The Fallacy of Being a Facilitator


End of semester blowing in the cold morning wind and time for truths. Time to reflect, recall and question my learning. Time to consider my learners’ learning. And what changes I may – or not – resolve to make in the near future.

But first, my context: Teaching students who have just entered higher education and who struggle with the foreign language that their degree requires. Students who have had no digital learning experience before, yet now have been given an iPad as their learning tool.

1xcom:photo36463And then there is me.

Me, who is teacher and learner.

Me, who plays out the varying roles that classrooms demand.

Or do they?

Me, who is likewise holding on to mental railings, with fear of falling. Digital entanglements can strangle the mind.

Teaching strategies cannot be discussed before reflecting on the nature of my role. For it will be defining.

In my view, it is a fallacy to determinedly say ” I am not a teacher – I am a facilitator“. Not only does that come across to me as another stale, band-wagon expression, but also begs the question of what exactly is one “facilitating” when one is expected to be teaching. It is as if the very word “teaching” has become only associated with dry, lifeless lecturing; teaching, in that context is far from engaging, therefore “teaching” must be substituted by another word, another determiner, another box which can pin down the role as simply as one pins  a dead butterfly. Therein lies the fallacy.

Teaching is not a cold, distant, ranting lecture without a context.  There is a wealth of roles, often overlapping each other, that can be found in the act of teaching. Hence my rejection of notions that state, do not teach! Facilitate!

Sunnaborg, (2008) explains that “Whereas a traditional pedagogical teaching approach emphasizes the role of the teacher as the holder of the wisdom, facilitation puts the onus on the participants to become involved in their own learning. The facilitator’s role is to introduce subjects of discussion, encourage sharing of perspectives, and integrate students’ shared experiences.”

If on the one hand I find this too vague for my educational context, (language learners expect some kind of explanation to their questions of why and why not?), on the other hand, this fuzzy interpretation of classroom teaching leaves me wondering – would I as a young learner or even university student, be prepared for this approach? By no means have I ever believed that the teacher holds all the truth and nothing but the truth. Perhaps I was fortunate enough to always have inquired, to have questioned the “bare truths” handed down to me. Consequently, as an educator I have always provoked my students into questioning, into inquiry and not merely passive listening (or in my eyes, passive daydreaming).

Additionally, I cannot perceive any educational process or educational experience if learning is not emphasized. Nevertheless, noble aims of learner autonomy, learner responsibility, learner involvement in their learning environments (e.g. using digital spaces as a learning environment) are per se, steps in learning –  not all students grow up with that set of educational aspirations. Not all cultures foster independent inquiry nor wish their young citizens to question. Critical thinking practice is often left to higher education and today, owing to demands from the job market, more widely accepted as a requisite in education.

Sunnaborg (2008) also reveals how his ” job was not to tell; my job was stimulate thinking, encourage exploration, make associations, and be a connector.” Again, I question this statement as it is the learner who makes the connections 1xcom:photo25510not the facilitator or teacher.  As for “stimulating thinking”, didn’t learners think before this role shift? As Stager (2012) points out,  “Regardless of the speaker’s intent, “teacher as facilitator” is a cliché that makes teaching sound more mechanistic and impersonal, not more.”

Education is neither mechanistic, nor  impersonal. No matter what technology is introduced in the classroom, no matter what strategy, teaching approach or even method is being applied, classrooms are the heart of education. They are alive, forever changing and above all, hold youthful humanity,  with its hopes, dreams and fragilities. Hence I cannot claim to be anything else but a teacher, an educator,  who will adopt the best approach for my learners’ context.

Which brings me back now to digital entanglements. It is no secret that I strongly believe in using digital technology for the purpose of learning (see CristinaSkyBox). Nevertheless, as I used the iPad in my every day teaching, questions and doubts haunted me. Bearing in mind the framework proposed by TPACK, how effective was my learning to teach with iPads? How effective were my lessons in light of my educational beliefs and practices Before iPad? Most significantly, how did my students learn?

“Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by”

I shall attempt addressing those last questions in my next posts related to elements of iPadology, and end here for now with Adam Simpson’s video related to the TPACK framework and English Language Teaching:


Simpson, A., 2012, The #TPaCK Model – An Introduction

Stager, G. 2012, We Need Teachers, Not Facilitators!

Sunnarborg, M. 2008, From Teacher to Facilitator


21 thoughts on “The Fallacy of Being a Facilitator

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    • Thank you for your kind thought Cristina! I do find the role of the teacher quite determining in regard to classroom practice/management, and is a topic I often myself returning to. If an educator is to understand whether learning is occurring or not, whether there is scope for learning (because I don’t believe that learning happens always in the classroom), then it is necessary we reflect on who and what we are in the classroom.

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  6. I like David Warlick’s characterization of a “master learner” taking a role somewhere between didactic teaching and guide-too-far-to-the-side facilitation. In this characterization, the teacher is modeling. I have often thought of teaching as a percolative process, where as I first heard Stephen Downes say to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect. In my view, practicing teaching is all of those. But to take another part of your argument here, I agree that not all learners are at a stage to effectively take on any approach to teaching. I for example pitch myself towards the tip of the pyramid in Bloom’s digital taxonomy in EVO sessions for example, than I do in the classes I teach in the UAE, where as you say, you cannot expect learners to be taking their own decisions without a lot of guidance, and often getting them moving through the most efficient way that works, i.e. by teaching. In the EVO sessions, on the other hand, in my self-perceived role of master learner, I am there to do all 4 things in the iterative cycle, model and demonstrate, but also practice and reflect, and to get others doing the same, and basically to learn from the experience, which in EVO we have the luxury of experimenting with as well. I hope you’ll join us actively there soon 🙂

    • Hi Vance,

      Exactly – different roles for different contexts and moments. I would like to “disagree” with you on one point however – despite often having my own current learners in mind, I think much of what applies to them also applies to learners in many other parts of the world. Not long ago I taught in Japan where indeed, I had excellent students. Nevertheless, it was a struggle to break through rote learning and have them take learning risks. True, more complex than I can explain here (complex because there are many cultural characteristics involved).

      My assumption is that there is always a place for teaching, explaining and also letting students discover and inquire for themselves. As for EVO, another kettle of fish! 🙂

      Yes, on my way to full recovery (I hope!) and looking forward to a more active role among colleagues.

  7. Ana Cristina your article got me thinking…. I like the TPACK model in that it can help me think about the interplay with how content, technology and the approach to teaching are interrelated. When I started the video I was thinking more about the knowledge of the learners, and thinking of Pedagogical Knowledge in the context of ‘learning to learn’. This article by Stephen Brookfield has given me a whole different perspective on my role in supporting others to learn –

    I think this links with some of the comments in your post, and the comments of others above – our actions in supporting others to learn might vary according to context, learners’ experience, culture, and our own learning along the way.

    • Hi Rae,

      Thank you for your reflections and for sharing that link (which I will read). I particularly like how you highlight that educators learn as well from the different roles they engage in.

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