If you want your adult learners to run a mile from your course, ‘teach’ them content, call them ‘students’ and make them submit an ‘assignment’ that will be ‘graded’.
|The words we use matter.|
|They help us understand what we think about those practices.|
|Words can continuously remind us what we all care about and what we believe in.|
This vocabulary is often found in online courses where there is little engagement and where learners just tick the boxes – doing minimum work. If they don’t drop out altogether.
There are plenty reasons why many e-courses alienate their adult learners. It often comes down to inappropriate design and e-facilitation. Many e-course designers misunderstand adult learning principles or don’t really know how to put these in practice. A lot of this can be picked up by the language used.
Unless we’re training people to be compliant to a set of rules (which should only be a tiny part of our training), most courses and workshops should be inclusive and participatory. They should fully embrace constructivist principles (as opposed to instructivism) and so should the course designers.
Once designers spend time studying in-depth what that means, they feel the need to change – often traditional – training vocabulary. The words we use matter. They help us understand what we think about those practices. Words can continuously remind us what we all care about and what we believe in.
Here is a list of words I NEVER use in the eWorkshops I develop and/or facilitate:
There are flight instructors, driving instructors, fitness instructors, etc. That makes perfect sense. These topics all involve a distinct set of skills and there is a clear “I’ll show you and you’ll be able to do it after” approach.
However, would you ‘instruct’ subjects like leadership, gender mainstreaming, child protection, good parenting, new farming methods, etc.? No, that would not make sense. Why? Because contexts differ and there aren’t clear-cut right/wrong answers. Any rigid curriculum would show disrespect for people’s experience and participants would disconnect. Learners’ own stories are a very important part of the learning process. So in most adult professional development contexts we don’t ‘instruct’, we ‘facilitate’. We are ‘guides on the side’, not ‘sages on stage’.
There are maths tutors, language teachers, university tutors, guitar teachers, etc. The terms are mostly used in the formal education sector. Tutors provide instruction and help students through lessons and tutorials. Although good teachers and tutors use participatory approaches in the classroom, the terms are most often associated with traditional methods.
My blog post ‘From e-tutor to e-facilitator: 4 things to un-learn’ explains the difference between those terms in more depth. Apply ‘facilitation’ principles, use the right term and watch how your participation rates increase.
Instructors and teachers/tutors have ‘students’. Facilitators work with ‘participants’. If you use the term ‘students’ in your workshop, you inadvertently refer to the power relationship in typical classrooms out there. People react to this – consciously or not.
The adult learners and participants in your workshops want to be appreciated and acknowledged for the experience they bring to the event. They certainly hope to learn something in this process, but that doesn’t make them ‘students’. Treat people with respect by using the right term. It affects the learning dynamics more than you think.
Do we seriously need grades in a leadership course aimed at adults? Or in an eWorkshop on new farming methods? What on earth do these grades mean? What purpose do they serve? It puzzles me that this is even considered, let alone wide-spread.
If you want to keep using grades in compliance courses, fine – if you must. But grades ruin professional development courses and workshops that aim at empowerment. How are adults going to be convinced that they can make a difference in the workplace if the message we’re giving them is that their knowledge comes down to a random number given by us at the end of a learning event? Nonsense.
This is another term that comes straight from the school and university vocabulary. Don’t take that tone – adult learners don’t like it. They are happy to complete ‘tasks’ – on their own or in teams – and look forward to your meaningful feedback.
Does the expert facilitator sometimes wear a ‘teacher’ hat?
In advanced level eWorkshops, you can only be a good e-facilitator if you’re also an expert in the topic of the eWorkshop, unless you’re working alongside an expert and share the support offered to your group. Assuming you’re running the workshop on your own, then you must be able to put your ‘subject matter expert’ hat on and share your own experience and insights. Does that make the facilitator a ‘teacher’ in those moments? No. In most professional development eWorkshops a facilitator should never be a teacher, even when the facilitator is considered an expert.
For example, in my own e-facilitation workshop I add my thoughts to the discussions too. However, I keep in mind at all times that a lot of people in a typical group of participants have many years of experience in this sector. We all work in different contexts that shape the methods we use. What would give me the right to think that the way I approach e-facilitation is THE right way? It’s not like learning how to do a maths equation or fly a plane.
So even though I come up with – I hope – valuable input in a discussion and I happen to guide the group, I listen carefully to the views of fellow professionals and I’m always open to reconsider my ideas. Even when I share my expertise, I never step out of the role of e-facilitator. I don’t ever see myself as a trainer or a teacher.