Chapter 1: What is Facilitation?

What is Facilitation?

The definition

There are many different interpretations of the term “facilitation” and perspectives on the role(s) of a facilitator. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb facilitate as:

Make (an action or process) easy or easier.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs – UK, describes the role of a facilitator as using a set of skills

“…in working with a group, enabling and supporting them to achieve their objectives in a way that involves and respects all contributions, builds ownership and releases the potential of the group and its members.”

What is facilitation in an educational context?

As educational philosophies developed and a growing number of adults began to participate in higher education (not only youth or young adults), beliefs and pedagogical practices changed to accommodate the richer experience and knowledge that learners brought to the classroom. Adult learning theory had a profound impact on the way courses were designed and delivered, and the developing ideas around social constructivist learning and humanist teaching approaches influenced many instructors to move from acting as the “sage on the stage” and instead, to begin supporting or scaffolding the learning that was meaningful for each student (e.g., acting as the “guide on the side”).

A concurrent shift in teaching practice occurred as educators recognized that traditional approaches were not successful in developing the 21st-century skills that learners needed (e.g., critical thinking and the ability to communicate effectively, innovate, and solve problems through negotiation and collaboration). Research consistently suggested that collaborative learning and personalized learning strategies were successful in supporting the deeper learning needed.[1]

Many teachers began to modify their practices to include facilitative teaching rather than direct teaching. While teaching methods will still vary depending on the subject, level of learning or intended outcomes, the focus is generally on helping learners understand course content through questioning and suggestions while providing rich cases, complex problems, and opportunities to apply new knowledge in different contexts.

Facilitating learning online

A model or framework of online learning referred to as the Community of Inquiry was one of the first to identify the increasing role of the learner and the importance of having teachers facilitate social and cognitive interactions. Research collected over more than 18 years demonstrated the importance of facilitation of learning through listening, connecting ideas, and involving learners in “…meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning” (Chapter 3: Facilitation – Teaching in Blended Learning Environments – Vaughan, et al, 2013, p.47).


  1. See Cynthia Luna Scott. THE FUTURES of LEARNING 3: What kind of pedagogies for the 21st century? UNESCO Education Research and Foresight, Paris. [ERF Working Papers Series, No. 15] [PDF].

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FLO Facilitation Guide by Sylvia Currie, Sylvia Riessner, Gina Bennett, and Beth Cougler Blom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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