The difference between ‘Facilitation’ and ‘Training’


As you probably know, we are part of the facilitation and coaching company TLC – The Learning Curve.


For historical reasons, a lot of Human Resource and Learning & Development practioners still refer to our space as "Training". And the people who carry out the work as "Trainers". So companies like ours are often lumped together as 'training companies'. We understand that and we're sympathetic to it. The upside is that by using the word training we are easily identified and categorised – our clients and prospects know exactly what we do. The downside is that because our people are facilitators and not trainers, we may appear expensive when compared to other providers in our space.


So we wanted to take this opportunity to point out the difference between what we do (which we call facilitation) and training. To start with, let's look at a definition of the verb "to facilitate". The origins can be traced back to the 17th Century in France. Faciliter means 'to render easy', the word derived from the Latin facilis meaning 'easy'. So we can determine from this that to facilitate is to render, or make, easy.


The different roles of the facilitator and trainer are very important in determining the dynamics of a group. For example, in a typical training session the trainer might stand at the front and disseminate information. Training is predominantly focussed on the transfer of knowledge and information from trainer to learners. Of course there is discussion and sometimes even debate around topics. However, there is usually a prescriptive agenda and method of delivery and a minimum amount of material that needs to be covered in a training session. Depending on the experience level of the trainer there is a danger that participants see themselves as observers rather than active participants in the learning journey. Their takeaway may be 'stuff' learned rather than having experienced something shift.


The facilitator by contrast will tend to draw out contributions from the group, helping them to discover the information. Facilitation is more fluid and whilst there is still a body of material to be covered there is much more exploration and flexibility around the methods used in arriving at the same outcome. The journey between start and finish times may be dramatically different from group to group and from day to day. It may well be different between facilitators. Learners are invited to be active participants rather than observers. There is much more likely to be a real shift in individual thinking and behaviour as a direct result of the session.


The trainer might also manage things, such as time keeping, on behalf of the group. This tends to create passivity in the group and a dependency on the trainer for direction. Conversely, the facilitator might choose to sit with the group and negotiate time keeping with the participants. This encourages the group to take more responsibility and direction for their own learning. The facilitator will adapt their approach, and foster the dynamics, to meet the group's objectives. The learning process happens in the 'here and now' as group members more fully engage with themselves, with others and with the issues being addressed – a very 'alive' and holistic experience. By contrast the trainer requires group members to adapt to the pre-defined training programme.


The trainer often has the idea of delivering material to an audience whereas the facilitator utilises the wisdom that each person brings and the wisdom of the whole group.


The skills required to facilitate are on a whole different level to those of a trainer. A grounding in behavioural psychology; an in-depth understanding of group dynamics; the ability to question and process the responses; a resistance to tell, replaced by a preference to ask…all of these are vital requirements of a good facilitator. Which is why we cost more!


In reality the two terms are used interchangeably with little thought being given to their relative strengths. The next time you hear someone say that all trainers are alike, or that all training companies are the same, please think of this video blog and challenge them!


I encourage you to please post a comment and tell me what you think of the vlog and feel free to ask any questions.  I’ll be answering questions and reviewing comments personally.


Thank you for watching.


Colin Newbold