The Development Of Competency In Learning Facilitation-A Personal Journey

The Development Of Competency In Learning Facilitation – A Personal Journey

By the late George Robotham 

Quotable quote

“As soon as we stop growing, learning, and thinking, our brains and our mental states start to deteriorate and to die. When we learn something, our hearts and minds grow accordingly. Staying involved, being a part of something, having new experiences, and forming new insights, no matter your age, keeps your mind fresh and allows you to further develop. Learning from our mistakes so as to not make them again is a great way to learn and to develop further as well. “(Gavin Waugh)


The following traces my development of competency in learning facilitation. It may be that there are lessons for others in my journey.

Why read this paper? What will I learn? What is in it for me?

This paper traces my experience facilitating learning in various roles and my personal learning in the area. A number of suggestions are made to allow the reader to improve their own competency in the field.

Australian Regular Army / Army Reserve

One of the promotion courses in the Army deals with instructional techniques and particular models are taught. This was to prove a good grounding for future instruction. The armed services were into competency based training well before its relatively recent discovery by Australian industry. Interestingly one topic on my later Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) was very similar to the Army material.

National Safety Council of Australia

My first training job was as a Training Assistant with the National Safety Council of Australia (N.S.C.A.) My main role was to manage the administrative aspects of the various safety courses that used to be conducted for supervisors and managers. I was gradually thrown into a minor training role as competency was developed.

My 2 bosses were superb ex-military trainers with a commitment to excellence, they were my role models and mentors. I used to marvel at how their presentations were virtually the same, word for word, every time. They convinced me the only way to make it look easy as a trainer is to put in a lot of preparation and rehearsal.

I attended a week long Commonwealth Government Train The Trainer course, a bit of learning theory and lots of presentation with peer review. This was my introduction to the benefits of formal peer review.

Utah Blackwater

From the N.S.C.A. I moved on to an Assistant Safety Advisor job at an open-cut coal mine, where I ran induction training, fire / rescue squad training and lots of safety meetings. My audiences were pretty tough and convinced me of the need to be organised in my training and to use uncomplicated, relevant messages.

Utah Norwich Park

My next role was as Safety Advisor for the construction, development and operation of another open-cut coal mine. I attended yet another Commonwealth government, 1 week, Train The Trainer course which emphasised learning by doing

I developed a comprehensive safety induction program lasting 2 days and put about 400 people through the training over about 2 years. I used to feel very proud that they left the training very switched on about safety. The reality was within a few days of hitting the workplace they realised that my safety world I had spoken about was not reality, the safety culture of the organisation did not support my training. The very clear message is anyone seeking to introduce learning programs must do learning needs analysis first (refer to the paper Safety Training Needs Analysis on my web-site

Back in those days I used lecture style presentations, very much talking at the audience. I wondered why they often looked bored and sometimes fell asleep! The classic mistake was showing 16mm safety films on night shift, we used to turn the lights off to make the movie more visible. You would turn the lights back on at the end of the movie and find half the group was asleep.

Fire / rescue squad training was very hands on and enjoyed by the participants. I gradually figured out I should incorporate more interaction and hands on in my routine training.


My next role was as Senior Safety Advisor with a major mining company where I had major safety training responsibilities. The following outlines the company’s approach to supervisor and manager safety learning.

Hazard Identification / Risk Assessment / Hazard Control 4 hours For all levels of personnel

Types of hazards

Practical exercise recognising hazards

Risk assessment-practical and theory using probability, consequence and exposure

Practical and theory of hazard control using the hierarchy of controls

Introduction to Occupational Health and Safety 1 day For leading hands, supervisors and managers (mandatory course to be promoted to a supervisor)

Company safety policy and procedures

Supervisors responsibility for safety

Common law principles as they apply to safety management

Workers compensation and rehabilitation

Statutory obligations of supervisors

Accident Investigation 2 days For members of accident investigation teams, leading hands.

Supervisors and managers (mandatory course to be promoted to a supervisor)

Size of the accident problem

Myths & misconceptions about safety

Influence of design on accident causation

Cause versus essential factors

Theory and practical (including practical exercises) application of Geoff McDonald Accident

Reference Tree-Trunk method of accident investigation

Introduction to Occupational Health 1 day For supervisors and managers (mandatory to be appointed as a senior supervisor)

History of occupational health and industrial hygiene

Occupational health principles

Chemicals control

Toxic hazards in industry

Methods of control of occupational health problems (eg. audiometric testing, noise testing, dust testing and control, control of radiation hazards, RSI, back care )

Supervisors role in occupational health

Management developments in occupational health & safety 1 day For the senior management team at an operating location)

Latest Occupational Health and Safety developments-employer association, union, A.C.T.U., and legislative trends

Significant Occupational Health and Safety issues in the company and emerging trends

Advanced safety techniques (eg. auditing, fault-tree analysis, Hazop, safety communications, job safety analysis)

Analysis of the effectiveness of the sites current safety approach.

I probably spent about 40% of my time facilitating these courses. In addition I developed train the trainer training for safety personnel and a 4 hour applied Job Safety Analysis course. I attended and advanced training techniques course with the Qld. Department of Education, this was really the commencement of my putting a priority on interactive techniques.

Communicating change-Winning employee support for new business goals-T. J. Larkin, Sandar Larkin

I worked with Harvard Professor T.J. Larkin analysing communications in BHP-Coal, the things he says make a lot of sense to me in learning facilitation.

The main messages to come out of this research for me were-

Use face-to-face communications,

Use the supervisor to communicate and

Frame messages relevant to the immediate work area.

After receiving communication employees should return to their job and perform better than before. This change should be observable and immediate. Communication should have one goal, improving performance. It should change the way employees do their job.

If communication is to change behaviour it must be grounded in the desires and interests of the receivers. To be noticed the communication must be something that interests the receiver, to change behaviour it must touch one of their values.

A lot of current communications is designed to please head office. The communication is not oriented towards the receivers and consequently does not change the way they act.

Implementation of a learning management system

In the early 1990’s BHP-Coal revolutionised their approach to learning. Existing learning programs were examined and costed, many millions were being spent and it became obvious much of this money was wasted.

2 An exhaustive learning needs analysis was carried out. This worked formed the basis for the introduction of competency-based learning in the Australian mining industry.

3 Doctor Stephen Billett of Griffith University was engaged to research preferred and effective modes of delivering learning. Not surprisingly learning by doing coached by a content expert was favoured. A lot of people saw classroom learning as largely a waste of time. Carrying out authentic tasks in the workplace was seen as important.

4 External trainers and internal trainers, of which I was one, had to attend a week course with a unit that specialised in advanced learning techniques from the Qld. Department of Education. This emphasised interactive techniques and Action and Experiential learning.

5 Consultants were engaged to prepare self-paced, competency-based modules in many areas. The modules were given to learners and they were assigned a content expert to refer to as needed. Some modules articulated to a National certificate IV. My role was to do the T.N.A., write modules, liaise with the consultants writing the modules, assess learners, coach learners and where necessary facilitate the modules.

6 A system was introduced whereby the supervisor had to engage with the learners to develop an action plan to implement the lessons learnt from a learning experience.

7 A matrix of mandatory and recommended learning for all levels of employees was developed.

8 The performance appraisal process put a high emphasis on learning with the result that individual learning plans were developed for all employees.

9 The organisation truly became a “Learning organisation” and a high value was put on learning.

10 A communications plan was developed to communicate learning processes to employees. Various available media were used to communicate learning change.

11 Development of the learning materials involved many project teams and a philosophy that “When initiating change, People support what they create” was used.

12 Assessors of the self-paced learning modules completed learning and set about assessing learners

13 It was summed up for me when I was sitting in a mine manager’s office that overlooked the coal stockpile and the mine manager said” There was a time when I had evidence the bulldozer operators did not always know what they are doing and the machines were not always well maintained, since this new training I no longer have these concerns”

The precursors to success were the very thorough learning needs analysis and the establishment of the preferred and most effective means of learning.

Certificate IV courses in safety and H.R. were one of the outcomes, at some locations supervisors were encouraged to complete the safety course. I completed a number of the internal learning techniques modules which developed a thirst to learn more.

Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education)

As I have always enjoyed facilitating learning and see it as an important part of OHS change, I completed a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) at Q.U.T. The university practised the learning style they were trying to teach us, no boring lectures. There were 4 Field Experience units where we had to gain placements with companies and carry out a range of learning tasks. There was an amount of facilitating learning with peer review. Very interactive and hands on.

Some of the specifics I learnt were the use of models to facilitate skills and theory learning, various group approaches to learning, facilitating problem solving groups, various learning styles various people have, action and experiential learning and avoiding the use of lecture style presentations. I was introduced to and practiced force-field analysis which is a great tool to use in safety.

My conclusions at the end of this course were that a lot of my past training efforts were not all that successful and a Cert IV in training only scratched to surface of what was required for effective learning. My paper Adult Learning Principles And Process under Learning Articles on is largely a theory dump of what I thought was the more significant theory on my university course. Attendance was a life changing experience for me in many ways.

The adult educators say critical reflection is an important component of adult learning, the opportunity to apply theoretical learning in an authentic environment and figure out what works and what does not work is part of this. More people are realising the workplace can be a robust and transferable environment for learning. For further discussion on the importance of critical reflection, refer to Adult Learning Principles And Process under learning articles on

Interestingly discussion revealed a number of university lecturers were no fans of competency based training, there seemed to be a belief that it dumbed the learning process down.

There are 2 major lessons I learnt from my university course

1 Training is what others do to us, learning is what we do to ourselves

2 Learn a little-Well

After BHP-Coal

Since leaving BHP-Coal I have worked in a variety of OHS Management and OHS Learning roles in a variety of industries. Nowadays I will not use a lecture style presentation if it exceeds 5 minutes. My facilitation is highly interactive using group discussions, practical exercises, role plays, case studies etc. My paper How To Give An Unforgettable Presentation under Articles on is my attempt to give guidance to others.

Force-field analysis has proved to be a very valuable technique in my safety work.

What I see around me

Facilitating learning is an important part of most OHS people’s work and I see competency in this area as very important. Facilitating effective learning can be quite complex and in some areas significant skill is required.

I have lost count of the number of Cert. IV Training and Assessment I have completed, I think they are getting better but I still think the Cert. IV T.A.E. has a number of limitations. I am disappointed this qualification has become the de-facto standard by which learning competency is judged.

I have been really turned off attending safety conferences of late, the very common lecture style presentations and Death By Power-Point do little for me. You have to be an exceptional presenter to hold and engage an audience with a lecture style presentation, most people do not have this skill.

I attended a session with Doug Malouf and found that worthwhile. Stephenie Burn’s book Artistry In Training has some discussion on the nature of learning. Brisbane based consultant Laurie Kelly has a How To Maximise Your Training Impact Workshop that allowed me to liven up my presentations.

In dealing with some R.T.O.’s I have formed the opinion there is often an over reliance on excessive paperwork, bureaucracy and complexity in National Training Reform.


Interactive learning strategies are vital. Your facilitation style is just one part of what can be a quite complex learning process. For me pre and post course tasks are part of the mix.

Becoming a life-long learner is imperative.

George Robotham Safety-Cert. IV T.A.E. Dip. Training & Assessment Systems, Diploma in Frontline Management, Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education), (Queensland University of Technology), Graduate Certificate in Management of Organisational Change, (Charles Sturt University), Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management), (Ballarat University), Accredited Workplace Health & Safety Officer (Queensland),Justice of the Peace (Queensland), Australian Defence Medal, Brisbane, Australia,,,07-38021516, 0421860574

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