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How to Become A Great Online Course Facilitator

Some of the best facilitators are not subject matter experts. They don’t have all the answers but they know how to inspire others to be curious, to think and reflect on their experiences, and seek answers for themselves.
 
Sound familiar?
 
Whether you’re a teacher or a facilitator — or both — there are many benefits to developing your online facilitation skills.
 
 

What is facilitation?

In facilitation, the role of a central authority is reduced in favour of giving learners more power to direct their own learning.
 
Learners are given the material and tools they need to learn and support is given to them to engage with ideas, understand concepts and apply that knowledge to their own lives.

It marks a shift from simple content delivery to learner-directed learning (see image below) and encourages dialogue, exploration, and curiosity.
 
Two images side-by-side. The first image is titled 'teacher-centred learning' and shows arrows pointing from the facilitator out to four other people. The second image is titled 'student-centred learning' and shows a circular arrow connecting four people while the facilitator looks on.
 

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

William Butler Yeats

 

The benefits of facilitation

With less time spent on delivering content, teachers and facilitators can spend more time on building a learning community and setting up the right environment for learners to exchange ideas and experiences.
 
After all, learning is social by nature. We can learn vicariously through others.
 
Facilitation’s focus on active learning also means learners are more likely to engage in deeper learning. They can see the relevance of what they’re learning and can apply that knowledge beyond and across many different contexts.
 
The best thing about facilitation is that you are fostering a capacity for lifelong learning! The skills learners gain from managing their own study will help set them up for continuous learning.
 

The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.

Maria Montessori

 

What makes a good facilitator?

A good facilitator knows how to lead without being the leader.
 
They can show learners where to look without telling them what to see.
 
They give learners space to explore their interests and provide opportunities for them to make meaningful connections between the material and their own worlds.
 
They understand that not everyone learns the same way and can provide tailored support so that everyone can participate and achieve their goals.
 
Ultimately, they can bring out the best in their learners and empower them to make informed choices about their learning.
 
They let learning happen.
 

Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.

John Holt

 

How do facilitators enhance the learning experience in an online course?


The online learning experience doesn’t have to be an isolating endeavour.
 

Comment section. First comment says I am very interested in using AI for self driving cars as well as for VR, AR, and MR and I think it is going to revolutionise the world! Second comment provides a link to comma.ai and says you should try and solve their programming puzzle. Third comment says thank you, this is awesome!


The beauty of online teaching platforms is that they enable people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds and experiences to come together, share their ideas and gather new perspectives.

The challenge is making sure all learners can have their unique voices heard, are able to engage with the content and can consider the differing perspectives to build a richer, more layered understanding.

In this case, having the support and guidance of an inclusive and enthusiastic facilitator can make all the difference!

1. Encourage meaningful discussions

Learning works best when learners can interact with others to discuss ideas, exchange their understanding and solve problems.

Facilitators can promote discussion by recognising learning opportunities and asking questions that invite a range of possible answers and encourage learners’ curiosity.


2. Model ideal practice

Facilitators can show learners what it means to have an active and inquisitive mind by taking part in the learning activities with them and making their thought processes explicit.

Instead of providing answers, facilitators ask guiding questions to help learners clarify any misconceptions, encourage them to engage in higher- order thinking and seek further understanding.


3. Promote learner autonomy

In facilitation, it’s not about what you know, it’s about supporting learners through the process of learning discovery: helping them to form ideas and connect new concepts with existing ones.

Facilitators gradually provide more space and opportunities for learners to share their own ideas, discuss amongst their peers and make their own conclusions. Over time, learners will learn how to support each other and manage their own learning outcomes.

4. Maintain learner engagement

Learner disengagement usually occurs when a learner does not find the material relevant or feel they are not supported in the learning process.

Facilitators can prevent this by highlighting ways for learners to connect the material with their own world, tailoring their questioning to meet learners’ needs and encouraging conversation that is open to anyone without the fear of getting it right or wrong.



5. Promote a positive and inclusive environment

There’s a big difference between ‘Welcome to the course’ vs. ‘Hi everyone, we’re so glad to have you join us in this course.’

The positive language used by a friendly and supportive facilitator will help learners feel more welcomed and valued in the course. They know they are engaging with real people, not just a computer screen, and are more like to build rapport with other learners online.

Comment section. First comment says hello everyone, I am Stephan and from Germany. Nice to be here. Since I am a DJ I would probably spin some great tunes somewhere at the park. Who's up for a chat with the DJ? Second comment says I would love to join you, DJ. Third comment says Count me in, DJ!


By nurturing a sense of community, modelling good learning practices, and empowering learners to take control of their own learning, a facilitator can have a positive impact on the online learning experience. As a result, learner attitudes shift from having to learn to wanting to learn.

 

Facilitating an online course and community on OpenLearning


There are several ways to facilitate an online course and build a thriving community on OpenLearning.

GIF of an active comments section in an OpenLearning course.

 

1. Seed your community

No one wants to be the first person at the party so get this ‘party started’ by seeding the community before the course starts.

Seeding refers to creating the first talking points, completing some activities and sharing your ideas (like planting seeds) so that when learners first enter the course, there is already plenty of activity for them to get involved.

This is also when you should be setting expectations and modelling ideal responses so learners know what type of responses they should be contributing.

Comment from an OpenLearning course facilitator introducing himself and demonstrating how to perform the activity given.

 

2. Engage with your community

In the early stages of a course, it’s up to you to ensure that learners’ contributions are being valued and heard.

Particularly for the first two weeks, you should have a strong online presence, posting and commenting or ‘liking’ learners’ posts, to welcome them into the course and offer positive reinforcement.

An OpenLearning facilitator commenting on a learner's work.


The language you use in your interactions is very important. Using a tone that is relaxed, friendly and positive will help to create an environment where learners feel comfortable to share their ideas, ask questions and discuss freely without judgement. This will also help with promoting peer-to-peer interaction.

3. Promote social learning

With the right environment, learners will start turning to each other for help and support. You can also boost this by doing the following:

Engage rather than tell: When complex questions arise within the community, don’t provide the answer immediately. Instead, suggest ways for learners to find the answers for themselves or involve peer-to-peer discussion, feedback and collaboration.

Know when to step back: Provide time and opportunities for other learners to answer each others’ queries or provide assistance. Over time, learners will learn to take greater ownership for the learning community and become more involved without depending on your guidance.

Maintain your presence by continuing to like learners’ comments and posts, along with a few key comments and replies!

A series of comments and replies between students. The facilitator does not comment, but shows his presence by 'liking' each post.

 

4. Keep learning on track


Liking and commenting

Aim to spend an hour each day on the platform, going through the pages and liking or commenting on learners’ posts. Check your notifications for interactions that need responding to and have fun engaging with the community.

You can also observe and manage community engagement using the following tools:


Learner progress

In the Navigation Bar, click Administer learners > learners to see a percentage of the course completed by each learner. This can help you locate areas where further support might be needed.


Analytics

You can find Analytics also under Administer learners. This page offers more detailed information on learner engagement such as:

  • How many comments have been made on each page,
  • Which page has the most activity,
  • Average time spent on each page

You can filter the data to Pages, learners or Comments.


Announcements

Creating announcements will send an email and a notification to all learners in the cohort. This is great for staying in touch with learners on a regular basis, reminding them of approaching deadlines as well as sharing upcoming topics in the course.

Moderating learners’ posts: If necessary, you can also report inappropriate comments and flag spoilers. Flagging comments as spoilers hides the comment and gives learners the option to reveal it manually. Reporting comments as inappropriate or disliking comments will hide the comment from the community.

You can find these options under the drop down menu located in the top right hand corner of any comment.

Flagging inappropriate comments on OpenLearning.

 

5. Watch the community take off

As the community becomes more active and more self-directed, learning will take place organically. At this point, enjoy watching the community encourage each other’s learning!

You can stay on hand to provide extra support when necessary and continue to maintain the rapport and connections you’ve made with learners throughout the course.

 


OpenLearning is an online learning platform that focuses on learner empowerment, authentic, active learning experiences, and community and connectedness. Facilitation is such an important part of this focus, that we built a whole course on it!  ➡️ Click here to enrol in our free online facilitation training course, 'Facilitating for Success'.

 

This article was first published on March 9, 2017. It has been revised for clarity and ease of reading.


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Topics: Course Design Tips

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