Facilitation and Reflective Learning: New paradigms of higher education


Dr. Samta Jain and Prof. Rajini Anand say that facilitation techniques when professionally used with excellent reflective learning methods in institutes of higher education will enable creation of better leaders and technocrats for the corporate world.

Teaching in higher education until recently has been characterised with emphasis on lecture method and monologue. This has led to rote learning in a passive environment inhibiting the learners’ thrust for curiosity and knowledge awakening. The teacher-centric approach has several pitfalls. The learners’ ability to imbibe, synthesise and apply knowledge in the practical environment is hindered. The monologue hampers effective development of communication skills of the learner which is otherwise possible in the learner-centric method, where there is high level of involvement of the learners.

These learners when they join the corporate world as new recruits are unable to cope with the rigors of highly competitive and complex business environment. Quite often, the corporate world has reported that the new recruits present more problems to the top management than providing alternative solutions for them. They have also pointed out the inability of the new recruits to cope with failures due to lack of understanding of the realities of the business world and appropriate coping skills. These have been some of the outcomes of our traditional teacher centric approach to teaching.

Leaders with innovative minds

In today’s highly competitive environment the need of the hour is to have leaders and executives with an innovative bent of mind who can exhibit resilience, decision making and strategy formulation even in turbulent times. This necessitates the training and development of adult learners who would occupy positions of responsibility and risk. Thus, the faculty members today are not only required to teach and mentor but also to effectively facilitate the learning process. Rapid changes in technology have made the new-age learner more accessible to a wide array of technological aids thereby increasing the learner’s curiosity and craving for information. This has placed a tremendous demand on the principles of effective learning. The traditional “chalk and talk” method is now passé. The need of the hour is to bring about a deliberate paradigm shift towards experiential learning. The facilitator is presented with a challenge of blending suitable pedagogical tools which are in sync with the learning styles of the learner.

Facilitation and reflective learning have become important constituents in teaching and training of adult learners, as these cultivate team building skills, group learning, problem solving abilities, and effective application of knowledge.

Towards better learning outcomes and managerial capabilities

Facilitation techniques when professionally used with excellent reflective learning methods in institutes of higher education will enable creation of better leaders and technocrats for the corporate world. These techniques aim at improving performance and allow the learners to take more ownership and accountability of learning outcomes. Education must be provided in the light of these learning outcomes and the faculty members need to adopt suitable learner-centric approaches. Experiential learning methods must be rigorously applied and efforts must be made to enhance the learning and reflective skills of the learners so as to develop high levels of communication, interpersonal, assessment and decision making skills.

To make a transition from the role of “sage on stage” to that of “guide on the side” may not be easy but it is also not so difficult at the same time. The complexity and vagaries in today’s business world have left us with no choice but to adapt to the new principles of quality education. Facilitation encourages reflective learning, entrepreneurial attitude, risk taking and decision making skills. Thus, the need of the hour for today’s teacher is to be endowed with excellent facilitation, coaching, mentoring skills along with domain expertise. The main aim of facilitation should be to unearth latent talent and tacit knowledge which the learners could themselves be oblivious of and provide them scope for further reflection. This would help to cover the three facets of learning: knowledge, action and emotions.

Reflective dialogues by facilitators

The reflective dialogues used by the facilitators have to be very powerful and must be briefed and debriefed systematically to the students to make learning more of a holistic process; a process that relies on the learner’s autonomy, sharing and collaboration.

Some types of reflective dialogue that can be used by a trainer are:

  1. Concept check questions
    Facilitators could make use of questions called Concept Check Questions whereby facilitators build questions in a manner which reflect the true understanding of the learners. These questions are intended to demonstrate confirmation of understanding of the concepts. This technique is more appropriate during inductive based training where the concepts are derived through suitable questioning.

    Facilitators of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) training sessions apply them to present grammar or vocabulary or any other target language to confirm understanding of the learners.

    Concept check questions can ease out areas of confusion prevalent (if any) in the learning tasks which the learners are engaged in.

    Traditionally, concepts are asked through questions. However, there are other visual, verbal and non verbal methods of eliciting responses from learners.
    These are:

    • Pictures
    • Miming or demonstrating
    • Using definitions, antonyms and synonyms
  2. Instruction check questions
    By and large a trainer engages the learner in any learning task by either pairing or grouping the learners. These tasks can present a lot of challenges for the trainer in terms of ensuring that the learners have understood the instructions. The learners could also be equally confused if the instructions are told in a general or vague manner. This is particularly true if suppose a trainer has not taken cognisance of the fact that the learners are of mixed ability. To prevent this confusion, facilitators could create instruction check questions (closed ended) which demonstrate understanding of instructions provided. It is important to note here that the trainer has to spend a considerable amount of time planning the concept check questions and embedding them in his or her lesson plan or training module.

    The faculty needs to create an effective and quality learning environment in which he is able to build trust and faith in the participants to share both emotions and experience. There is a high necessity of continuous, consistent and comprehensive feedback as well. This would stimulate innovation and active learning and bring about cognitive and behavioral changes in the learner when coupled with Peer- Assistance Learning (PAL).

    To have facilitation skills in classrooms, one has to have quality orientation, empower the learners and help them create what may be called as “Personal Learning Networks”. To ensure these, faculty members have to generate learner-centric ecology of resources like picasa, blogs, google docs, moodle and web 2.0. By making use of the psychological principles, team building games, scenario building activities, case studies and brainstorming, the faculty members can provide an environment conducive for active learning in the classroom which would improve the learner’s communication, problem solving and decision making capabilities.

    The key facilitation skills include reflecting, clarifying, summarising using non-verbal language and verbal signs. At the same time, using conviction and being fair and unbiased while sharing feedback is equally crucial for a facilitator.


In the era of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), prompt decision making, problem solving, team building and strategic thinking is imperative for continuous innovation and sustenance. The pedagogy used by the faculty members and facilitators today should be aligned in a manner which fosters the overall development of the learner. The emotional and intelligence quotient of the learner can be maximised through an optimal use of various pedagogical approaches like audio-visual aids, simulations, vestibule training, in-basket exercises, dotmocracy, thematics, games and role-plays. A conducive learning environment is a must for harnessing the hidden potential of the learner and this is possible only through effective facilitation which will promote reflective learning.


Dr. Samta Jain

The writer is an Associate Dean – Academics and Student Activities IBS Business School (IBS) Mumbai.


Prof. Rajini Anand

The writer is an Associate Dean – Academics and Student Activities IBS Business School (IBS) Mumbai.