Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Stacey Dewald, Graduate Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Michelle Payne, Extension Program Specialist I, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
One of the realities for Extension educators is that how you deliver information to your audiences is as important as the content of that information (Wise, 2017). Extension educators often focus too much on the content of the information they provide and too little on the processes through which adults can be engaged and motivated to adopt new practices or make changes in behavior (Wise & Ezell, 2003). Also, audiences may be motivated to put into practice recommendations received during a learning activity partially because they felt individually respected and valued by the Extension educator (Wise, 2017). As effective Extension educators quickly learn, generating a change in behavior, practice, adoption of practices or new technologies or belief requires a much more sophisticated science and art than simply selecting the correct information to deliver (Wise & Ezell, 2003).
Most successful and experienced Extension educators develop a portfolio of methodologies that they can customize to the characteristics of their audiences and educational scenarios (Wise, 2017). These methodological skills are critical to the success as an educator (Wise, 2017). However, even though these skills may distinguish successful educators from less successful, the educator must take deliberate steps to develop teaching and facilitation skills (Wise, 2017).
One such skill set includes facilitating learning (as opposed to simply delivering information). Understanding facilitation and distinguishing it from more traditional teaching, and knowing when to use each methodology is central to eliciting clientele change (Wise, 2017). Most Extension educators are comfortable and familiar with the teaching methodologies most often used in high school and college classes—lecture, lecture-demonstration, and out-of-class assignments etc. (Wise, 2017). However, few Extension educators come to their Extension careers with the facilitation skills needed to effectively engage adult learners (Wise, 2017).
Over the last decade, certain authors have communicated the need for facilitation skills in effective Extension education. Cyr (2008) demonstrated that in-depth facilitation training and practice can effectively prepare Extension educators to assist groups achieve positive change. Rilla, Paterson, Manton, and Day (2006) described how facilitative strategies emphasizing process, relationships, and results made a difference in meeting effectiveness and advanced educational efforts. Haskell and Prichard (2004) reported changing meetings from inefficient to productive and enjoyable through a replicable facilitative focus on process and preparation.
In addition to its use in group process, facilitation has a role in individual learning (Wise, 2017). As distinguished from traditional teaching, facilitated learning has certain advantages that are listed below (Wise, 2017):
If educators use facilitative learning techniques effectively, they can meaningfully affect the lives of learners, not only by imparting information on a specific topic but also by empowering learners to use that information to improve their “quality of life” (Wise, 2017).
As Wise (2017) stated, “Although teaching and facilitating are not mutually exclusive processes, each method has a set of characteristics that distinguishes it from the other.” The paired dichotomies in Table 1 can assist Extension educators make a general distinction between traditional teaching and facilitating (Wise, 2017).
Table 1. Comparison of Teaching and Facilitating (Wise, 2017).
Extension Educator focuses lesson on content
|Facilitator focuses on learning process|
|Recognition of expertise||
Extension educator’s expertise is more valuable than clientele
|Clientele’s expertise is just as valuable as Extension educator’s|
|Responsibility for learning||
Extension educator assumes major responsibility for learning that takes place
|Major responsibility for learning is place on clientele|
|Determination of educational content||Extension educator determines what clientele need to know||Clientele work with facilitator (Extension educator) to determine what information and skills they need to obtain|
|Obtaining of information||Extension educator has responsibility for obtaining information and delivering it to clientele||Clientele work with facilitator (Extension educator) to determine what information and skills they need to obtain|
|Role of in-class activities||Activities reinforce remembering or applying information Extension educator has provided||Activities provide practice in obtaining information and using it for making real-life decisions|
|Problem focus||Hypothetical problems are addressed||Real-life problems are addressed|
|Expected outcomes||Focus is on solutions||Focus is on alternatives|
|Contribution to learning||Expertise of Extension educator is critical in instruction||Facilitators identifies and draws on expertise of clientele|
|Authority||Extension educator knows answers||Everyone assists to figure out alternatives|
|Relativity||Answers are either right or wrong||Different alternatives yield different consequences or results|
While there are many advantages of facilitative learning, it is not the best method for every educational scenario (Wise, 2017). For example, if the purpose of a session is to provide instructions about how to accomplish a task or use a piece of farm equipment, it is more straightforward to simply use instruction (Wise, 2017). If the purpose is to persuade clientele to take a certain action or adopt a practice, prearranged testimony about that action might be more effective than two-way discussion (Wise, 2017).
Facilitation is best accomplished with an informal seating arrangement, so if the only space available is set up in a formal arrangement, with all the seating facing the front, the instructor may not have the option of using facilitative techniques (Wise, 2017). The amount of time scheduled for the session also may dictate whether the instructor chooses teaching or facilitation (Wise, 2017). If there is only a short amount of time—say 45 min or less—to deliver information, it may be better delivered quickly and efficiently through teaching (Wise, 2017).
In most cases, a certain amount of trust is required for the individual members of a group to feel comfortable sharing information or expressing opinions (Wise, 2017). If group participants are strangers and the time available is inadequate for establishing trust through group activities or discussion, it may be preferable to deliver information using teaching techniques (Wise, 2017).
Although articles cited the use of facilitative techniques for resolving conflict, facilitative conflict resolution requires a precise set of skills and a negotiation process that can take some time (Wise, 2017). There are times, however, when agents may need to deliver information about politically charged or controversial topics (Examples are universal health care, animal rights, climate change, and genetically modified organisms). In cases in which opening up the topic to discussion may lead to polarization of opinions or outright conflict, or when the instructor knows that one or two participants may dominate discussion, the preferred technique may be to deliver information quickly and efficiently through teaching (Wise, 2017).
Both teaching and facilitation are effective instructional techniques, but each is appropriate for particular educational objectives and scenarios (Wise,2017). Extension educators who are able to apply both methods strategically and effectively can realize greater success in delivering educational material and empowering Extension audiences with insight that will result in clientele change.
Cooley, F. E. (1994). Facilitating conflict-laden issues: An important Extension faculty role. Journal of Extension, 32(1), Article 1FEA10. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1994june/a10.php
Corp, M. K., & Darnell, T. (2002). Conflict-laden issues: A learning opportunity. Journal of Extension, 40(1), Article 1RIB1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2002february/rb1.php
Cyr, L. F. (2008). Facilitation competence: A catalyst for effective Extension work. Journal of Extension, 46(4), Article 4RIB2. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2008august/rb2.php
Haskell, J., & Prichard, J. (2004). Creating productive meetings. Journal of Extension, 42(2), Article 2IAW3. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2004april/iw3.php
Rilla, E., Paterson, C., Manton, L., & Day, P. (2006) Fa-cil-i-ta-tion: The road to effective meetings. Journal of Extension, 44(2), Article 2TOT5. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2006april/tt5.php
Wise, D., & Ezell, P. (2003). Characteristics of effective training: Developing a model to motivate action. Journal of Extension, 41(2), Article 2FEA5. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2003april/a5.php
Wise, D. (2017) Teaching or Facilitating Learning? Selecting the Optimal Approach for Your Educational Objectives and Audience. Journal of Extension, 55 (3), Article 3TOT1. Available at: https://www.joe.org/joe/2017june/tt1.php