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Get off the Stage: Transitioning Away From Training Sage

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 12:21 PM | Kevin Smith

Get off the Stage: Transitioning Away From Training Sage
by Erin Lavery

Real talk: I think I was first drawn to training because I liked being the person who delivered “ah-ha” moments to people and because I loved being the center of the classroom’s attention. It’s a gross thing to admit, but it’s true. My approach to design reflected my desire to be the “sage on the stage.” Long, carefully scripted anecdotal monologues both let the learner learn and filled my lifelong dream of writing and starring in a one-woman Broadway show. 

My first training job was a department-level trainer onboarding new hires. So, I guess this approach to design wasn’t a bad one for the situation. A bit of entertainment goes a long way in helping people remember policy compliance. However, my next career step was as an organization-level leadership trainer. My classes were filled by leaders with experiences to share and who also wanted results and not just entertainment. Based on the audience and its needs, it was no longer the right approach to be the center of the learning experience. I knew deep down that something needed to change, but I wasn’t sure what it was or how to train any differently.

When I read the theories of Howard Gardner, it was like a light bulb went off. Well, that’s a nice way to say it. It actually felt more like a brick hit me in the face when I read “While experts need to have some of this inert knowledge, classroom teachers need to know how to coach and encourage their students, so that students can gain various literacies, come to love knowledge, know how to learn, and know how to assess their own growth”. It was at that moment I first started to dip my toe into the world of Facilitative Learning.

Facilitative Learning is an approach to adult learning design that believes learners learn best when they are deeply involved in their own learning through questioning, discovery, and real-world application. It can be risky as an approach, but it is also incredibly powerful.

Making the design and facilitation transition to this new approach wasn’t easy for me. In fact, it was awkward and felt a bit like free falling at first. It took time and practice to get good at the approach. Facilitative Learning is not as simple as asking a discussion question here or there. There is real risk and it takes honed skill to successfully open up the flow of design and hand it over to the learner. What if they don’t talk? What if they don’t care? How do I direct the conversation toward the objectives? How do I redirect if they get way off topic? How do I balance scripted design and freedom? How do I ensure I have the appropriate level of challenge in application?

That being said, it’s hard to describe the relief and freedom I felt when I let go of the need have “the answer” to any question. When I opened up my design to learner-centric exploration, I took the seat next to leaders as we struggled to find meaning together. Instead of trying to bring all the value, I was finding the ability to discover value together. The shift was incredible and the results were immediate. Classroom participation and engagement increased and the class was truly and fully transformatively learning together – myself included!

I would challenge you to explore Facilitative Learning if you aren’t already. The rewards are well worth the effort. Coming up on March 15th, Jason Weber is sharing his success with Facilitative Learning in a session called “Creating Engaging Facilitative Learning”. I would highly encourage you to attend. Looking back, there were so many common pitfalls I could have avoided if I had been able to attend a session like Jason’s. I hope to see you there! I’d love to connect and chat about your design journey as well.

Erin is a Quality Improvement Advisor focused on developing organization-wide training and improvement solutions for UW Health. She holds a Master of Science in Adult and Continuing Education Leadership through the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in German Literature and Pedagogy from Calvin College. In addition, Erin is a certified trainer for Development Dimensions International and Crucial Conversations as well as a certified Life Coach for students with disabilities. Erin currently serves as the VP of Marketing for the ATD-MAC. 


  • Thursday, March 01, 2018 10:37 AM | Jacob Burris
    This hits all of the scary questions new facilitators ask themselves. I'd add knowing when and allowing the group to get off topic is essential. Sometimes, letting the group talk about what's really on their mind, even when it's not an objective, instills a sense of personal ownership in the group's learning.
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