Why is teaching about facilitating learning?

In his excellent talk about education (How to escape education's death valley - find it on the TED.com website and go to the 7:00 minute mark), Sir Ken Robinson makes the point that there is a difference between the task and achieving senses of verbs. Imagine John, who is dieting. We may imagine this dialogue:

"Is John dieting?"


"Is he losing any weight?"


If there is no weight loss happening then is their really dieting going on, we ask, only partly rhetorically.

Applying this to teaching we might imagine Dr Smith - who is teaching in the Far South Wing Clinic - and ask "Is she teaching? Yes. Is any learning happening?" If the answer is "No" then, although we might say that, though there is teaching behaviour going on (the task sense of the word), it is not associated with learning. If there is no learning happening then is there any teaching going on, in the achieving sense of the word 'teaching'? 

Education is about students learning, (and students' learning), so for teaching to be occurring, there must be learning going on. And the learning that occurs cannot be an accident, in spite of, or independent of, the teaching behaviours. For teaching to occur, in the achieving sense of the word, then learning must be happening as a consequence of those teaching behaviours. It is this argument that gives rise to the notion that the key objective of teacher practice is learning facilitation.

What is a teacher's role, in this conception? The teacher's role is facilitating learning.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) CEO, Geoff Masters AO, captured the current state eloquently in 2018:

One view of teaching – now largely outmoded – sees it merely as the delivery of the appropriate year-level curriculum to all students. Under this view, the role of teachers is to deliver the relevant curriculum; the job of students is to learn what teachers teach; and the role of assessment is to establish how well students have learnt what teachers have taught and to grade them accordingly. In contrast, ‘evidence-based’ teaching uses evidence about where students are in their learning to guide and personalise teaching. The objective is to develop a good understanding of where a student is in their learning so that they can be provided with appropriately targeted teaching and learning opportunities.

Evidence-based teaching of this kind depends on a frame of reference against which learning can be monitored – a ‘roadmap’ that describes and illustrates what it means to grow and become more proficient in a learning area. Learning is depicted as an ongoing process through which students develop progressively higher levels of knowledge, understanding and skill over extended periods of time.

In evidence-based teaching, assessments are undertaken to gather evidence and draw conclusions about where students are in their learning. The objective is to use observations of student performances and work to draw inferences about their current levels of attainment. A thorough understanding of where a student is in their learning may require a detailed diagnostic investigation of the errors they are making or the misunderstandings they have developed – often essential evidence for addressing obstacles to further progress and a key element of clinical teaching practice. (Masters, 2018)

The above description identifies three key aspects to contemporary views on facilitation of learning, as opposed to "teaching":

  1. a focus on students and their learning so as to personalise next steps and guide their development;
  2. a focus on the progress students are making against the outcomes to be achieved (the 'roadmap' metaphor); and
  3. a focus on gathering data on students learning that informs 1 and 2 above.

What are the implications for your practice as a clinical educator?

  1. You need to know your student. Student learning cannot be supported unless you know how your student is progressing. To do this you may need to adopt a learning alliance approach to your teaching practice.
  2. You need to understand basic principles of learning and curriculum design. Basic ideas - such as constructive alignment, the learning alliance, and assessment literacy - are foundational concepts that all teachers should know so that they may be effective as facilitators of learning.
  3. You need to "design" your courses, encounters with students, learning activities and assessments so that they are aligned with the intended learning outcomes.


Masters, G. (2018). The role of evidence in teaching and learning. Australian Council for Educational Research: Research Conference 2018. https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1335&context=research_conference