Facilitating Safety Learning

Facilitating Learning – Critical Reflection On Practice

By the late George Robotham 


One of the activities we all do in business is “training” others. It is my contention that modern adult learning principles are not practiced frequently or well in general “training” in industry and in consequence the learning experience is not as successful as it could be.


My aim with this short paper is for others facilitating learning to learn from my mistakes and my learning and experiences.

Learning versus Training

Modern practice is to refer to the processes by which learning is facilitated as learning not training. There are many explanations for this but one that has struck a chord for me is “ Training is what others do to us, learning is what we do to ourselves”

George’s formal learning about learning

During my time in the Australian Regular Army and Army Reserve I attended training in what was referred to as instructional techniques. The key to the Army approach was learning by doing. It is many years since I have stripped and fired a7.62 mm Self Loading Rifle (S.L.R.) and a M60 machine gun but I could still do it now because I did it so often in the past. Much of the Army learning approaches from years ago still holds up well.

I attended a number of train the trainer courses over the years and various incantations of the Cert IV in Workplace Training and Assessment. There were also a few personal presentations courses. Somewhere along the way in these I picked up the notion that it is a good idea to have variety in your presentation style and to use various types of activities.

I attended a week long Excellence in Training session conducted by the Qld Dept. Of Education, very much about action and experiential learning. I revised my presentations to include more activities.

The real turning point for me was completion of a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) at Q.U.T. My lecturers put into practice the theory they were trying to impart to us. I often found when I came home from night time sessions I could not get to sleep because I was so fired up by the session at uni. This course gave a theoretical framework to many of the practical things I had figured out for myself, gave me extra useful theory, had a number of sessions where we had to facilitate with peer review and had 4 field experience units where we had to gain placements with companies and carry out a variety of learning tasks. A particularly useful subject was where we were introduced to and facilitated 15 problem solving techniques

George’s learning experience

Learning in the Army was hands on, practical, learning by doing, repeated, frequent and seemed to work.

My first learning position was with the National Safety Council of Australia. My boss was an ex-Australian Army Lt. Col. and his 2.i.c. was an ex-R.S.M. of S.A.S. Not surprisingly Army methods of instruction were used. These 2 blokes were fantastic orators and presenters and could present interesting lecture style presentations, this is a skill most people will never master. I noted the use of group discussions and practical exercises seemed to be popular with participants.

One of my field safety roles in the mining industry saw me putting about 500 people through a 2 day safety induction program over about 2 years, how those poor bastards must have suffered! I had practical sessions doing a hazard inspection of a workplace and extinguishing fires with fire extinguishers but for most of the 2 days it was me talking at them.

A corporate safety role in the mining industry saw me facilitating safety learning for supervisors and managers. There was still a fair bit of me talking but I used to try to break this up with group discussions and practical exercises.

2 of my subsequent roles saw me developing major risk assessment courses from scratch, I learnt the value of piloting the learning before going live with the intended audience.

For the last 13 years I have had an involvement in a program that conducts experiential, adventure based learning for at risk youth. Most of the learners are low achievers and have significant issues in their lives. The experiential, learning by doing approach, combined with the outdoor experience produces amazing results. Tasks are challenging but participants are coached to success, for many the success they achieve on this program is the only success they perceive they have had in life.

I have facilitated an amount of learning in recent times, I try to limit my lecture style presentations to 5 minutes at the most, use a variety of presentation types, throw in a bit of humour, use group discussions, use practical exercises, use case studies and try to appeal to the audience’s emotions. My goal is to make the learning as interactive as possible.

Being an OHS Professional I used to attend a number of OHS conferences but I do not bother nowadays as I am turned off by the long-winded, boring lecture style presentations.

What I learnt from the Bachelor of Education

The course allowed us to practice facilitation outlines for theory and skills sessions, these outlines are very useful. The lecturers gave us both barrels about the pitfalls of lecture style presentations and strongly urged us to use action and experiential learning models. The importance of critical reflection for adult learning was emphasised. Various learning models, concepts, philosophies etc. were critiqued. Different learning styles were explored. The importance of not overloading learners was emphasised.

Thorough learning needs analysis is a pre-cursor to success, this is often poorly done. Thorough evaluation of learning is necessary, this is often overlooked. There are some snake-oil salesmen in the learning space and one must evaluate any proposals thoroughly, much of what masquerades as learning is not effective.

I came away from the course with a determination to reduce my previous reliance on lecture style presentations, committed to using action and experiential learning models, convinced of the need to use different means of presentation to cope with different preferred learning styles, determined to build a lot of activities into my presentations and to foster learning by doing.

The main learning theory from the B.Ed. that struck a chord with me(Taken from my paper Adult learning principles and process)

Critical reflection is an important element in androgogy and this happens most naturally when the content of a class invites involvement, when students are encouraged to respond to the material by drawing in a disciplined way from their life experiences. For students creative reflection and criticism depend on seeing themselves as central to their learning, a feat accomplished not by a teacher saying that something is “student-centred” but through the experience of being at the centre. Reflection helps move learners to greater complexity and sophistication in their understanding of any material presented.

Tough (1979) has demonstrated that mature learners frequently prefer to be in charge of their own learning with only minimal direction from an instructor, facilitator or resource. This has prompted a change in the role of the instructor from that of content giver to learning manager, facilitator and resource locator. The traditional role of instructors was to impart knowledge to receptive learners, nowadays the instructor facilitates and manages the learning process itself.(Heimstra,11)Therefore the instructor or trainer works to assist individuals in taking responsibility for their learning.

A. Minimise the use of lecture style presentations.

There is room for the content expert to explain the theory but this should be minimised.

For the learning to have meaning activities should be organised to allow participants to discover the concepts for themselves (not always an easy thing to do). Discussions, case studies, practical exercises, role plays are preferred. These are usually more effective learning methods than the lecture but they take a longer period of time. Activities must be as close to real life as possible and a content expert must be on hand should participants feel the need for his/her input.

Some theoretical input is given and the opportunity for critical reflection (via an activity or discussion) is important.

B. Interactive Learning Strategies

For adults interactive rather than passive learning strategies are preferred.

It has been suggested that we retain:

10 percent of what we read;

20 percent of what we hear;

30 percent of what we see;

50 percent of what we hear and see;

70 percent of what we say;

90 percent of what we say and do.

Saying and doing are certainly important for retention and later application.

Interactive strategies, provide advantages to both student and teacher, compared with other methods:

They suit most learning styles.

Interactive strategies help us achieve a wide range of objectives.

Most students enjoy learning or consolidating knowledge by taking part in such activities. They enjoy the variety.

F. Action Learning

There is a large body of research literature that suggests that action learning is particularly appropriate for adults.

Marsick (1991, 23-45) speaks about action learning (Project work on real-life problems and reflection where participants draw out the lessons learned from their project work.)

There are three key components of the action/learning facilitation process : action, reflection and the building of ones own theories (Marsick 1991, 32-33). The action component is developed in two ways ” through appropriate experience provided by the project work and through an action oriented approach to the way in which people learn from experience.

For action learning to be effective (Marsick 1991, 44) a climate must be fostered that allows participants to examine beliefs, practices and norms. The facilitator must make sure learners look at problems from many perspectives, challenge one another, ask stupid questions, draw contrasts, probe connections and try out new behaviours.

The video “An Introduction to Action Learning” The National Staff Development Committee (1995) outlines the benefits and process of action learning.

The following equation is referred to:

L = P + Q where L = Learning

P = Programmed knowledge balanced with

Q = Questioning insight

G. Experiential Learning

This has some similarities to action learning and once again is thought to be particularly relevant to adult learners.

Boud, Cohen and Walker (1993, 8-16) have developed five propositions which will help the adult educator to develop effective experiential learning.

Experience is the foundation and stimulus for learning.

Learners actively construct their experience.

Learning is a holistic experience.

Learning is socially and culturally constructed.

Learning is influenced by the socio-emotional context in which it occurs.

Kolb and Fry (1975, 33) have developed an experiential learning model.

safety learning

Figure 1 : Experiential Learning Model, Kolb and Fry (1975, 33)

Experiential learning is based on three assumptions (Johnson 1990, 20). People learn best when they are personally involved in the learning experience; knowledge has to be discovered if it is to mean anything or make a difference in behaviour and commitment to learning is highest when people are free to act their own learning goals and actively pursue them within a given framework.

The process of experiential learning is shown below. (Johnson 1990, 20) The learner reflects on their concrete experiences and examines their meaning in order to formulate a set of concepts or principles. The sequence is concrete personal experiences followed by:-

Observation and reflection and examination of one’s experiences and this leads to the formulation of abstract concepts and generalisations which leads to hypotheses to be tested in future action.

safety learning

Figure 2 : Experiential Learning Cycle (Johnson 1990, 20)

Learning resources

1 How to be an effective trainer, Brian Delahaye-This is a very good, nut and bolts guide for those facilitating learning, I think it is a must have unless you are very experienced.

2 Adult learning principles and process on ohschange.com.au-This was originally a dump of the learning theory that struck a chord with me on my B.Ed. I have subsequently added a dump of the theory from a number of other learning books I have read. There are some good books referenced in this paper.

3 Safety training-How to make it work on ohschange.com.au-This revolves around an American N.I.O.S.H. study into the effectiveness of safety training

4 How to give an unforgettable presentation on www.ohschange.com.au -To a large extent the tips I give have resulted from the mistakes I have made in my own presentations.

5 Learning from various approaches, available on request from fgrobotham@gmail.com-I make the point that academic papers should not be the main means of learning

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