective and critical thinking and reasoning
  • utilise teaching and learning activities that are relevant and meaningful to learners
  • make explicit links between areas of learning
  • support learners to reflect on their own learning in order to gain increased control over
  • their own thinking processes and develop independent study skills, and
  • promote the development of conceptual knowledge among tutors.

References: Anderson, 2004; Askew, et al., 1997; Bingman & Stein, 2001; Cobb, 1994; Coben, 2003; Fosnot, 1996; Gillespie, 2002; Ma, 1999; Piaget, 1978; Swain, et al., 2005; von Glasersfeld, 1995.

Journal task

Choose one aspect of our approach to strengthening literacy and numeracy from the table below. Write at least 100 words about how your thoughts on the educator as facilitator underpin this aspect of how teach. Consider what you actually think and do about this.

ed as fac

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