are you: a corporate trainer or learning facilitator – does it matter?

Simon Thiessen

Simon Thiessen About The Author

Feb 8, 2016 9:00:00 AM


8 reasons learning facilitators get better outcomes in adult learning


Since the early 1990s, I have been involved in corporate training. For many of those years, that is exactly how I described myself. Over the last few years my thinking – and hopefully my skills and strategies – as an adult learning professional have evolved. I now consider myself a learning facilitator.

Is this all just playing with words?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think it is critical. There was nothing wrong with being a corporate trainer when I started my career but the world has changed. The issues we are trying to help organisations deal with have changed. Our understanding of adult learning has changed. Most importantly, the people who end up in our training rooms have changed – so much so that we really should consider those rooms as learning environments.

Do labels and words really matter? If they don’t, why do we have so many words to describe things in precise ways?

  • Someone with a passion for colours will grapple with nuances to describe the precise shade of blue they have in mind: light blue, dark blue (that’s my limit without Dr Google), navy, sapphire, cobalt, sky, baby, royal, denim and, my personal favourite, beachwalk (that really doesn’t suggest blue to me). These are just a few of the thousands of alternatives.
  • Someone in tune with their emotions and trying to describe how they feel may wonder whether they are frustrated, annoyed, exasperated, disillusioned, let down, irritated, discontented, irritated – can you believe how many words we have for feeling pissed off!

I am no different – I am passionate about adult learning and the specific words used to describe it do make a difference. So, I am a learning facilitator (rather than corporate trainer) who works with participants (rather than trainees) in a learning environment (rather than a training room).

The only problem – what the heck does it all mean?

Are ‘learning facilitator’ and ‘corporate trainer’ two different job descriptions?

I don’t think so. I believe that the best corporate trainers have become learning facilitators – even if they don’t call themselves that.

In fact, rather than a description of a job, I believe it is a description of an attitude. Here are eight distinctions that I believe differentiate a learning facilitator from a corporate trainer as we use the terms today. Which of these adult learning professionals are you?

1. The ultimate trait


The corporate trainer is the ultimate authority– they know and share more about the subject matter than anyone else in the room. They are on track when someone says, ‘they really know their stuff!

The learning facilitator is the ultimate coach in the room – their goal is to transfer that knowledge rather than state it. They are on track when someone says, ‘I really know their stuff!”

2. Head of the room or hub of the room?


A corporate trainer stands literally and metaphorically at the front of the room. Each participant interacts with the trainer – if the trainer is good, that interaction is two way. When a participant asks them a question, the facilitator answers it – or, if they are good, they may ask that participant a question of their own.

A learning facilitator may stand at the front of the room but they act as the hub rather than the focal point. Each participant interacts with everyone else in the room – and the learning facilitator actively nurtures this. When a participant asks them a question, the facilitator asks the group to answer it: ‘who has encountered something similar to this? How did you respond? How did that go?’Another option that could also help engage a challenging or resistant participant –‘John, this sounds like something you would have come up against it – how did you handle it?

3. The information in the room


A corporate trainer is the main source of information. This goes back to the being the head of the room. The limit of the trainer’s knowledge is the limit of the information available in the room.

A learning facilitator is the hub via which information is shared. They draw the knowledge and experiences from all participants – which allows them to expand both the volume and the relevance of the information in the room.

4. The nature of control – leader or manager


A corporate trainer is in control. They keep things on track because they are the acknowledged manager of the room and they have clear timelines and processes.

A learning facilitator has things under control. People respond to them as the acknowledged leader in the room and they have powerful strategies for engaging people and allowing them to explore without straying too far.

5. Knowledge versus information


A corporate trainer provides a lot of information – if they are good, the information is of high quality and relevance.

A learning facilitator provides less information and provokes participants to explore and self-examine. In the process, the participants discover knowledge within.

6. ‘Travel arrangements’


A corporate trainer has a ‘travel itinerary’ that they are following to ensure they cover everything.

The facilitator has a map but is open to the journey being unpredictable – as long as their destination includes the key learning outcomes.

7. The role of the material

A trainer knows they have to cover it.

A learning facilitator knows they have to contextualise it.

8. What are they committed to?

A corporate trainer is committed to covering the material.

A learning facilitator is committed to changing behaviour and/ or thinking.

Does the label fit?

I have met many corporate trainers who facilitate great learning – in my view, their title undersells them. Unfortunately, I have also met some learning facilitators whose title flatters them.

Of course, what counts most is which label describes your attitude and mindset about helping people learn and grow. Providing you have that right, the actual title is a bonus.

Whether you’re an existing corporate trainer, learning facilitator, or whether you’re thinking of becoming one, we’d love to suggest you visit our website and have a look at the information there on becoming a License Partner.

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